Visiting Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga, “The Friendly Islands”, is made up of some 170 plus Islands scattered across more than 700,000 square miles of the world’s bluest ocean and beautiful people.


In the 237 years since Captain Cook’s first visit, the reception travellers receive has not changed. You'll find Tongans live up to Cook’s epithet “The Friendly Islands” with their natural warmth and gentle approach to life. You'll also discover Tonga is a great place for fantastic adventures. We guarantee you won’t visit Tonga once: you'll come back again and again.

Geography

Tonga is located in the heart of the South Pacific lying east of Fiji, south of Samoa and north of New Zealand; a chain of 176 islands covering a distance of approximately 500km in a North/South orientation. Tonga is situated between Latitudes 16 and 23o South at approximately 174o West. It lies directly to the West of the international dateline; being the first country in the world to greet the new day.

Tonga is divided into 4 distinct groups. The Tongatapu group is the most populated and farthest south. It is Tonga's cultural centre and home to the capital, Nuku'alofa. The central Ha'apai group lies approximately 120km north, an archipelago of low coral islands surrounding soaring volcanoes. Another 120km north is the Vava'u group, Tonga's main tourism hub with it's magnificent islands and natural harbours. And in the extreme northern reaches are the Niuas, an isolated trio of volcanic islands 500km from Tongatapu. The groups vary considerably from each other in their natural landscape, in culture and tradition and in the attractions and activities available for tourists, making visits to the outer islands (as Ha'apai, Vava'u and the Niua's are collectively known) an essential part of a trip to Tonga.


History

Tonga is an ancient Polynesian country of 171 islands with a history of human settlement extending back 3000-3500 years. Tonga's monarchical (Tu'i Tonga) tradition is over 1,000 years old; and at times has extended to include territory in parts of Fiji, Niue, the Samoans and Tokelau. European contact with Tonga dates back to 1616 and early contacts included Abel Tasman and James Cook.

Tonga's contacts with the international community were extended through Wesleyan and Catholic missionaries who were active in Tonga from the 1790's. Taufa'ahau, the nephew of the ruler of Ha'apai, was baptised in 1831, taking the Christian name Siaosi (George) Tupou. Tupou became ruler of Ha'apai, Vava'u and Tongatapu following the deaths of his relevant relations. Tupou united Tonga under the name King George Tupou I and established the current royal family line in Tonga. Tupou, with Wesleyan missionary Reverend Shirley Baker, drafted laws which, inter alia, prohibited serfdom and foreign ownership of land, and led to Tonga's Constitution of 1875.

The 1875 Constitution marked the formal establishment of Tonga as a nation state. Unlike other Pacific countries, Tonga was never colonised by a European power. From 1900 to 1970 Tonga was, however, a signatory to Treaties of Friendship and Protection with Great Britain. In 1970 Tonga's protectorate status ended and it became a fully independent state within the Commonwealth. The royal line has remained unbroken since 1845. King Taufa'ahu Tupou IV died in September 2006 after a reign of 40 years. His mother Queen Salote Tupou III ruled for 47 years, from 1918 until 1965. The present King is His Majesty King George Tupou V. His formal coronation took place on 1 August 2008.


Population

Approximately 110,000


Time Zone

Tonga is just west of the international dateline and 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.


Climate

From December to April, the weather is hot and humid, with considerable rainfall and an average daytime temperature of 28o Celsius. The cool dry season, with average day time temperatures of 24o Celsius, runs from May to November. Trade winds during the season make for pleasant days and cool nights.


Electricity

Electrical power is 240 volts using plugs common to Australia & New Zealand.


Communication

Country code +676. International roaming is available for those traveling with a mobile phone. Pre-paid SIM cards are available from the two mobile phone operators, TCC and Digicel. Public phones require a prepaid cards which are commonly available at retail outlets. Some public phones can be found that allow international credit card calling. Internet cafes can be found in all major centers.


Currency

The Tongan pa'anga (TOP$) equals 100 seniti (cents). Notes are in the denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, coins: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50

Approximate Exchange Rates: 1 pa'anga = 0.5 USD, 0.6 AUD, 0.7 NZD


Money

Banks are present in the main centers as are ATM's accepting international debit/credit cards. Major credit cards are accepted at most major hotels and some restaurants and stores. Travellers' cheques are widely accepted at major banks and hotels


Tipping

Tongans do not expect tips, although no offence will be caused if special service is rewarded in this way.


Religion

Tonga is a devoutly Christian country - the Sabbath is declared sacred in the Tongan Constitution. With the exception of bakeries and a few restaurants catering to tourists, Tonga is shut on Sundays.


Dress

Tourists are advised to dress modestly in respect of Tongan tradition. Swim suits are fine at the beach (although most Tongans swim with their clothes on) but not in town or at public venues.


Post Office

The Post Office is located on Taufa'ahau Road in Nuku'alofa. Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8:30am - 4pm.


Taxes

Consumption Tax (CT) of 15% applies to imports and domestic supplies of good and services.