Flights to Tonga: The Pacific's friendly islands
Captain Cook nicknamed Tonga the 'Friendly Islands' in 1773. You’ll get just as enthusiastic a welcome on your Tonga holiday today. Snorkel dazzling coral reefs and laze beneath swaying palms on deserted golden sands. Lace up your hiking shoes and explore the rugged forests of 'Eua, where flying foxes swoop from tree to tree. On Sundays, enjoy the harmonies of locals in full song at Tongatapu's gleaming white coral church.
Natural light illuminates the deep blue waters of sunken caves beneath the South Pacific near 'Eua. Dive beside dogtooth tuna, fierce lionfish, giant manta rays and turtles as friendly as the locals. Jump in a boat to meet the humpback whales who cruise into their breeding grounds around the Vava'u Island group from July to the end of October. Gasp as they breach the surface then make like a fish and join them in the water.
Flights to Tonga land you in yachtie paradise, with 176 islands scattered over 700,000 square kilometres of ocean. Sail through the cobalt blue waters of Vava'u Archipelago, past protected coral reefs and pristine lagoons. Moor at a resort for a cold Royal Beer beer or anchor off lush green islands where rare nesting Tongan Whistler seabirds will be your only company.
Meet the locals
For a real taste of Tonga, hint for an invitation to a traditional village feast. Welcoming locals will cook your dinner in an underground 'umu' (oven). After gorging on delicacies like ota ika (raw fish marinated in lemon and coconut cream) it’s time for dancing. Don’t expect the frenzied hip shaking you’ll see elsewhere in the Pacific. The Tongan lakalaka is a graceful, poetic dance so special it's on UNESCO's World Heritage list.
Where? Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific, three hours' flight north-east of New Zealand. The capital Nuku'alofa is on Tongatapu.
Population: Around 104,500 people live in the Kingdom of Tonga. The two official languages are Tongan and English.
Key dates: Of Tonga's long line of colourful monarchs, Queen Salote was the most popular. She attended the 1953 coronation of Elizabeth II, travelling in an open carriage in pouring rain and waving happily all the way.
Did you know? The 1789 Mutiny on the Bounty took place in Tongan waters, between Lifuka and Tofua. The mutineers set Captain William Bligh and 18 crew adrift, then sailed to Tahiti.
Ever dreamt of waking up on a remote island with tropical birdlife and basking whales your only company? Our selection of Tonga accommodation offers this and more. You can also thrill to the spectacle of a Polynesian show and dine in the shallows of cobalt-blue lagoons.
Who needs Michelin stars when you can have Tongan fish and chips (tuna and taro)? Expect simple yet delicious seafood at reasonable prices, romantic tables overlooking shimmering lagoons, and a big Tongan welcome.
Shopping in Tonga
From dirt shirt to whalebone pendant, everything you buy in Tonga is a one-off – and you'll usually be buying direct from the maker. Most craft shops are also workshops. Ask the artists making tapa, pottery or fine mats if you can have a go.
Ok, Tonga's a bit on the quiet side. And while you may prefer a harbourside beer with friends, the Tongan drink of choice is kava. It looks like dirty dishwater and tastes, well, like dirty dishwater. Bottoms up!
Tonga's Stonehenge is not as old as Britain's though it does go in for similar astronomical predictions (according to the King, anyway). More verifiable are the annual visits of the whales from July to the end of October.