Since 1979, Tonga's premier surfing resort has been the Ha'atafu Beach Resort. The Ha'atafu Beach is run by Australian surfer Steve Burling, who first came to Tongatapu in 1977, and whose son Michael is Tonga's national surfing champion. No sign advertises this resort, as Steve doesn't cater to day-trippers who only drop in for lunch or drinks.
The elitist character of this resort is reflected in the upscale prices of the eight thatched fale with shared facilities but breakfast, buffet dinner, and nonmotorized sporting equipment are included. Dorm beds are less expensive. Add a 20 percent high season surcharge December-February and June-September (the 15 percent tax is also extra). There's a 10 percent discount if you stay a month (many do). Ha'atafu only takes 15 guests at a time and is often full, so make a booking. Airport transfers are arranged with a minimum charge for up to four persons. The meals are ample and excellent, and videos are shown every evening.
When enough people are interested, Steve organizes boat trips for snorkeling, fishing, or surfing on outlying reefs. The peak surfing season here is June, July, and August with five great left-handers within a 10-minute walk of the resort, as southern swells generated around New Zealand crash into the Ha'atafu coast. From January to March you have a choice of four right-handers and one left nearby, but at this time it's usually better to take a boat around to the reefs on the northwest side of Tongatapu, which catch waves rolling down from Hawaii. Steve knows all the better waves and his motel is the place for serious surfers (you must bring your own surfboard).
In July 2010 moderately-priced Heilala Holiday Lodge moved from Tofoa just outside Nuku'alofa to Kanokupolu. The accommodations here are varied, from fan-cooled rooms with hot water in the very clean shared bathrooms, thatched fale with private bath, and superior bungalows with fridge. Rates include tax and breakfast (minimum stay two nights). Communal cooking facilities are provided and a restaurant is on the premises. The tuna steak in spicy coconut cream sauce served here is very good (order before noon the same day).
This place runs efficiently under the firm hand of a German woman named Waltraud Quick (or Maria as the Tongans call her) and her more laid-back son Sven. They arrange six-hour island tours with a minimum of four people. Free luggage storage for a reasonable length of time is offered on the condition that you stay another night upon your return from the islands. Bicycles are available. Transfers from the airport are free from the international terminal but a fee is charged for pick-ups at the domestic terminal and for the ride back to the airport.
Blue Banana Beach House faces Ha'atafu Beach a few hundred meters east of the Ha'atafu Beach Resort. Unlike nearby resorts, they don't cater to surfers. The three small wooden bungalows are medium-priced with a small reduction if you pay by the week (three-night minimum stay). You can cook. Book through Blue Banana Studios in Fund Management House, Nuku'alofa.
Vakaloa Beach Resort, also known as "Surfers Paradise", was originally called the Nawai Ali'i Beach Resort. It's right next to the Blue Banana Beach House at Kanokupolu. This moderately-priced resort has eight garden rooms and three larger oceanview bungalows. Breakfast and taxes are included in their rates. The restaurant has a large terrace overlooking the beach. When sufficient guests are present, a buffet and dance show is staged Friday nights. Airport transfers are arranged.
The moderately-priced 'Otuhaka Beach Resort, near the south end of lovely Ha'atafu Beach west of Kanokupolu, has 14 individual or duplex beach huts with shared bath. The garden bungalows with private bath and two-bedroom self-catering suite cost about double. Continental breakfast is included. The layout is attractive with grassy lawns, beach chairs, and lots of shade. 'Otuhaka's restaurant/bar serves meals. Sporting equipment is available and tours can be arranged. Surfers are welcome. Nonguests are asked to pay a fee to use the beach.
The Liku'alofa Beach Resort on Ha'atafu Beach opened in 2008. The 17 fale with private bath in a duplex are moderately-priced and a freestanding fale is only a bit more. There's a rectangular pool right on the beach.
The budget-priced Good Samaritan Inn on Kolovai Beach, 18 km west of Nuku'alofa, has been around for many years and offers some of the cheapest accommodations in this area. You'll have a choice of nine older bungalows with shared bath, three newer bungalows with private bath, and one deluxe two-bedroom bungalow with private bath and cooking facilities. The bungalow prices include breakfast, and weekly rates are available. Tax is extra. For a small fee, you can pitch your own tent on the grounds. Cooking facilities are provided, or you can use the Inn's restaurant/bar, which sits on a large concrete terrace overlooking the rocky shore. Of course, the service here won't be as good as it is in the higher-priced places down the beach. Friday nights there's a buffet dinner accompanied by Polynesian dancing which should be booked the day before. At times they overbook and run out of food so get in line early. Beware of currents if you snorkel here. Take the Hihifo bus to Kolovai, then walk 1.5 km to the Inn.
The medium-priced White Sands Beach Resort, formerly known as Princess Resort, in a nice location on gorgeous Monotapu Beach. It has six self-contained bungalows, a bar, communal kitchen, and swimming pool.