Some time ago I received a welcoming letter among my e-mail messages from a charming lady from the Island Kingdom of Tonga who expressed her wishes to be to correspond with me, to which I remarked in return that I would delighted to exchange correspondence with her. Through the ensuing days she told me about her life in her Pacific Island home, a bit of history pertaining to the Kingdom, and in return I told her about my life in Israel and, off course, a short of history my country.
She pictured her island kingdom as idyllic, a place where time stood still and a quiet and ideal place to have a comfortable and interesting holiday. Curiosity got the better of me so I became for the moment an armchair traveler. I fastened my seat belt and I traveled to the island kingdom through varied encyclopedias and travel books to see for myself. Her picturesque description proved to be true as I perused the books and found out the amenities offered.
First I sought out additional geography and history of the Kingdom of Tonga beyond the words of my new found pen pal before I make my armchair tour. The Kingdom of Tonga lies south of the Samoa Island and the Fiji Islands and is a third of the way between New Zealand and Hawaii. In fact the island kingdom of Tonga consists of 171 islands divided into three main groups: Vava’u in the north – - with the Niuas situated in the far north, Ha’apai in the middle and Tongatapu, South Pacific in the Tasman Bay close to the Southern Island of New Zealand. Today the Kingdom Archipelago of Tonga is ruled by King Taufa\ahau Tupou the constitutional monarch. The country was once a British protectorate, but gained independence in 1970, and is now a member of the British Commonwealth.
Getting there is relatively simple, as Air New Zealand, Air Pacific, Polynesian Airlines and Samoa Air have flights to the island kingdom. Also a visitor needs a passport and a return ticket upon landing. There is an airport tax of T$20 for all international departures payable at the airport. A few more inquiries might be on your mind if you decide to take your coming vacation to the Kingdom of Tonga, such as accommodation, sightseeing, activities and other amenities. I’ll start by telling you that Nuku’alofa in the capital of the Kingdom and home for the Royal Palace, is an edifice of tropical architectural beauty. There other major centers, such Eua Island, an island paradise that would delight the hikers, adventurers and naturalists. You could also visit Vava’au Island which has ideal sandy beaches, and if you wish you could take a drive along the West Coast and have a scenic view of the other islands. And for your enjoyment of native customs you can spend some time at Ha’pai Village where you will be invited to attend the ‘kava’ celebration with feasting, and dancing, a favorite for all visitors to the islands.
Nature has blessed the Island Kingdom with a rich variety of flora and fauna. The flora is typical of the South Pacific, rich with hibiscus and frangipani, coconut groves, pandanus palms and plantations of bananas. As to fauna there is the sight at Kolvai Island of flying foxes clinging to trees. The islands are rich in bird life with such species as the Pacific golden plover, the Pacific black duck , swiflets, and the blue crowned lorikeet. Also Tonga was the first Pacific Island to create parks and sanctuaries which are rich in fish, coral and marine life, all for your interest. (Scuba diving is a must when you visit the Kingdom’s four major nature reserves.) With the ocean water all around there are other water based activities which include diving, fishing, snorkeling, yachting, kayaking and whale watching. Accommodation at Tonga is low key – there are no large hotels, only small boutique type resorts; business hotels exist in the capital and backpackers hostels can be found around the islands.
Getting around the islands is easy as there are many forms of transport like a public bus service, taxi, rental cars and passenger ferries. As to native crafts one could purchase fine artistic artifacts at the Tongan National Center, The Friendly Islands shopping center, etc. And there is more to delight and entertain the visitor to the Kingdom of Tongo. If you want a holiday destination that is unspoiled, not commercialized, and back to the basics, Tonga Islands would be the perfect place for you.
The Pacific island archipelago is also known as the Friendly Islands because of the warm reception Captain Cook received from the people; he set foot one of the islands in 1773 during the time of ‘inasi’ festival, the yearly offering of the first fruits made by the islanders to the god ‘Tu’i Tonga and was invited to the festivities. Tonga is the only surviving monarchy among the island nations of the Pacific Ocean and is the only island never to be colonized by explorers by Western nations. Tonga Islands is famous as the location where Fletcher Christian forced Captain William of his majesty’s ship HMS Bounty into an open boat during the mutiny. It was on one of the island (Tofua) that Bligh sent a few members of his crew to fetch water only be driven back by the natives.
Bottom photo by Titine