With more and more tourists arriving each year, an increasing number of shopping malls are swiftly coming up. Shops in Tonga are very well maintained and very well stocked, both in terms of variety and quantity. Local attractions include handicraft or handwork items, an industry that is very well established in Tonga. The city malls and other shops spread all over the markets offer modern shopping experiences too. Different segments of Tongan markets sell different items so the best way to explore them is to drop in and walk around.
Handmade items are a Tongan specialty, and a must have souvenir!
Check out our Tonga Shopping Guide for information on the best places to shop in Tonga and the many great handmade items that can be bought as a souvenir of your Tonga holiday. The markets are a great place to check out the local produce, before trying it out at one of the great Tonga restaurants.
Tonga Shopping Guide
Among the local attractions are Ta'ovala pandanus mats and woven pandanus baskets, ‘Ali Baba' laundry baskets, woven and hand decorated tapa cloth, woven floor coverings, silver inlaid knives, rings, earrings, brooches, tortoiseshell jewellery, polished coconut shell ashtrays and goblets, and models of outrigger canoes. The philatelic section of the Tongan Treasury sells complete sets of Tongan stamps and coins, which are collectors' items.
The government adds a 5% tax to all purchased goods and services in Tonga. Tongatapu and Vava'u have a few duty free shops.
The Tongan tapa cloths are famous for their size and intricate designs. The bark of the mulberry tree is first beaten into thin sheets, and then many of these sheets are beaten together to obtain larger cloths, at least 20 sq ft in size. Stencilled patterns using natural dyes are used to design the plain tapa cloth. Called ‘ngatu', these are used as token presents during important functions.
Less than two decades ago, the norm was to fabricate 40 sq ft pieces to give away. This sometimes took many months to prepare, not to mention the economical burden on the poor. To ease this burden, Queen Salote declared that the size of the customary tapa cloth would be 20 sq ft only. The Tongan handicraft market in Nuku'alofa sells smaller versions of tapa cloth too.
Mats are a very important part of Tongan life and must be presented at all important functions. While passing through any village, you are sure to see strips of pandanus leaves being dried in the sun. A group of women weaving mats together is another sight very commonly seen. Making mats or any other craft is a community affair in Tongan villages.
A very important part of Tongan culture at one time, woodcarving today is a dying art because of the dwindling forest cover. Wooden artefacts sold in the markets in Tonga today are rarely traditional in form and are often of poor quality. In the larger interest, it is best not to encourage this art till there are efficient tree replanting schemes in place.
The scarcity of wood is not a new problem. Hundreds of years ago, Tongans were known to have set out to gather timber from the neighbouring island nations of Fiji and Samoa, so as to build bigger war canoes and thus be in control of all trade and commerce in the region.
The Women's Handicraft Centre in central Nuku'alofa is one of the best places to purchase handicrafts. The Tongan National Centre at Vaiola, which is 2 km south of Nuku'alofa, has some excellent examples of traditional craft too.
Mon to Fri: 8 am to 5 pm; Sat: 8 am to 12 noon.
The official currency in Tonga is Pa'anga. 1 Pa'anga (TOP) = 100 seniti. Currency notes are in denominations of TOP1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50. Coins are in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 seniti.
Currency can be exchanged at major hotels and banks in Tonga.
Credit/Debit Cards and ATMs
Both Visa and Dinners Club cards are accepted at a few places only.
All banks, some Tonga tourist shops and Tonga hotels accept traveller's cheques. It is best to carry traveller's cheques in Pounds Sterling or Australian Dollars to avoid additional exchange rate charges.
Mon to Fri: 9 am to 4 pm; Sat: 8:30 am to 11:30 am.