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Holidays in Tonga

Understanding Tonga

There were pro-democracy riots in Nuku'alofa in November 2006 which left 8 people dead and large portions of the town centre flattened by fire Tonga is one of the last absolute monarchies in the world and is based upon an essentially feudal system where the king disburses land and positions without recourse to any elected body Although Tongan royalty is largely loved and revered by Tongans, younger people have an appetite for stronger accountability and a more modern constitution There are plans for an election at the end of 2010, which will lead to a major reduction in the powers of the King in favour of a more democratic form of governance

Tonga has an economy with none of the corporate chain stores and with local small businesses providing all necessary goods and services Tourists were not a target during the riots and you will find Tonga a friendly and appealing place to visit although don't expect the same level of infrastructure as in more developed countries Rebuilding after the riots in Nuku'alofa has been more or less completed and there are abundant tourism facilities


The archipelago of "The Friendly Islands" was united into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845 It became a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and a British protectorate in 1900 Tonga acquired its independence in 1970 and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations It is one of the few indigenous monarchies in the Pacific

Talking in Tonga

Tongan is the most widely spoken language in Tonga English is also widely understood because many of the high schools teach exclusively in English Many Tongans when asked a question they are unsure of or don`t understand will reply with a "Yes" In this case, ask a follow up question and if the reply is still "Yes", ask someone else

What to see in Tonga

  • Tongatapu Tongatapu is Tonga's largest island with over two-thirds of the country's small population It is a coral island surrounded by coral reefs The capital, Nuku'alofa, on the north coast, has a relaxed air, despite the troubles of a few years ago There are some interesting places to visit, such as ancient tombs and coastal blowholes, and some nice beaches with good snorkelling Tongatapu also provides a good opportunity to view a unique culture There are several small islands to the north of Tongatapu that have been developed into resorts Nuku'alofa has good quality accommodation as well as guest houses within range of the backpacker
  • 'Eua 'Eua Island is located only 175km east southeast from Tongatapu It is the highest island in Tonga and is not related geologically to the other islands, being much older It has beaches on the western side but dramatic cliffs on the east coast, with Tonga’s largest tropical rain forest, which is a great place to go trekking There are a few small guest houses
  • Vava'u Vava’u is a group of more than 50 islands, about 150 miles north of Tongatapu They are either raised coral limestone or coral atolls The beautiful harbour opposite the main town of Neiafu is a common destination for yachties sailing the South Pacific, attracting about 500 yachts every season The waters of the islands are known for their clarity The area attracts many humpback whales between June and November and there are organised tours to see them Other things to do include diving, renting a yacht, kayaking; game fishing and kite surfing There are some good walks on the main island There are many places to stay both in the capital Neiafu and on the outlying islands

  • Ha'apai Ha'apai is a group of about 60 islands, south of the Vava'u group and north of Tongatapu Only 20 islands are constantly inhabited This is where the Mutiny on the Bounty occurred in 1789 The total population is approximately 5,500 There are plenty of sandy beaches plus good diving and snorkelling and the opportunity to see some whales Ha'apai offers the whole range of accommodation, from budget to upmarket resort
  • The Niuas The Niuas are reachable by weekly flights from Vava’u Niuatoputapu is 240km north of Vava’u and has a population of around 1400 It has beautiful white beaches, particularly on the north-west side of the island Niuafo’ou is the northernmost island of Tonga It is known as Tin Can island from the fact that in earlier times mail was delivered and picked up by strong swimmers who would retrieve packages sealed up in a biscuit tin and thrown overboard from passing ships Niuafo’ou is the tip of an underwater volcano The last eruption was in 1946, after which the whole island was evacuated for ten years Accommodation on both islands is limited

What to do in Tonga

Apart from a few historical sites on Tongatapu most things to do in Tonga reflect its island nature Diving, snorkelling, fishing, boat trips, kayaking and kite surfing are all possible There are some lovely beaches if you just want to laze around Tonga has some good restaurants and this is the place to come if you like lobster

Take time to learn a little about Tonga's fairly feudal culture and its many traditions Go to church Even if you are not religious the singing can be very moving Watch tapa cloth being made from mulberry bark and try a drink of kava, the traditional drink, which is a mild narcotic

Buying stuff in Tonga

The national currency is the Pa'anga, or Tongan dollar Denominations are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 seniti coins and 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 Pa'anga banknotes Although Tonga is a developing country, prices for many things are comparable to or slightly greater than New Zealand or Australia Most of what you eat, apart from fish, lobsters, roots and tubers, fruits and vegetables will have been imported A good meal out will cost 30-50 Pa'anga, a beer in a restaurant or bar costs about 5-6 Pa'anga, hiring a car is about 50-60 Pa'anga a day and cigarettes are 7-8 Pa'anga for a pack of 25

  • Tapa Tapa cloth is made from the bulk of the paper mulberry tree Although tapa is found throughout Polynesia, Tonga is the only country where it is still a part of daily life The bark is stripped from the tree trunk and the outer bark is then scraped off from the inner bark and discarded The inner bark is first dried in the sun before being soaked It is then beaten into strips of 25cm using wooden mallets The continuous beats of the tapa mallet is still a common sound in Tongan villages The narrow strips are then beaten together into a wider sheet and decorated

Food and eating in Tonga

Tongan feasts are a must-do Tour companies and hotels organize feasts, together with traditional dancing, on several nights of the week on Tongatapu and in Vava'u

Drinking in Tonga

Tonga is lively well into the evening, generally becoming suddenly very quiet at around 11PM Expect to see people walking around until late Beer and liquor are available from many outlets, including Fijian, Australian and New Zealand imports to complement the local brews If you are keen to check out native drink, try Kava something like liquid novacaine at least once

The local beer is called Ikale and is sold in 330 ml bottles in most restaurants and bars 450-5 Pa'anga Or you can buy the same bottles from one of the many 'Chinese' roadside shops or a supermarket for 2 Pa'anga or less Imported beers are mainly from Australia although there are also some from Europe Most are sold in 330 ml cans or bottles

Accommodation in Tonga

There is a wide range of accommodation in Tonga, ranging from luxurious to budget Most have relatively few rooms, though The Tonga Visitors Bureau 4 has a full listing See detailed listings on the pages for Tongatapu, Vava'u and Ha'apai

Working in Tonga

If you don't work you don't eat Tongans don't want to hear that its hard on the coral beaches lined with palm trees and emerald lagoons There are many opportunities for skilled trades from the streets to the shops, in the schools to the churches and yes from the markets to the office This is a hot spot for skilled navigators spanning throughout 169 villages and 150 islands Some major exports include Vanilla, handcrafts and specialty pumpkins grown for export to Japan Other agriculture sectors include root crops like taro, tapioca, sweet potatoes, yams, coconuts, bananas, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, watermelons and even peanuts

Cities in Tonga

What do you think about Tonga?

How expensive is Tonga?
(1 TOP = 0 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant9.4 TOP
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)71.83 TOP
McDonalds meal8.03 TOP
Local beer (0.5 draft)4.42 TOP
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 4.8 TOP
Cappuccino4.99 TOP
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)7.36 TOP
Water (0.33 bottle)1.63 TOP
Milk (1l)3.76 TOP
Fresh bread (500g)1.13 TOP
White Rice (1kg)2.5 TOP
Eggs (12) 7.03 TOP
Local Cheese (1kg) 18.3 TOP
Chicken Breast (1kg) 10.92 TOP
Apples (1kg) 5.34 TOP
Oranges (1kg) 6.06 TOP
Tomato (1kg) 2.73 TOP
Potato (1kg) 2.77 TOP
Lettuce (1 head) 2.25 TOP
Water (1.5l)2.21 TOP
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 33.66 TOP
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)3.6 TOP
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 4.66 TOP
Cigarettes10.21 TOP
One way local bus ticket0.83 TOP
Taxi start4.41 TOP
Taxi 1km4.43 TOP
Gasoline (1 liter) 2.76 TOP
Utilities for a "normal" apartment123.75 TOP
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 552 TOP
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 413.63 TOP, your travel companion

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