As one of those heart of the Pacific, not sure what day it is destinations (Tonga was one of the popular spots for those rich folk who couldn’t resist seeing in the new Millennium twice), Tonga is another of those wonderful island spots that you’ll probably never want to leave, hinging on a traditional culture that sees whole pigs roasting ‘Lord of the Flies’ style and the chance to watch whales splash around in the crystal clear and striking lagoons.
In capital Nuku’Alofa, however, modernity – often in the form of gangster-like clothing – is creeping in slowly, largely off the back of an ever-growing tourist industry. The outlying islands remain a more natural playground, home to blowholes and whales, volcanoes and uninhabited islets. The volcanoes, in fact, sensibly occupy the uninhabited islets, and rise straight out of the ocean at Kao and Tofua, and make for an eerie climb to the still-active peaks.
Eua is still more surreal, a rugged, walkable rainforest full of startling sinkholes that you can jump down into and climb back out of on the trunk of a sunken tree, and is quickly becoming a popular ecotour destination. Another ecotour draw are the massive humpback whales, which wallow amongst the clear blue waters despite some local groups eagerness to continue hunting them (a practice that became illegal in Tonga in the 70s).
Then there are the impressive blowholes shooting blasts of seawater 30 meters into the air in Tongatapu, while water lovers (well, you came to Tonga…) can make the most of the resort-style destinations around the Vava’u Group; great for ogling fish from your kayak, or diving down into the depths for a close up of the colorful underwater wilds. For those on a longer-term trip, The Ha’apai group of islands are the place to escape the sometimes-overwhelming volume of tourists.
Religious or not, the impassioned scenes of a Tongalese church are worth a look too, followed by a gentle evening on the beach sipping local kava in the depths of your hammock. Having got under the skin of everyone from Captain Cook to Paul Theroux, Tonga’s alluring beaches, watery sunsets and feasts baked in underground ovens will no doubt have you itching for more, true. Bliss.