Also known a the Friendly Islands, Tonga is the only Polynesian kingdom still to have a monarchy and has in fact never been colonised.
On one of his visits, Captain Cook presented the then king with a tortoise which lived nearly 200 years and is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest animal on record.
The 170 islands (36 inhabited) form an archipelago in the South Pacific about one third of the way between New Zealand and Hawaii, south of Samoa and east of Fiji.
It is made up of four distinct areas - the Tongatapu islands with the capital city of Nuku'alofa in the south, and the Ha'apai islands, the Vava'u islands and the Niuas in the north.
Lying as they do on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Tongan Islands are either volcanic or are coral limestone laid down over the years on top of older volcanoes. Some of the volcanoes are still active and earthquakes can occur.
With a diverse landscape of stunning volcanic mountains, rainforest and tropical beaches, it's not surprising that this deeply religious country with a strong Polynesian culture is a favourite with visitors to the South Pacific.
When to go
The name Tonga means south. As it is further from the equator than islands such as Samoa, Tonga has a cooler and more comfortable tropical climate. It has hot summers with high rainfall (December–April) and a cooler winter (May–November), with year round temperatures rarely rising above 27°C (80°F).
The further north the island, the hotter the average temperature with more humidity and higher rainfall especially in the summer months when tropical hurricanes can occur.
How to get there
Tonga has regular flights to and from Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Western Samoa.
There are also connections to other South Pacific Islands via Tonga. Air New Zealand flies to the Niues, Fiji, Samoa and American Samoa.
To get to some of the other Tongan islands, domestic flights run regular services from Monday to Saturday. There are ferries too which will transfer you between the larger islands. Specially chartered sea planes which land on water are also available, allowing visitors the opportunity of visiting the remoter islands.
Alternatively you could arrive by sea as cruise ships often calling in to Tonga. For those with yachts, the marinas are well set up to receive those cruising the South Pacific.
Where to stay
Tonga offers a wide range of accommodation.
The southern island of Tongatapu has the largest choice of resort hotels, guest houses, self catering apartments and back packer hostels. These range from the deluxe to the basic.
Most hotels offer free transfer from the airport.
What to see and do
Each of the four areas has its own attractions.
Tongatapu is the most populated and is Tonga's cultural centre. It is here that the Royal Palace is located, but this can only be viewed from the outside.
There are archaeological sites worth visiting on the island such as the ancient terraced tombs and also natural phenomena such as the blowholes of Mapu'a 'a Vaca, stretching for 5km along the south shore, and a natural bridge called Hufangalupe.
Ha'apai has long sandy beaches and Vava'u is famous for its sailing. The group comprises of two chains, one coral and the other volcanic and it has a huge land locked harbour. Many water based activities operate from here.
For those seeking isolation there is the tranquility of the trio of Niuas islands in the north.
Tonga is a divers' paradise with drop-offs, sea mountains, cathedrals and caves to explore - not to mention the coral gardens and exotic marine life.
Scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking, surfing, fishing and swimming with dolphins are some of the other water based activities you will find on these islands. Yachts
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