by Stefanie Michaels
Tonga is a sovereign island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean, and is made up of 176 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. It is located 1,056 miles north-east of New Zealand and east of Australia. It’s a direct flight from the United States to Tonga, which takes around 13-14 hours to get there.
This Polynesian kingdom that has existed for over 1,000 years and was once known as the Friendly Islands. The Tongan empire reached its height in the late 1700s, when it controlled much of the Pacific. In 1900, it became a protectorate of Britain and gained independence in 1970.
There is a constitutional monarchy with a king and his royal family. King Tupou VI ascended to the throne in 2012 after the death of his brother King George Tupou V. There is a head of state and a prime minister as the head of government.
The main island, Tongatapu is where the capital, Nuku’alofa, is located. However, with 169 islands and four different island groups to explore, getting around by ferry is one way to island-hop through the islands. Inter-island ferries are the cheapest. Most ferry journeys are long— the popular Tongatapu to Vava’u route taking 16 to 23 hours on slow cargo and passenger ferries.
Here’s a list of things to do and see in Tonga:
- Visit the Royal Palace: Located in the capital city of Nuku’alofa, it’s the official residence of the King of Tonga and is an important cultural and historical site.
- Swim with Humpback Whales: Bring your underwater camera! Known for its whale watching ops, the best time to swim with whales is during the Humpback whale migration season—typically runs from June to October. During this time, Humpback whales come to island waters to mate and give birth, making it possible to see them up close and even swim with them.
- Explore the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon: This ancient stone structure, also known as the “Burden of Maui,” is a unique and mysterious archaeological site.
- Visit the Anahulu Cave: Tongatapu Island limestone cave is home to a variety of stalactites, stalagmites, and ancient rock paintings.
- Snorkel/Dive the Vava’u Islands: Vava’u Islands are home to some of the best snorkeling and diving spots in the world, let alone in these isles. Gin coloured waters are so clear with an abundance of marine life.
- Visit the Tongatapu War Memorial: Located in Nuku’alofa, this place honor’s the country’s soldiers who fought in World War II.
- Take a guided tour of the Eua Island: This island is less touristy than others and home to traditional villages.
- Attend a Tongan Cultural Show: Visitors will enjoy a traditional cultural show to experience the island’s music, dance, and customs.
TIP: *Swimming with humpback whales is strictly regulated and it is allowed only with licensed tour operators who have the necessary permits and follow strict guidelines to ensure the safety of both visitors and whales.
Here is a list of the 4 island groups:
- Tongatapu group: Tongatapu, ‘Eua, and a few smaller islands.
- Ha’apai group: Ha’apai, Lifuka, Foa, and a few smaller islands.
- Vava’u group: Vava’u, Nuapapu, and a few smaller islands.
- Niuas group: Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou, two volcanic islands.
The currency is the Pa’anga (TOP). The New Zealand dollar is also the primary currency. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels and restaurants.
Airlines who fly to the islands are: Air New Zealand, Fiji Airways, Virgin Australia and Real Tonga.
Cruise lines: P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises among others.
Please note: Availability and frequency of cruises may vary depending time of year, current global health situation and other circumstances.