The only monarchy in the Pacific, Tonga gained its independence from Britain in 1970. The islands are believed to have been colonised more than five thousand years ago and Tongan warriors used to be renowned for their fierceness.
Dutch sailors reached Tonga in the 17th century, passing through on route to the East Indies. Britons arrived in the late 1700s, including Captain James Cook, who dubbed them "the Friendly Islands". Missionaries followed and Tonga became a British protectorate in 1896.
Situated between Hawaii and New Zealand, the archipelago of Tonga covers an area of around 718 sq km and has a massive 419 km of coastline. Mostly limestone and volcanic rock, the islands are surrounded by impressive coral reefs, with myriad, colourful inhabitants.
Tonga offers some spectacular diving and snorkelling and both are a firm favourite with visitors. Watersports available on the islands include sailing, surfing, fishing and kayaking.
The expanses of unblemished land in Tonga mean that the islands are a paradise with nature lovers and are perfect for birdwatching, hiking, nature trekking and whale watching.
Traditional arts and crafts, such as carving and weaving, are kept alive in its villages and watching Tongan dance and singing can be a fascinating experience. The Tongan National Cultural Centre offers the best chance to find out about the islands’ history and traditions.
The eastern side of the island of Tongatapu has a wealth of fascinating archaeological sites, including pyramidal tombs at Mu'a, a grand burial site at Paepae 'o Tele'a and the Ha'amonga'a Maui Trilithon, which is aligned with the sun at winter solstice. Other sights include the charming town of Nuku'alofa (Abode of Love) and the vast Mapu'a 'a Vaca Blowholes.
Getting between the islands, it is easiest to fly, though ferry services are available. On the larger islands, taxis and buses are relatively easy to take and cars can be rented out. Accommodation tends to be basic, well priced and clean, though larger hotels are starting to spring up as the islands become more accessible.
The tropical climate makes Tonga warm and humid year round, with the slightly cooler months between May and December. Tonga has witnessed little development and is not heavily commercialised in the way that many similar island groups have been.
Flights are available to Tonga’s Fua'amotu International Airport from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Samoa and Hawaii. The islands are relatively expensive to visit, but the vibrancy, charm and beauty of Tonga make it well worth the trip.