Cattle in front of a coconut plantation

Tonga, The Friendly Islands - in a Nutshell

Author: Sue
Date: 14th September 2013

Getting into and around Tonga

The plane to Tonga from Samoa via Fiji is a little late taking off, as the staff have found a ukulele in the departure lounge at Nadi and want to track down its owner. I wonder if it is a camouflaged explosive device.

When I get to Nuku'alofa, the capital of Tonga, the fun really begins. I have been emailing a lady named Nive at my hotel to arrange airport pick ups and tours, as I only have two and a half days here and tomorrow is Sunday. No sign saying Susan Rogers at the airport. In fact no-one to meet me at all.

So I take a taxi into town and am dropped off at a building site. It does have the right hotel name over the door, but I make the driver wait while I check I'm in the right place. Yes, up the stairs at the back is a semblance of a once grand hotel, but it's shrouded in dust sheets. I'm told this is all fine as work doesn't actually start till Monday. Yes, the restaurant downstairs will be open later. I'm surprised. All I can see are bulldozers and cement mixers. Nive has forgotten to tell anyone to pick me up. No-one knows anything about my tours. And she's not here; it's her day off. She's not answering her phone either.

Nive Tours - or Not

Nive is tracked down and she will be here in ten minutes. No, she won't, she will be here in an hour, she is taking her auntie to the airport. At least her auntie hasn't been forgotten. Three hours later she still hasn't come. I'm a little upset. The receptionist calls the manager who is a pleasant young man who is clearly terrified of what I might write on Trip Advisor. I've been give wine (which I returned), been promised free meals and trips (the manager says he will sort them all out) and I'm now in a different (sister) hotel on the waterfront. Instead of attempting grandiose lofty opulence this one is colonial verandah style. Both are an odd mix of traditional wooden furniture and plastic. There is a blue soap container with a doll painted on it.

Time for some sleep! But, no, here is Nive at the door insisting that she has to talk to me. She won't be dissuaded and she is melodramatic and remorseful. She wants to take me out tomorrow. Don't use the agent tours they are rubbish. But please don't tell the boss she's doing it instead. So I agree a tour tomorrow. All I want is some sleep. The room is noisy, and I turn off the air conditioning, but I can still hear a buzzing noise. Ah, I track it down - it's my suitcase. My new electric toothbrush has gone berserk.

A Very Brief History of Tonga

  • Tonga was first inhabited about 2,500 years ago by the Lapita peoples. They quickly evolved into what has become known as the Tongan culture and their empire, at one time, stretched from parts of the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia and Fiji in the west to Samoa and Niue and parts of modern-day French Polynesia in the east.
  • The first European explorers to reach Tonga were Dutch, followed eventually by Captain Cook. He dubbed Tonga the Friendly Islands, because of his warm reception. However, he doesn't appear to have been very perceptive,
  • Tonga opted to become a British protected state in 1900, when other European countries (primarily Germany) and rival Tongan chiefs tried to oust the king. The Treaty of Friendship and protected state status ended, with independence in 1970.

Is Tonga a Poor Country?

The king and his family, powerful nobles and a growing non-royal elite caste live in a wealthy lifestyle, while the rest of the country lives in relative poverty.

Where Does the Name Tonga Come From?

  • The name Tonga means south.
  • Tonga is pronounced Tong-a - not Ton-ga.

Facts and Factoids

  • Tonga comprises more than 170 islands of which 52 are inhabited. Total population 100,000.Tonga was named  'The Friendly Islands' by Captain James Cook, though it is also suggested that the chiefs were debating eating him when he arrived.
  • The people are deeply religious- no working,  housework or even swimming is allowed on a Sunday.
  • Tonga is said to have the highest proportion of Mormons of any country in the world. The Mormons are very influential here and are aspiring to make Tonga the first Mormon nation. They already have a church in every village and several schools and they own all the cattle. The Mormon men are the only ones who wear trousers. ( A book of Mormon is supplied in my bedroom alongside the Gideon bible).
  • Obesity is thought to represent health, wealth and happiness. Ninety per cent of the population of Tonga are overweight; 70 per cent of adult women are obese.
  • Rugby is the national sport.

Is Tonga Safe to Visit?

The crime rate is low. However, petty crime and theft do take place, especially at night. There are warnings about drunken brawling on occasion. and also some reference to packs of aggressive dogs. I didn't have any problems.

Prepare  your arrangements as well as you can in advance and be prepared for things to happen slowly

What to Do in Tonga?

You can get round the main island, Tongapatu, in a day. There are plenty of interesting sites, historical, cultural and scenic.

After that, it's island hopping, beach, diving, snorkelling, and in season, swimming with whales

Leaving Tonga

I'm preparing to go back to Fiji. Nive still hasn't shown up. She was supposed to take me to the boat yesterday. She was going to arrange a hairdressing appointment for today. Nothing. The guy who was going to take me to the airport is late. But the manager is picking up my whole bill: food, drink, transfer. The lot. So that's all right.

Join the discussion, leave a comment

Been there? Something to add? Want some advice? Just want to say Hello? Get in touch…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

hello world!

Newsletter Subscription

Stay in touch. Get travel tips, updates on my latest adventures and posts on out of the way places, straight to your Inbox.

I keep your data private and only share your data with third parties that make this service possible. Privacy Policy. No spam I promise. Unsubscribe any time.