Pangaimotu Island Resort, also known as the Tongan Beachcomber Island Village, on Pangaimotu Island, is the closest island resort to Nuku'alofa and also the cheapest. It's owned by the royal family and the island name means "royal island." This budget-priced resort offers eight simple fale, a six-bed dorm, and camping space. No cooking facilities are provided but meals at their restaurant are good value. The tap water is saline.
The reef around the island is good, and there's even a half-sunken ship, the Marner, sticking up out of the water for snorkelers to explore. If you're a yachtie you'll want to know that Pangaimotu Island has excellent anchorage (all the other offshore islands are surrounded by treacherous reefs).
Boat transfers are reasonable and you can buy lunch at the restaurant on the island (taking your own picnic lunch is not allowed). The boat over leaves at 1000 and 1100, returning at 1600 and 1700. It's a day-trip island and somewhat of a local hangout. On Sunday many local expats come over to booze.
Fafa Island Resort, quite a distance farther out than Pangaimotu Island, is one of the most tasteful resorts in Tonga. The upscale accommodations here include seven superior fale with private bath and six larger and more luxurious deluxe fale with open hot shower, sun deck, and garden. The meals in their pleasant thatched restaurant/bar are marvelous.
A full range of nonmotorized sporting activities is offered in the sapphire blue lagoon surrounding this delightful palm-covered, seven-hectare island. Snorkeling gear is loaned free but Hobie Cat riding is charged by the hour. The initial 30-minute boat ride is paid, but once you're staying they'll ferry you into town and back as often as you like at no extra cost. Their shuttle boat leaves the island at 0900 and 1630, leaves Faua Jetty at 1100 and 1730, so you can easily spend the day in town.
Fafa can be a little quiet at times and might not be a good choice if aggressive motorized watersports, sightseeing, and socializing are priorities. Birdwatchers will enjoy the abundance of red shining parrots, purple swamp hens, and banded rails.
The Royal Sunset Island Resort, on Atata Island 11 km northwest of town, is the most remote of the small island hotels off Tongatapu. The entire island is owned by the king's younger brother, Crown Prince Lavaka, and most of Royal Sunset's local employees are from the friendly Tongan village on the island.
The 15 bungalows with private bath, fridge, and overhead fan are medium-priced. Tax is included in the quoted rates but boat transfers from Nuku'alofa are extra. They have a three-meal plan and the food is good with large portions. Drinks at the bar are on the expensive side, so take along a bottle of duty-free booze. There's a swimming pool, and free activities for guests include tennis, paddle boarding, windsurfing, and snorkeling (but not on Sundays). Scuba diving and deep sea fishing are available at an extra charge. The resort is right on a broad white-sand beach but the off-shore snorkeling is poor. It's a nice walk along the eastern beach to the low coral cliffs beyond the village at low tide.