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by Santorini Dave • Updated: September 4, 2018
What is the best time of year to visit Tonga?
- Best Time to Visit: May to October.
- Best Time for Good Weather: Generally speaking, May to October. But there are variations across the archipelago: the northern islands, including Vava’u (June to September); the central islands of Ha’apai (May to October); and the southern islands of Tongatapu and ‘Eua (May, October and November).
- Best Time for Sightseeing: May to October (but note variations mentioned above).
- Best Time for Honeymoons: May to October.
- Best Time for Diving & Snorkeling: June to October.
- Best Time for Outdoor Activities: May to October.
- Best Time for Saving Money: Avoid the peak seasons. To a far lesser degree than Fiji and New Caledonia, these are the Australian and New Zealand school holidays (especially mid-December to the end of January), and the European vacation times of July and August.
- Best Time for Sightseeing: Like many island countries in the South Pacific, Tonga is just a few degrees south of the equator, so there are only 2 major seasons: the ‘wet’ and the ‘dry’. When making plans, be aware that during the wet season, which is generally from November to April, heavy rain is frequent, the humidity can be draining, and cyclones are always possible. Unlike Fiji and New Caledonia however, Tonga is not a major tourist destination, especially among families from Australia and New Zealand. Therefore, the school holidays in those countries don’t have a huge effect on hotel rates and boat/plane bookings.
- Best Time for Diving & Snorkeling: Tonga boasts an extraordinary assortment of marine life, including turtles, manta rays, marlin, and even (harmless) sharks. Add in underwater caves, volcanic tunnels and coral gardens, as well as clear blue waters and a scarcity of tourists, and it’s no surprise that scuba-diving and snorkeling are major drawcards. Also, from July to October, Southern Humpback Whales come to breed in the Tongan waters. While divers and boaties must keep well clear, whale sounds can be heard across the water. With the clearest visibility and the least rain, the prime time to be underwater is from June to October, although diving is good any time, especially in the calm non-tidal lagoons that encircle so many atolls and islands.
- Best Time for Outdoor Activities: Of course, the weather can affect all outdoor activities, whether it’s rough waves that may cancel boat trips (but delight surfers) or calm winds that please kayakers (but disappoint sailors). Bad weather can also affect accessibility along the roads, and obviously, cyclones are a time to stay indoors. Kayaking is fine all year, while sailing and kite-boarding are optimal from May to October. The best place to surf is Ha’atafu along a thin peninsula on the main island, with ideal swells throughout the year.
- Best Time for Beaches: The dry season (May to October) is often referred to locally as the ‘winter’. Temperatures can drop to a mild 22°C-25°C and fall further to 16°C-18°C in the evening, but sea temperatures remain fairly stable. Visitors may want to spend longer in the sea during the ‘summer’, also known as the wet season (November to April), when it’s hotter and more humid. Obviously, avoid any bad weather (particularly lightning), and never forget the sunscreen, even if it’s mild or cloudy.
Tonga Travel Seasons
- High Season (June to September): With day after day of mild and mostly dry days, and no chance of cyclones, the weather is very pleasant. This also coincides with the short school holidays in July across Australia and New Zealand, and the main vacation times for European tourists in July, and especially, August. But unlike Fiji and New Caledonia, hotel rates in these months don’t jump alarmingly, and boats and planes are not heavily booked.
- Shoulder Season (April, May and October): An ideal time, around the start and end of the dry season, when temperatures are still mild and cyclones should be off the radar.
- Low Season (November to March): This is more or less the entire wet season, when heavy rains are common, the humidity unbearable at times and cyclones always possible. From mid-December to late January, there is a spike in numbers – albeit comparatively small – during the major school holidays in Australia and New Zealand, but Tonga is not a major destination for families.
Tonga Weather by Month
- Tonga Weather in January: In the middle of the wet season, with heavy rains definite and cyclones always possible, so travel plans can be easily and quickly affected. (During January 2014, Tropical Cyclone Ian passed through the Ha’apai Islands causing much damage but only 1 death.) Always check the local media, hotel announcements and official website. If that’s not enough, January is one of the hottest and most humid months of the year.
- Tonga Weather in February: The second-wettest month across Tonga, with the central island of Lifuka receiving 195mm (7.7 inches). However, most rain falls in short heavy bursts so that on average, it rains on only 14 days of the month in the capital, Nuku’alofa. February is also the hottest month, with an average of 30°C, and particularly susceptible to cyclones. Severe Tropical Cyclone Gita – the most powerful known in Tongan history – was devastating in February 2018. While most cyclones miss the main tourist centers, the peripheral winds and rains make travel by plane, boat and even road almost impossible.
- Tonga Weather in March: Although the wettest month, there are still 14 rain-free days on average across the central Ha’apai Islands. And the good news is that the rain soon decreases dramatically around Tonga. In Nuku’alofa, for example, the rainfall in March is double that in April. By now, heavy rains have fallen for three or four months, so some roads become impassable, and trips by boat and plane to far-flung islands can still be uncomfortable.
- Tonga Weather in April: The official end of the wet season. Temperatures quickly become 3°C-5°C cooler, and everyone, including Tongans, are relieved that humidity levels have fallen. But don’t put away the wet-weather gear quite yet, and still check cyclone warnings: Cyclone Keni blasted through in mid-April 2018.
- Tonga Weather in May: The dry season, sometimes referred to by locals as the ‘winter’, officially starts now and lasts until October. Temperature gauges quickly fall to a mild 22°C-25°C. The heat, rain and humidity may however, continue a little longer in the northern Vava’u Islands, while the dry and cool weather may start earlier on ‘Eua Island.
- Tonga Weather in June: Dry and mild days, with minimal humidity, continue. It can still rain, but these are brief showers rather than heavy downpours. But climates do vary: e.g. this is the driest month in Nuku’alofa, but it still rains on 12 days across June, on average, on Lifuka.
- Tonga Weather in July: On the northern Vava’u Islands, temperatures drop a fraction to an average of 27 degrees Celsius, but it rains more frequently than elsewhere because the climate is more tropical. July is the coolest and second-driest month in Nuku’alofa, with daytime temperatures a pleasant 25°C, while comparatively chilly during the night at 18°C. Some visitors regret not bringing a jumper.
- Tonga Weather in August: Throughout the islands, the days remain dry and mild – about 27°C in Vav’au and 24°C in Nuku’alofa – and some locals even grumble about the colder temperatures during the late evenings and nights. Water temperatures become a little cooler, but the sea is still very swimmable.
- Tonga Weather in September: A perfect month, with dry cool days continuing throughout the islands, and the end of the peak season in August. Expect a pleasant 25°C in the capital, dropping to a chilly 17°C, with only 10 days of light rain.
- Tonga Weather in October: With the lowest rainfall of the year in Nuku’alofa, that’s about to change very soon. By the end of the month, downpours become progressively more frequent, while the humidity and heat increase – but rarely above 35°C. In the northern islands of Vava’u, the hot, wet and humid weather may start a few weeks earlier, while on ‘Eua Island, in the south, the cool dry days linger for a week or 2.
- Tonga Weather in November: The start of the wet season, or what the locals call ‘summer’, which lasts until April. Temperatures continue to rise, but only by a few degrees (Celsius). More noticeable is the increase in humidity, which can be energy-sapping at times, and more importantly, the official cyclone season starts now, so keep alert. The Big One can be expected every 10 or so years.
- Tonga Weather in December: The start of the wettest part of the year, but on Lifuka Island there is still, on average, 17 rain-free days. Downpours can become heavier, while the mountainous terrain on the larger islands can also affect local weather patterns. Be alert for cyclones and don’t be surprised if strong rains, winds and waves affect travel plans, especially during the peak Christmas/New Year holiday period.
Tonga Holidays, Events and Festivals
Unlike Fiji, which is more populated and multicultural, and New Caledonia, which is far more developed for tourism, Tonga offers comparatively few events and festivals.
Tonga Events in January
- New Year’s Day – celebrated by everyone with a public holiday. Government departments close on January 2 as well, so that public servants can enjoy a double holiday.
- Chinese New Year (January/February, changeable) – celebrated by the small but economically-powerful Chinese community in the capital.
Tonga Events in February
- No special events or festivals this month.
Tonga Events in March
- Easter (March/April, changeable) – as a country of devout Christians, Easter is celebrated with passion throughout the islands. Easter Sunday is the time to visit church. Many shops and restaurants are closed over 4 days, sometimes for the entire Holy Week, while Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays (and everything closes down every Sunday anyway).
Tonga Events in April
- Anzac Day (25th) – commemorated by Australians and New Zealanders as a reminder of their military involvements and sacrifices. The public holiday in Tonga reflects the very strong ties to their 2 neighbours.
Tonga Events in May
- ‘Eua Tourism Festival (changeable) – for a week, showcasing the culture of ‘Eua and promoting the island.
Tonga Events in June
- Emancipation Day (4th) – this public holiday (which can move to the nearest Monday) sort of commemorates the fact that Tonga was never fully colonized, unlike its Pacific neighbors.
- Heilala Festival (June/July) – Tonga’s largest and most important festival lasts over a week throughout the islands. It celebrates the birthday of the reigning king, Tupou VI, with traditional food, songs and dancing, as well as fire-dancing competitions and a beauty pageant. Culminates on 4th July (see below).
- Ha’apai Tourism Festival (changeable) – another week-long display, this time promoting the beauty, cuisine and culture of the Ha’apai Islands.
Tonga Events in July
- Birthday of King Tupou VI (4th) – the Heilala Festival (mentioned above) climaxes on the day that celebrates the birthday of the current king.
Tonga Events in August
- No special events or festivals this month.
Tonga Events in September
- Crown Prince Tupouto’a-‘Ulukalala’s Birthday (17th) – celebrates the birthday of the son and heir of the current king.
- Regatta Vava’u (changeable) – a week of partying, networking and racing for yachties in the marvelous Vava’u islands.
Tonga Events in October
- No special events or festivals this month.
Tonga Events in November
- Constitution Day (2nd) – a public holiday, also called Tonga National Day, which can move to the nearest Monday.
- Holiday Market Festival (changeable, maybe also December) – a few days displaying and promoting Tongan crafts and cuisine in the capital.
Tonga Events in December
- King George Tupou I Commemoration Day (4th) – another royal tribute and public holiday (which can be moved to the nearest Monday).
- Christmas Day (25th) – celebrated fervently by all Tongans. A public holiday, with most shops and restaurants closed for several days, and public transport virtually non-existent.
- Boxing Day (26th) – Christmas celebrations continue with this public holiday.
- New Year’s Eve (31st) – Tongans commemorate the changing of years with much drinking, eating, dancing, singing, and more drinking.