The only Pacific nation never to be colonized by a foreign power, Tonga is an absolute monarchy and a relic of traditional Polynesian culture which offers its visitors much more than pristine beaches dotted with coconut trees. Its remote location in the South Pacific Ocean and consequently the low number of international flights acts as a barrier for mass-tourism, preserving the islands tranquility and authenticity.
Outshining any other part in northern Tonga, Vava’u is a group of roughly 50 islands which beside its crystal clear water has the most incredible wildlife anywhere in the archipelago.
It’s recommended to visit Vava’u between June and November, when the adorable humpback whales flock the islands. There are few organized boat trips, offering a close glimpse on those marine mammals, including a rare chance to swim alongside with them.
Other popular activities include renting a small yacht and snorkeling or diving around the reefs, which is a great opportunity to encounter the islands rich marine eco-system.
photography by: Brandone Cole, majesticwhaleencounters
Located in the main Island of Tongatapu, Nuku’alofa is the capital city of Tonga and by far the largest population center in the country. In first glimpse it may seem like a dull place, however, Nuku’alofa is not only where you have a chance to experience the modern Tongan urban culture but also a town full of authentic Polynesian architecture, decent dining options and a pleasant walkable waterfront along the ocean side.
The city’s skyline is dominated by the Royal Palace, which despite being closed for visitors can be easily seen and appreciated from outside. Like other public buildings in Nuku’alofa, its red and white colors correspond with the nation’s flag and serve as a backdrop for ceremonial and diplomatic events.
Another recommended place not be missed is Talamahu Market which offers everything from local fruits and vegetables, grocery items, seafood delicacies to Tongan traditional souvenirs.
photography by: Uhooep
The oldest island to be formed in the Tongan archipelago, ‘Eua is covered almost completely by a rainforest and linked to Nuku’alofa by one of the shortest commercial flights in the world, roughly 6-7 minutes. Due to its separate formation by tectonic activity rather than as a result of coral reefs like the rest of Tonga, ‘Eua features a mountainous landscape with several cliffs, which accessible by foot, though it’s recommended to hire a local guide for any adventurous hike.
The most famous landmark in the island is definitely Li’angahuo ‘a Maui, a natural limestone archway acting as a magnificent window to the Pacific Ocean.
photography by: Boris Johnson
With an obesity rate exceeding 90%, Tonga is a nation of food lovers, so much so, that many aspects of the local culture revolve around food, especially at hearty feasts with dozens of participants, as every community across the islands frequently holds feasting events as a way to strengthen the bonds and commitment between its members.
Any decent Tongan feast usually features a suckling pig with crispy skin and juicy meat accompanied by a plethora of delicacies such as fresh slices of tropical fruits, coconut flavored seafood and various types of meats wrapped by banana leaves and cooked under the earth soil.
During those festivals, a traditional Tongan dance performance with live music is always held, complementing the food with yet another cultural facet.
Most hotels organize such events for tourists, thus it’s recommended to ask the reception for prices and schedule.
photography by: lirneasia
Sandwiched between the island of Tongatapu in the south and Vava’u in the north, Ha’apai is an archipelago of 51 islands, of which 20 are inhabited. The vast majority of the islands are attols, offering some of the best beaches in Tonga, bestowed with the finest and softest sand.
Ha’apai has couple of extremely isolated islands, one such secluded nook is Luahoko Island, also nicknamed Robinson Crusoe Island, an allusion for its remoteness and the chance to take a break from modern life. Luahoko Island has handful of bungalows for travelers seeking an ultimate solitude from the outside world, slightly disrupted only by bird chirps and wave sounds.
Another possible adventure that requires careful planning and plenty of time is an excursion to the volcanic island of Tofua, pierced by a caldera. Some travel agencies arrange a boat trip and guided tour culminating in steep climb over the volcano, followed by a spectacular vista from its summit.
photography by: esormikim
Christianity is by far the most dominant religion in Tonga, making up almost 98% of the population. The Christian identity is not only manifested by the overwhelming majority of the religion’s adherents but also by the strong devotion of Tongan believers, one tradition which undoubtedly confirms that is the nationwide practices during Sundays.
The saying goes that Tongans have only three activities on Sunday – lotu, kai and mohe, translated as going to church, eating and sleeping respectively, thus Tonga comes to a halt every Sunday, rendering the entire country as a one big ghost town.
That might seem a bit intimidating at first, but remember, since Sunday is allocated for resting and church attendance, it’s an a opportunity to experience a very authentic facet of Tongan lifestyle and visit the nearby church for Sunday mass.
Bear in mind that with the exception of private lodges, all shops, restaurants and public buildings across the country are closed, including the airport. Since it’s illegal to work at Sunday, only basic services like police and hospitals are available while loud music, sport and every activity which might interfere with the day’s behavioral codes is strictly forbidden, thus not recommended to challenge those cultural norms.
photography by: Antoine Hubert
It’s quite common for a visiting outsider to think that Tonga’s most important landmarks are entirely natural, while that’s not farfetched, it’s still absolutely untrue, one man-made monument to support this claim is the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui.
Located in proximity to the village of Niutōua, the site of Tonga’s ancient capital Heketā, at the northern part of the Tongatapu island, Ha’amonga ‘a Maui is a trilithon made from three coral stone slabs.
It’s still debated whether the centuries old structure was constructed as a gateway to Heketā royal complex or as a star observatory, though the first hypothesis seems more plausible giving the fact that few steps afterwards stands a giant stone used as the king’s throne.
The site uniqueness lies in its being a relic of complex ancient kingdom, served as the foundations for modern day Tonga, often overlooked and dismissed by the perception, depicting the Pacific region as a primitive and underdeveloped.
photography by: Tauʻolunga