Tonga is a miniature Kingdom, made up of a group of 170 islands, 45 of which are inhabited. They form a necklace just west of the International Dateline. The main island of Tongatapu in the south is the home of the Kingdom's capital, Nuku'alofa. North lies the Ha'apai group, a chain of low lying atolls surrounded by clear turquoise waters. Beyond Ha'apai lies the Vava'u group, a paradise of lush tropical landscapes, a deep water harbour, rock islands and limestone caves.
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CAPITAL AND MAJOR CENTRES
Nuku'alofa is the capital and home for the Royal Palace. Other major centres are Eua Island, an ideal retreat for hikers, adventurers and naturalists, and Vava'u island which has two beautiful beaches on the main island and a scenic drive around the west coast with stunning views of Port of Refuge Harbour and the numerous outer islands.
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Ha'apai village is a favourite with visitors who are invited to stay in the village and participate in all aspects of village life from 'kava' ceremonies, feasting and dancing to hunting 'feke' octopus with village fisherman in outrigger canoes.
The majority of Tonga's 96,000 people live on Tongatapu. Polynesian by race they speak Tongan and English.
Archaeologists claim Tonga has been inhabited since the 5th century BC. It was first discovered by two Dutch navigators in 1616. They were followed by Tasman, Wallis, Captain Cook, Bligh of the Bounty whose sailors mutinied in Tongan waters, and the missionaries.
Today the Kingdom of Tonga is ruled by King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV who reigns as a constitutional monarch. Formerly a British protectorate, Tonga gained its independence in 1970 and is now part of the British Commonwealth.
Queen Salote Tupou of Tonga arrives at Parliament House to open the session.
Vegetation is typically South Pacific with masses of hibiscus and frangipani, coconut groves, pandanus palms and banana plantations.
Not far from Nuku'alofa hundreds of flying foxes cling to high trees at Kolovai. Frigate birds are common, as are the Pacific golden plover, the Pacific black duck, swiftlets (Pacific swallows) and the blue crowned lorikeet.
Tonga was the first Pacific Island country to create marine parks or sanctuaries. Four such parks now exist, rich in fish, coral and marine life.
There are miles of white, sandy beaches fronting clear lagoons which hold some of the most beautiful and varied reefs in the world. The rocky terraced coastline at Houma features one of the South Pacific's most impressive natural spectacles. Huge waves crash onto the coral rock sending water spouts 60ft or more into the air. At the lagoon edge are the villages of Mu'a and Lapaha with several fascinating historical sites such as the Langi tombs at Lapaha.
On Tongatapu, Vava'u and Eua the main forms of transport are bus, taxi, rental cars and passenger ferries.
FOOD & ENTERTAINMENT
A visit to the Tongan National Centre is recommended for their feasts and entertainment. Most hotels and resorts also provide Tongan feasts and traditional dancing at least once a week. Nuku'alofa the capital, has several authentic restaurants including French, German, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Italian.
Tongans play rugby, soccer, cricket, netball, volleyball, basketball, golf, tennis and traditional indigenous games. Water-based activities include diving, fishing, snorkelling, yachting, kayaking, and whale watching.
SEATAXI CHARTERS, NUKU'ALOFA
Branko Sugar of Seataxi Charters welcomes everybody to the only water taxi and whale watching boat in Nuku'alofa!
Seataxi Charters is also available for game fishing, deep sea fishing and sports fishing at the best Tongan locations. This means you can enjoy more time doing actual fishing rather than just sitting and waiting for hours to get to the fishing grounds and back home.
Check out Seataxi Charters excellent Web site:
Happy whale watching and fishing!
Home of the only comprehensive cruising guide for the Kingdom of Tonga!
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Tongan handicrafts are some of the best to be found in the South Pacific. The best retail outlets are the Langa Fonua, the Friendly Islands Marketing Co-operative, the Talamahu Market and the Tongan National Centre.
Pristine and even undived reefs are not difficult to find in Tonga since 125 of its islands are uninhabited.
Access to the islands is through the southern island Tongatapu, where Royal Sunset Scuba Diving on Atata Island show off the rich coral reefs. However the best diving is found in the central Ha'apai and northern Vava'u groups.
Port of Refuge in Vava'u is a deep sheltered harbour extending well inland. Two imperators, Beluga Diving and Dolphin Diving take visitors to currentless shallow dives in the harbour or to spectacular walls and reefs outside the entrance on the loaf shaped islands that herald the open ocean. The Glen McWilliams lies at the bottom of the harbour not far from the main wharf. Intact, upright and covered in marine life it is a spectacular introduction to wreck diving.
Beds of yellow sea fans can be found at Tuangasika Island along with an extensive bommie coated with anemones and their associated down fish. In places the reef wall is riddled with lobster filled caves, some containing air bubbles in the roof large enough to surface into, such as the one at Mariners Cove. During winter and spring divers can be assured to at least hear, if not see, humpback whales that make the clear waters their calving and mating grounds.
Night diving is very special. Slipper lobsters abound, juvenile Lion Fish with their beautiful livery are found nestled in the coral, and the shy Flashlight Fish with their luminous light organ below the eye, drift about.
The live-aboard yacht Impetuous is operated by Royal Sunset Island Resort and is available to explore the southern central and northern islands.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
CLIMATE: Pleasant and slightly cooler than most tropical areas. Annual temperature 23 degrees C.
CLOTHING: Casual clothes are recommended for most occasions.
ELECTRICITY: 240 VOLTS.
TIME ZONE: 13 hours ahead GMT. AEST +3 hours.
CURRENCY: The Tongan dollar or pa'anga equals 100 seniti (cents).
Air New Zealand, Air Pacific, Polynesian Airline and Samoa Air.
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