TRAVEL TO TONGA
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WELCOME TO TONGA
Tonga, or the Kingdom of Tonga, is a group of 170 islands. It is a true kingdom in that there is a King, royal family and nobels and is home to approximately 100 000 people. Only 40 of these are inhabited. There are three major island groups, Tongatapu, Ha’apai, and Vava’u. Most of the Tongan population live in these areas in villages, but urban growth is increasing and now about one third of the population live in an urban area. The capital is Nuku’alofa on the island of Tongatapu, where there is a major port of entry. Tonga is unique in that they they have a King, royal family and nobels like European monarchies.
Nearly all the Tongan population is of Polynesian ancestry, and cultural traditions are strong. The official language is Tongan, and most Tongans speaks English. As in Fiji, Samoa and parts of French Polynesia, the tradition and rituals around drinking kava are practiced. Carving, manufacturing tapa cloth from bark, and woven mats and baskets from pandanus leaves are still done today. Much of these meets demands from the tourist market.
Religion is very important in Tonga and most Tongan’s belong to a Christian church. Sunday’s is a true day of rest where most of Tonga shuts down in favor of family, church, resting and feasting. It’s even prohibited to play sport, exercise or do certain chores on a Sunday.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN TONGA
Tongan culture is strong with traditions and customs part of everyday life. There are several ways you can experience Tongan life including going to a Sunday church service, eating local cuisine, going to a cultural show, taking part in a cultural tour, doing a guided sightseeing tour with a local, staying in a local guesthouse, going to a Sunday spit roast feast, wandering local markets and stalls, doing a handicraft class, and drinking kava with a local.
Tongan history is fascinating and you can find historical places of interest across the islands. The most iconic historical site is Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, an ancient coral stone trilithon estimated to have been constructed in the 13th century. You’ll find the Velata Mound Fortress in the village of Hihifo on the island of Lifuka. It is near the Olovehe Tomb, another historical site. Ancient royal tombs are often visited sites, with the most famous being Papae ‘o Telea royal tombs in the village of Mu’a in Tongatapu.
Pangaimotu is a small island, just a quick 10 minute boat ride from Tongatapu. It’s a great way to spend a day relaxing in the sun, snorkeling the coral reef or diving off wreck 50 meters off the island’s main beach. The Pangaiotu reef is a national marine reserve.
You find a lot of interesting caves to explore in Tonga. ‘Anahulu Cave is a limestone cave and the only freshwater cave in Tongatupu where you can take a refreshing dip in the cave’s pool. Swallows Cave is a large sea cave on Kapa Island and popular snorkeling site where you can see reef fish, andswim with the large school of fish that shelter in the cave. Fangatave Caves in ‘Eua have multiple caves to explore. Mariners Cave is accessible only by snorkeling underwater or diving, then you emerge into an airtight chamber. These are just a few of the many caves you can visit in Tonga.
On the main island of Tongatapu you’ll find feral pigs that have learned to forage at low tide for crabs, mussels, seaweed and fish that might be in rock pools. They don’t swim; they wait until low tide and take advantage of the lower water levels then they put their heads underwater to get the seafood. Watching the pigs snuffle around the beach and head out in the water has become a big tourist attraction on the island.
Mapu'a 'a Vaea Blowholes
Mapu’a ‘a Vaea Blowholes are a 3 miles stretch along the south coast, near the village of Houma. Hundreds of blowholes spurt jets of water through eroded vents in the coralline limestone. This is especially dramatic on a windy day with a strong swell.
With 176 islands in the Kingdom of Tonga, there are plenty of beaches to explore. Depending on what you’re looking for on a beach, you’ll probably find it. There are deserted beaches, romantic beaches, and busy ones with activities for the whole family. Popular beaches are Ha’atafu Beach, ‘Ana Beach and Hinakauea Beach.
The crystal clear blue waters of Tonga draw many tourists keen to see humpback whales. The Tongan waters are the birthing and mating grounds for southern humpback whales who shelter in the tropical reef-protected waters to give birth to their young. This happens from July to October, and Tonga is one of the few places in the world where you can still swim with the whales.