Tonga sounds and looks just like the ultimate Polynesian dream – a distant kingdom of numerous South Pacific islands, many of them – uninhabited, most lined in white beaches and coral reefs, and covered with tropical rainforest. But what more – besides the inviting tourist booklets, sunny weather and blue ocean waters – could expect and discover a well-travelled globe-trotter like me?
Kingdom of Tonga: Quick facts
• The official name is “the Kingdom of Tonga”, a sovereign state and archipelago comprising of an impressive number of small islands, (169 of them!) scattered over 700,000 sq km of the southern Pacific Ocean. Out of 169, only 36 islands are inhabited.
• Tonga became known in the West as “the Friendly Islands” because of the nice reception given to Captain James Cook on his first visit in 1773. (According to writer and Tonga researcher William Mariner though, the chiefs wanted to kill Cook but just couldn’t agree how to do it…)
• Until 1970, Tonga, which never relinquished its sovereignty to any foreign power, had British protected state status. Quite soon, in 2010, it moved to a constitutional monarchy rather than the traditional absolute kingdom, had first partial representative elections and today the population of only under 110 000 people lives under the generous reign of kingTupou VI.
• The main island is Tongatapu, which is protected by lagoons and limestone cliffs, hosts the rural capital of Nuku’alofa and 70% of the entire population. Here you’ll also find beach resorts, plantations and the Ha’amonga ʻa Maui, a monumental coral gate from the 1200s.
Some call it “The Kingdom of true exploration”
And… here I land – in this ultimate ocean paradise, fresh from the relatively short, 3,5-hour flight from Auckland. By the way, Tonga is mostly popular for marine life lovers who want to see something truly grand – whales giving birth! In Tongan “winter” the gigantic mammals swim north from Antarctica to have their gargantuan babies born in the warm hug of archipelago’s pristine blue waters and you’d be lucky to witness it…
Anyway, that’s not why I’m here. Plus, it’s February, not the tourist season. I’m only here to explore… Which, naturally included going from one island to another with a ferry. Or, if you prefer, you could fly by plane – an amazingly picturesque flight of only… 7 minutes!
One thing is certain. Tongans are very religious. Most Protestants (small Catholic minority), due to British influence, they have churches everywhere and Sunday is strictly a sacred day. Everything is closed, even restaurants and shops, all the people get dressed up, go to the church and sing. With such climate and beautiful nature, ocean and beaches they really should be thanking God.
Maybe that’s why Tongans are very nice people. Smiling and friendly. It’s a pleasure to be there and Tonga tells you “Welcome” in many ways, including the no-visa-required regime. Visitors are predominantly “the neighbours”, Aussies and Kiwis, who leave a certain cultural footprint.
Pricewise, Tonga is reasonable, a bit cheaper than Australia and New Zealand.
The main export is coconuts and copra (which is about the same, lol).
What can I say is great, the abundance of seafood – caught in the morning, served right away – and meat (the local wild pig is almost everywhere).
“Kava” is the regional, traditional drink of Polynesia that has its own ceremonies and the whole culture. (The roots of the plant are used to produce a drink with sedative, anaesthetic, and euphoriant effect.)
In conclusion, I’d say that Tongans – like most Pacific nations with year-round sun and wonderful weather – are not fans of hard, tedious work. The fierce competition of the West, the business schedules, sales goals and financial targets feel millions of miles away.
People here are uniquely laid-back and calm, living a simpler, obviously happy life.
Visit them one day and get a taste of it.