The Kingdom of Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga. It’s the end of the world, or should we say the beginning? Tonga is the first country in the world where a new day starts. It’s literally at the beginning of the worlds dateline. The Kingdom of Tonga exists out of 176 islands. Only 40 islands are inhabited. The islands are very popular among the people who sail the world. Especially Vavua’ which is a regular stopover for ocean explorers. But there’s much more to do on the islands. The different islands are great for surfing, hiking, scuba diving and of course, swimming with humpback whales. It’s where Tonga is the most famous for and it’s a great experience. Truly, when you ever get the chance to visit Tonga and swim with Humpback Whales, go for it!

History Kingdom of Tonga

The history stretches back over 3000 years ago. When the Lapita people from Southeast Asia migrated west to the remote islands of the South Pacific. Many people settled at Tongatapu and nowadays you still can see the remains of the early settlements. The Tongan monarchy dates back from over 1000 years ago and is very similar to the European monarchies. For example, the Royal title passes from father to the eldest son. Nowadays the Tongan monarchy is still very important and influential. There are some changes to accommodate a more democratic state, but the royal family is still a very powerful entity. First European contact with the Kingdom of Tonga dates back from 1616 when the Dutch ocean explorer Wilhelm Schouten discovered the small northern islands of Tonga. The contact was very limited and it took until 1643 when the Dutch Abel Tasman visited several islands in Tonga. He mainly stopped there to get new supplies and trade several spices. He was already on his way back to Batavia (now Jakarta) from a long journey where he explored Australia and New Zealand, that’s probably the reason why he didn’t stay longer at the Tongan islands. After Abel Tasman's contact with the Kingdom of Tonga it took more than 100 years before new European sailors arrived. There were probably other people but it was Captain James Cook who sailed to Tonga in 1773 and returned for the second time in 1777. He spent over two months exploring the islands. Captain Cook was so impressed by the Tongan people, he named them the ‘Friendliest isles’. Which means ‘friendly islands’. Nowadays it’s still a slogan that’s been used in Tonga.

Undiscovered pacific beauty

The Kingdom of Tonga, it’s not the most popular holiday destination. And maybe that’s a good thing. There’s a lot to see and do at the beautiful islands. For many people, it’s really a big journey to even visit Tonga. When we flew from The Netherlands to Tonga, our trip started in Sydney. So first travel to Australia and then hop on a flight to Tongatapu. We decided to go whale swimming at Eua’, which took us another few hours on the local ferry. But it’s was worth our time. The best thing we ever did! When you ever get the chance and you love exploring nature and new cultures, Tonga is the place where you want to go. I think it’s a good thing that’s a long very journey to the islands, the mass tourism will go to other places in the world. And the Kingdom of Tonga will keep their beauty.

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Practical Information

When you’re travelling to Tonga there are several things you’ll need to know. You can arrange a lot beforehand, but still, it’s an island group in the Pacific. So everything goes much slower then we’re used to. But when you’ll get in the Tongan vibe and just go with the flow, you’ll find yourself relaxing at a beautiful place in the world.

flight informationFlights to Tonga

International flights arrive at Tongatapu, the main island. It’s possible to fly to Tongatapu from several destinations. Most flights leaving from Sydney (Australia), Auckland or Wellington (New Zealand). It’s also possible to fly from other places, but these airports are the most common to fly into Tonga. Domestic flights are a common way of transportation between the islands. But can be limited when the weather or wind is to heavy for the smaller airplanes. When you want to go from the main island Tongatapu to one of the other islands you can either go on a ferry or with Real Tonga, the kingdom’s domestic airline agency.

local weatherWeather in Tonga

Tonga has great weather all year round. During the winter months (april – September) it can be a bit cooler with the tropical rain falls. But the temperature is always between 20 – 35 degrees celsius. So when you’re packing for Tonga, don’t’ forget the slippers! The Tongan islands are located in the Pacific ring of fire. In this area, 90% of the world's earthquakes occur. Most of them are not dangerous, but a few times a year there are big earthquakes. Make sure you’ll know what to do when there’s an earthquake or tsunami warning. You can ask the local people for information.

visa informationVisa for Tonga

Tonga has a big list of countries (71 countries!) whom are eligible for a visa on arrival. You’ll only need a valid passport (valid for minimum of 6 months after arrival) and a returning ticket for leaving the Kingdom of Tonga. When you’re eligible you’ll get a visa for 31 days. It’s possible to extend this visa for six months. There are some other rules when you’re travelling from a country that’s not eligible for a visa on arrival. All the Tonga visa information is listed on this website

Vaccinations Vaccinations for Tonga

Recommonded vaccinations for Tonga are Hepititas A/B and Typhoid. It’s possible that you’ll need to get other vaccinations as well, depending on your personal situation. Make sure you’re up to date with the regular vaccinations and always ask your doctor for advice before you leave. Check this website for the latest travel advice In Tonga, there’s also a slight chance at Zika virus, which you can get via a mosquito bite. It’s probably best to bring some mosquito repellent and clothes with long sleeves / long pants during the evenings/night time. When to musquitos are most active.

CurrencyCurrency

The Tongan Dollar is Pa’anga (TOP). You can also pay with credit card in Tonga, but it’s recommended to always carry some cash. Electronic devices are not always working in Tonga and some shops just only accept cash payments. Check out the latest exchange rate here

TimezoneTime in Tonga

Tonga is the first to start new days. They’re at the beginning of the timezone. It means that Tonga time is UTC+13 In Tonga they always celebrate new years as the first ones in the world!

LanguageLanguage in Tonga

Almost everyone speaks English in Tonga, as their second language. English is thaught in schools in the Kingdom of Tonga. But they also have their own language, Tongan.

It would be great fun to greet someone in Tongan when you’re there. Here are some words to help you out;

Hello = Malo e lelei
Good morning = Malo e lelei ki he pongipongi ni
Good evening = Malo e lelei ki he efiafi ni
How are you? = Fefe hake?
Fine, thank you = Sai pe, Malo
What’s your name? = Ko hai ho hingoa?
My name is … = Ko hoku hingoa ko …

The islands of the Kingdom of Tonga

How to get around

Getting around when you’re at a Tongan island can be easy, but can take up a long time. There’s public transport with buses at the main island Tongatapu. But the buses don’t drive regular. The most common way of transport is by car or bicycle. On some islands, it’s possible to rent a car at a local shop. Most people go hiking around the islands, which can be very beautiful. Make sure you always tell someone at your hostel or hotel when you go for a hike and ask for directions. Travelling between the different islands is possible via domestic flights or by ferry. Both are regular connections, but it happens quite often that flights or boats are cancelled during weather or sea conditions. Make sure you’ll always have enough time planned between your travel destinations, that saves you a lot of stress! Tonga has over 176 islands and only 40 of them are inhabited. We cover the biggest islands that are interesting to visit when you’re travelling to Tonga.

Tonga swimming with whales

Tongatapu

This is the main island and the most developed of all the different islands. You’ll find a great lagoon that’s perfect for sea kayaking. And when you arrive at Tongatapu you’ll discover directly why they call Tonga the ‘Friendly Islands’. There’s always a warm welcome waiting for you when arriving in the country. A lot of people travel directly to other islands and stay there a bit longer. But there’s much to see and do at Tongatapu. Make sure you visit Langi – the tombs of the Tongan kings. And Nukuleka, which was probably the first human settlement in Tonga

Vava’u

It’s the island where most ocean sailers stop for a short time to relax. It’s also the island with the most humpback whale encounters in Tonga. And it’s famous for their possibility to swim with these giant creatures. At Vava’u you’ll also find some amazing diving spots and it’s really special to wander around the island and enjoy the amazing ocean views.

Ha’apai

It was this group of islands where Captain Cook first set foot on the Tongan land and after the warm welcome of the Tongan people he named it ‘the Friendly islands’ Ha’apai still has an active volcano which you can visit when you’re there. And it’s famous for the kitesurfing. Of course, it’s also possible to swim with the humpback whales on this island. And when you’re not on the water it’s possible to visit an old fortress, build in the 15th century or an ancient stone quarry at Holepaka Beach. There’s a lot to do at Ha’apai, but don’t forget to go with the Tongan pace, nice and slow.

’Eua

You can visit ‘Eua with the worlds shortest commercial flight. It will take you 7 minutes to fly from Tongatapu to ‘Eua. ‘Eua is a national park and Tongan’s oldest island. The island with hills and rainforest which makes it great for hiking and rock climbing. When you go to Tonga for whale swimming ‘Eua is the best place you can go to. There are only two accommodations you can stay and two companies that are offering whale swims. Which means it’s very quiet at the islands and at sea. More chance for beautiful swims! We went to ‘Eua and had a great time at Deep Blue Diving.

Things to do in Tonga

Of course, you’ll go to Tonga to swim with humpback whales. You don’t want to miss out on that. It’s so special to swim with the giants of the ocean. A once in a lifetime experience that you’ll never forget. But there’s much more to do at the Kingdom of Tonga, so when you’re there make sure you go hiking and discover the beauty of the different islands. Go scuba diving and explore the beautiful reefs. Go kitesurfing. Relax on the beach. Attend at a church on Sundays, it’s not your regular church visit! Make Umu, a Tongan dish, with your new local friends. And relax…