It is a lesser known fact that I briefly lived in the Island Kingdom of Tonga during my teenage years. I lived on the main island of Tongatapu, and it was an incredible experience – if not a little boring for a slightly gothic teenage who hated swimming and had a *slight* fear of the ocean! What I am trying to say is, maybe at the time I could not appreciate Tonga for what it really is. Nonetheless, it was a great experience, a quirky country, and place I am looking forward to rediscovering in the future. Here’s a few tidbits I learnt about the main island, Tongatapu, that I’d like to share with you all.
Things to know:
- Nothing is open on a Sunday – the way it should be.
- Don’t sweat if you see someone walking down the street with a machete – they’re likely just on their way to cut some grass, peel some potatoes or gather food.
- Avoid roadside BBQ stands which sell Fonua and Kuli – these are dog and turtle.
- The main religion in Tonga is Wesleyan, followed closely by Mormonism.
- Tonga is a country of roughly 75% unemployment.
- The road-side stalls are only open when and if the owner needs to make money – and as soon as they have enough to pay their phone bill or buy their groceries, they’ll shut up shop until next necessary.
- Tonga is not tourism-orientated – what you’re seeing is the real deal, raw and honest. If you know me, that’s exactly the way I like my destinations.
Things to do and see, and places to eat:
- Everyday of the week, including Sunday afternoons, the bakery on the main street is open for business and sells out of its incredible coconut sweet buns in minutes – so don’t muck around.
- The food in Tonga is something to die for – from the fresh, cold coconuts sold by road side vendors, to the delicious cafes that dot the waterfront and the main street. One of my favourites was Friends Cafe.
- Take time to visit the village of Kolov’ai to see the King’s Bats. It is said the King owns all the bats of the village, and there are hundreds of them adorning the trees along the beachfront.
- Explore “Stonehenge of the Pacific” at Ha’amonga. In the ancient village of Ha’amonga you will find a huge structure of three rocks, believed to have been imported from the Campbell Islands! When I lived there, a lovely man who couldn’t walk would sit around selling the most beautiful handcrafted souvenirs made from local products, all of which I still have. Make sure you buy something from him ❤
- In the village of Houma are the Mapu a Vaea or “Whistle of the Noble Blowholes”, which are exactly as you’d expect – blowholes. They are beautiful and well worth a squizz.
- Take a ferry from the Nuku’alofa Waterfront to Pangaimotu Island, to relax on the beach drinking Maka (the local beer). The ferry to Pangai is 10 minutes each way and costs 10 Pa’anga, which is the local currency. Take your snorkel gear to check out the incredible wildlife surrounding the island’s shipwreck, then stop in to Big Momma’s Yacht Club for lunch.
- Check out the Ana’luhu Caves. If you offer the locals a donation (go on, make it a hefty one) they’ll take you on a private guided tour of the caves.
- Check out Nuku’alofa’s Maketi for some incredible local produce and souvenirs.
- Spend the night at Oholei and enjoy a cultural evening. Enjoy an incredible meal served on banana leaves before indulging in an incredible performance inside a cave, which was once an ancient blowhole.
- Swing by the Catholic Basilica on the main street of Nuku’alofa on a Sunday morning and listening to the incredible singing infiltrating the air.
- Take a drive to Liahone, the ‘Capital’ of the Mormon Church in Tonga, and see if you can spy the island’s only two-headed coconut tree.
Malo’e’leilei – Hello
Fefe hake? – How are you?
Malo aupito – Thank you
Ofa ‘atu – I love you
I personally believe Tonga is among the most beautiful places on the planet!
Have you been? Let me know in the comments.