Tonga is a kingdom of 176 islands in the Southern Pacific Ocean, located east of Fiji and south of Samoa. The numerous islands of Tonga are most commonly organized into five island groups: Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Ha’apai, Niuas, and Vava’u. Tongatapu is the main island of Tonga. It is the largest of the Tongan islands in both population and geographic size. On the northern coast of Tongatapu lies the capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa, where the King of Tonga lives. Just a few miles southeast of Tongatapu is ‘Eua, the southernmost group of islands. North of ‘Eua by about 100 miles, you’ll find the Ha’apai group of islands. And 70 miles north of Ha’apai, you’ll find the Vava’u group of islands. Finally, beyond Vava’u, you’ll find the Niuas islands – the northernmost group of Tonga’s islands.
Tonga was first settled by Austronesians from the Solomon Islands about 6,000 years ago. The Tongans traded and intermarried with the Samoans and Fijians over various stretches of subsequent millennia. It was not until the 17th century when the first Europeans, Dutch explorers Schouten and Le Maire, discovered Tonga. Captain James Cook re-discovered the islands in 1773 and English missionaries arrived soon after. In 1845, Tāufa’āhau (or George Tupou I) united the Tongan islands into a kingdom and presided over it as king. In 1900, the kingdom signed a Treaty of Friendship with Britain and became a protected state. Tonga later became a commonwealth nation and recently joined the United Nations in 1999. Tongans are proud to boast of their unique designation as the only islands in the Pacific not to have been colonized by the Europeans or Americans.
Most tourists find Tonga to be a real treat. These islands are a haven of fertile farmlands, white sandy beaches, multihued coral reefs, and fjordlike harbors. Outdoor activities in Tonga like camping, trekking, sailing, diving, kayaking, snorkeling, whale watching, fishing, and safari-adventuring are popular. The islands are also great for bird-watching, as there are a number of birds endemic to Tonga such as the Megapode, Pacific Wallow, Pacific Pigeon, Tongan Whistler, and the Polynesian Triller. Some great Tongan sights include the Royal Palace in Nuku’alofa where the king resides, the Mala’ekula, which are the royal tombs of the Tongan monarchs, and the Anahulu, an underground cavern of stalagmites and stalactites.
The people in Tonga are generally friendly, welcoming, and laidback. The culture is very family-oriented with the women enjoying a higher social status in many ways than the men. Tongans love to spend their leisure time singing, dancing, carving, canoeing, and tattooing. Religion also plays a vital role in Tongan society with the Sabbath being strictly observed. Few businesses open and few events take place on Sundays.
The downside of Tonga is that it is not the most modernized country. The electricity, running water, and quality of accommodations may not be up to par with your experiences in more western countries. Be prepared to endure sub-par amenities. You’ll be more than rewarded with the epic travel experience Tonga has been known to bestow.