Country guides Australasia
Referred to by Captain Cook as the 'Friendly Islands', Tonga spreads south of Samoa for 500 miles (800km). Consisting of 170-odd islands the country is the Pacific's last monarchy and the only Pacific nation never to be colonised. Tongans are fiercely proud of their history and culture, with this deep passion making Tonga a wonderful travel destination for those seeking both tropical beach bliss and a window into authentic Polynesian life.
After a brief period of riots and political turmoil in 2006, when locals rose up in protest against a new monarch notorious for his lavish lifestyle, Tonga has now reverted to its former peaceful and laid-back disposition, and the country is considered a safe and stable travel destination.
Tonga is a choice location for watersports enthusiasts and a tranquil retreat for those needing a break from the crush of modern urban life. Visitors often make use of yacht charters to explore the islands of Vava'u and Neiafu, while snorkelling close to shore and diving around phenomenal coral reefs. The archipelago is also a celebrated surfing destination, but the reef breaks typical of the islands are not necessarily suitable for novices. The presence of humpback whales in Tongan waters also make it a sought-after winter holiday destination.
The Tongan people are friendly and the culture relaxed, with traditional Christian values predominating alongside older Polynesian customs. The capital and commercial centre of Nuku'alofa bears testament, with a blend of western and traditional influence evident in the vibrant markets thriving alongside crumbling colonial buildings and numerous churches. The capital city is on the main island of Tongatapu, which is home to about 70 percent of the population and usually the first port of call for travellers before seeking out the less populated islands where pristine beaches and chilled resorts beckon.
Despite the obvious appeal of the archipelago as an idyllic island getaway, Tonga remains largely unblemished by large-scale tourist development and has not been overrun by package tourists. This may be discouraging for those looking for luxury, but the ultimately unpolished nature of the islands is the main charm for many visitors.