— Tonga —

Tonga, Pacific


Tonga is comprised of 176 coral and volcanic islands, 36 of which are inhabited. The country is divided into four distinct parts, each scenically diverse. The main island in the south, Tongatapu, is Tonga’s cultural centre and the home of the Kingdom’s capital, Nuku’alofa.

To the north of Tongatapu lies the Ha’apai group, a chain of low-lying atolls surrounded by clear turquoise waters. Ha’apai Island is a favourite with visitors who have the option to stay in the local village and participate in everything from kava ceremonies, feasting and dancing, to hunting feke (octopus) with village fishermen in outrigger canoes.

Beyond Ha’apai is the Vava’u group of islands. This is a paradise of lush tropical landscapes, a deep water harbour, rock islands and limestone caves. Vava’u Island has beautiful beaches and a scenic drive around the west coast with stunning views of Port of Refuge Harbour and the numerous outer islands. Further north still are the Niuas, an isolated trio of volcanic islands where traditional Tongan culture still thrives.

Capital and major centres
Nuku’alofa is the home of the Royal Palace, the residence of the reigning King George Tupou VI. Tonga is a constitutional monarchy with some forms of democratic integrations which saw the King ceded part of his power to the Prime Minister in 2010.

Most of the government headquarters are situated at the capital and this is where Tonga’s business centre could be found.

Other destinations in the vicinity are Eua Island, an ideal retreat for hikers, adventurers and naturalists, and Pangaimotu Island which is just a 10-minute boat trip from Nuku’alofa wharf.

The people
Polynesians by race, the local population speaks Tongan and English. The majority of Tonga’s 100,000 people live on Tongatapu.

Archaeologists claim that Tonga has been inhabited since the 5th century BC. It was first discovered by Dutch navigators in 1616. They were followed by Tasman, Wallace, Captain Cook, Bligh of the Bounty (sailors who mutinied in Tongan waters) and the missionaries. Tonga was the only country in the Pacific that avoided being colonised during the colonial era though it formally entered a treaty protectorate with the British government. Tonga gained its independence in 1970 and is now part of the British Commonwealth.

Vegetation includes hibiscus, frangipani, coconut groves, pandanus palms and banana plantations. Not far from Nuku’alofa, thousands of flying foxes make their home at Kolovai.

Frigate birds are common, as are the Pacific golden plovers, the Pacific black duck, swiftlets (Pacific swallows) and the blue crowned lorikeet. Tonga was the first Pacific island country to create marine parks or sanctuaries. More than 15 such parks now exist across Tongatapu, Haápai and Vavaú which are rich in fish, coral and marine life.

The sights
On the main island of Tongatapu, there are miles of white sandy beaches fronting clear lagoons which hold some of the most beautiful and varied reefs in the world. The rocky terrace coastline at Houma features the Blow Holes, one of the South Pacific’s most impressive natural spectacles. Huge waves crash into the honeycomb of coral rock, sending water spouts 20 metres into the air.

At the lagoon edge are the villages of Mu’a and Lapaha with several fascinating historical sites such as the Langi tombs.

To the far Eastern side, there lies the Haámonga Á Maui Trilithon, a stonehenge structure that is said to have been built in the 13th century by one of Tonga’s ancient Kings Tuítatui in honour of his two sons.

There are more sights to see in Vavaú, Haápai and Éua which varies from limestone caves to natural forests.

Where to stay
Accommodation varies from four-star hotels to very basic stays. On Tongatapu, there are hotels, self-contained apartments and guesthouses as well as off-shore resorts. Vava’u has resorts, motels and guesthouses in various categories, while Ha’apai has 12 guesthouses including resorts on Lifuka Island, Foa Island and Uoleva Island. ’Eua Island has eight guesthouses and one resort.

Getting around
On Tongatapu, Vava’u, Ha’apai and ’Eua, the main forms of transport are bus, taxi, rental cars, passenger ferries and domestic aeroplanes. Taxi cabs do not have meters, so it is advisable to negotiate your fare in advance.

Food and entertainment
A visit to one of the off-shore resorts in Tongatapu is recommended for their feasts and entertainment. The same can be experienced in Vavaú and Haápai with lots of places to try local cuisines.

Most of the major hotels and resorts also provide traditional feasts and dancing at least once a week. Nuku’alofa has several ethnic restaurants including French, German, Indian, Chinese, Korean and Italian.

Tongans play a range of sports including rugby, soccer, netball, volleyball, basketball, golf, tennis as well as Indigenous games. There are also many water-based activities such as diving, fishing, snorkelling, yachting, kayaking and the famous whale watching and swimming activities.

Shopping guide
Tongan handicrafts are known as some of the best in the South Pacific.
Recommended retail outlets include the Langa Fonua, the Friendly Islands Marketing Co-operative, the Fehoko Art and Creations, and the Talamahu Market.


Get inspired, or browse by interest