Honeymoon in Tonga

The Islands of Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago of 176 coral and volcanic islands (approximately 52 of which are inhabited), scattered over 700,000 square kilometers of ocean.

Located to the west of the International Dateline, the Kingdom of Tonga is the first Pacific nation to greet the new day.

The Kingdom of Tonga, one of the most scenic and unspoiled of the Pacific island nations, has dramatic & active volcanic landscapes, spectacular tropical rainforest, low-lying coral atolls, pristine coral reefs, magnificent sandy beaches and a unique and beautiful array of flora and fauna.

The Kingdom of Tonga is located on the Eastern edge of the Indo-Australian Plate, which is forced up by the Pacific Plate pushing under it at the Tonga Trench. This long oceanic valley extends North-South and reaches depths over 5.5 nautical miles.

The Kingdom of Tonga also lies on a volcanic ridge known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, which extends from New Zealand to Samoa, then back toward Vanuatu and the Solomons.

Tonga’s archipelago can be divided into four distinct parts: Tongatapu, Ha’apai, Vava’u and the Niuas. Each island group is scenically diverse.

(Nuku’alofa) Tongatapu

Nuku’alofa, the capital, is located on the main island of Tongatapu. The island is also home to the Royal Family, the Government, many businesses and the majority of the Tongan population.

Most travelers who come to the Kingdom will arrive via Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu. The town is well equipped for visitors and the terrain is flat, so it is easy to explore by car or bike or simply walk around.

Nuku’alofa, meaning abode of love, on Tongatapu, meaning sacred south, is home to reminders of the Kingdom of Tonga’s ancient past. Take your time to discover and explore Tonga’s key archaeological sites including the mysterious Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon (stone hedge of the Pacific) and the Langi (terraced tombs) and moats on the Eastern side.

Take a leisurely drive and find a secret beach or head to the Southern West Coast to see the spectacular blow holes.

Back in town, spend some time just walking around. See the Royal Palace, the Royal tombs and the many colonial houses still in use.

Don’t miss out on eating a traditional Tongan dinner and seeing a cultural show to learn about Tongan dancing or visiting the market on a Saturday morning to check out what food is available and buy traditional weaved baskets and tapa. On a Sunday, go to church to hear the voices of angels.

If you need to unwind, go to one of the offshore islands and explore a maze of motus (islets) and coral reefs teaming with brilliantly colored tropical fish. Or simply soak up the South Pacific atmosphere.

‘Eua Island Group

Part of the Tongatapu Group, rugged ‘Eua lies just off the South-Eastern tip of Tongatapu – but when you are there it feels much more remote. The island is an ideal destination for those in search of adventure and enjoy being in touch with nature.

‘Eua National Park is the Kingdom of Tonga’s premier location to experience nature. Large scale tourism does not exist on ‘Eua – it’s a quiet, peaceful, mostly undeveloped location. It’s easy to get there as a ferry leaves most days from Nuku’alofa and takes about two hours. Or you can enjoy one of the shortest passenger flights in the world and take 8 minutes for the trip.

‘Eua has the best trekking in Tonga. Hilly and thickly forested with spectacular high cliffs at its northern end and numerous caves and sinkholes. Take a walk through the pristine forest in ‘Eua National Park, explore the rocky southern coastline, descend through the rainforest to the sea or watch from the cliff edge as seabirds swoop by on the thermal currents. There are caves, chasms and waterfalls with pools to cool you off.

As you walk through the National Park down an escarpment to the Lokupo beach listen to the noisy call of the ‘koki’ (a red breasted musk parrot), which is found in ‘Eua. The park is a birdwatchers' paradise.

Have a picnic on the deserted beach looking out over the sparkling ocean or take a less demanding hike and learn the Southern Legends as you walk through the rock gardens watched by wild horses.

Local guides will recount the history of the island and introduce you to their community, where you can experience daily life on ‘Eua, meet some of the local people and watch ‘tapa’ cloth being made.

Between July and November, humpback whales swim past ‘Eua en route to their breeding grounds in Vava’u and you can watch these magnificent creatures from the beach.

Divers can also explore the underwater marine caves on the northern shorelines. The ‘Cathedral Cave’ lives up to its name, carved into a natural sepulchre and filled with fish and coral with the bright colors of a stained glass window.

Vava’u Island Group

With its sheltered anchorages, Vava’u is a haven for yachties and is renowned as both the sailing paradise of the Pacific and one of the world’s great sailing centers. It is also regarded as a water-based nature lover’s paradise and the most scenic region in the Kingdom of Tonga.

There’s an extensive charter boat operation and, from July to October, you can see the magnificent humpback whales that come to the warm waters to mate and calve. For something really special, you might choose to swim with the whales.

Snorkeling, diving, sports fishing and sea kayaking are all on the menu here. Beneath the water, the great visibility – up to 30m – makes journeys out to remote underwater caves and mysterious shipwrecks a delight.

Swim inside Swallows Save, dive into Mariners Caves or discover the calm waterways by sea kayak. If you are feeling up to it, why not venture out overnight and stay under the stars on your own white sandy beach.

If you like game fishing, the local experts say that you have a better chance of catching or tagging the mighty blue marlin in these waters than anywhere in else in the world.

For a day on land, take a stroll through Neiafu and stop and have a drink, lunch or even dinner at one of the great cafes or restaurants overlooking the Port of Refuge. Then if you are fit and energetic, the climb to the top of Mt Talau is not to be missed.

There are 72 islands (and 20 are inhabited) in the Vava’u Group, so go out and explore!

Ha’apai Island Group

When you reach Ha’apai, you will find that time has stopped. There are no traffic jams, no crowds, no queues – just peace and tranquility.

Independent travelers consider the Ha’apai group to be Tonga’s best-kept secret and one they hope will never be discovered by mass tourism. With its prolific wildlife and pristine natural beaches, Ha’apai is a wonderful eco-tourism destination, and a paradise for divers and snorkelers.

It was on Lifuka Island that Captain Cook landed and, after a warm reception, later described the Kingdom of Tonga as “The Friendly Islands”. It was also in the waters of Ha’apai, near the volcanic island of Tofua, that the famous ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ took place and Captain William Bligh was set adrift in a small boat.

Walk around the sleepy captial of Pangai on the main island of Lifuka is a must, if for no other reason than to savor the slow pace of life. Visit the Shirley Baker monument in the European cemetery and the site of the Velata Fortress.

Relax and put on your swimsuit, hire some snorkels and flippers or diving gear and discover the magnificent coral reefs and caves that abound in Ha’apai.

Try your skill at sea kayaking or horse riding along a beautiful white sandy beach.

Hire a boat for a day and explore one of the many other islands in the Ha’apai group. Some are inhabited but you may find you own deserted South Pacific Island!

The Niuas

Across the North of the Kingdom of Tonga’s lie the two Niuas – the volcanic islands of Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou.

Niuatoputapu lies about 240km north of Vava’u and consists of an area of 18sq km with a population of about 1,400. Far away from Nuku’alofa, tradition is still a way of life here with conservative dress and behavior.

Niuatoputapu is surrounded by magnificent white beaches and the most beautiful beaches are on the North West side of the main island.

Niuafo’ou is the northernmost island in the Kingdom of Tonga. Almost 350 miles separate Niuafo’ou from Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu; while Samoa (200 miles) and Fiji (300 miles) are a shorter distance away.

Niuafo’ou is the tip of an underwater volcano, which was created by sub-oceanic eruptions many years ago. The center of the island is dominated by Vai Lahi, a large lake measuring some 5km across and up to 84m deep. In the island’s South and West, extensive, blackish gray fields of lava bear witness to Niuafo’ou volcanic history.

Although it can be difficult to get to, traditional Tongan customs and culture still thrive in this isolated group, offering visitors the cultural experience of a lifetime.

Historical & Cultural Sites

The Kingdom of Tonga is the only Pacific nation never to have been controlled by foreign powers, and is the last remaining Polynesian monarchy.

Polynesians are thought to have arrived in the Kingdom of Tonga more than 3000 years ago and the first of the hereditary rulers, known as the Tu’i Tonga, governed from about 960AD. The ruling royal family of the Kingdom of Tonga can be traced back more than 1000 years.

The 170+ islands group were first visited by Dutch travelers in the early 1600s, although it was the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who became the first European to set foot on Tongatapu and Ha’apai in 1643. The British seafarer Captain Cook dubbed the archipelago the ‘Friendly Islands’ in 1773 and visited again in 1774 and 1777.

The adoption of Christianity by the ruling family (which followed the arrival of Methodist missionaries in the 1820s) and an overall policy of accommodation with the British meant that the islands were never formally colonized.

King George Tupou I, the great-great-great grandfather of the present ruler and the first chief to rule over all of the Kingdom of Tonga, was the founder of the present dynasty. Tupou I took power in 1831. He introduced representative government to the islands during his reign.

A Treaty of Friendship was signed with the British in 1879 which afforded Tonga the unique status of a ‘Protected State’ (as distinct from a Protectorate, which allowed for less autonomy in government). However, the islands were subsequently made a protectorate in 1900.


Ha’amonga a’Maui Trilithon

The name Ha’amonga ‘a Maui means ‘Maui’s burden’, referring to the Polynesian God Maui, who according to legend formed the Kingdom of Tonga by fishing the islands from the depths of the sea. The ha’amonga is a form of yoke or carrying pole worn across the shoulders, in a similar shape to that of the trilithon. It is thought that only a great god like Maui would have the strength to carry a yoke such as this.

Captain Cook and the Kingdom of Tonga

Captain Cook visited Tonga in 1773, 1774 and 1777. When offered ‘Ota Ika (raw fish), he asked his assistant to taste the dish first to ensure the food wasn’t poisoned. (Today, some cheeky accommodation providers follow this method when serving traditional food to their guests!)

The Langi Tombs

Langi is the name given to the tombs of the Tu’I Tonga dynasty (Scared Kings of Tonga) and are normally platforms of earth constituting of a stepped pyramid effect supported by carefully placed retaining walls.


European Cemetery and Shirley Baker Monument

Whether dry goods merchants, copra traders, or beachcombers, a majority of the European community of late 19th and early 20th century in Lifuka, and their Tongan families, were buried in the small cemetery plot on the northern outskirts of Pangai.

Olovehi Tomb

The tomb at Olovehi was constructed in the late 1700s for Nanasipau’u, a woman who held the position of Tu’i (King) Tonga fefine (eldest sister of the Tu’i Tonga). As part of her funeral rite, it is claimed that many individuals were killed and buried around the outside to serve as her attendants in the afterlife.

Huluipaongo Tomb

As Captain Cook sailed passed the southern end of Lifuka on May 23, 1777, he wrote in his journal of an impressive “mount” that had been built for a former “king”. Having the name Huluipaongo, it is the burial site of the Mata’uvave line of chiefs and it is the highest burial site of the Lifuka.

Tofua Island

It was just after 8am on April 28, 1789, when the famous Mutiny on the Bounty occurred between Lifuka and the volcanic island of Tofua. As Fletcher Christian and the mutineers set sail for Tahiti, Captain William Bligh and 18 companions rowed their way to Tofua. The reception they received there was no better than on the Bounty and the landing party was attacked and one person was killed.

History of Lifuka

Archaeological excavations in the village of Hihifo indicate that the first settlement of Lifuka took place approximately 3,000 years ago. Other archaeological excavations on Lifuka, and throughout Tonga as a whole, document an unbroken continuum from these settlers to the present.


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