Story by Sky Zhang
If you are in need of a sunny, relaxing escape, but want to go somewhere off the beaten path, Tonga is the place for you. The Kingdom of Tonga is a group of 176 islands located a third of the way between New Zealand and Hawaii, and the only remaining Polynesian constitutional monarchy. The majority of the roughly 100,000 inhabitants reside on the main island, Tongatapu. Shimmering white beaches, coconut trees, and a welcoming spirit make Tonga a truly idyllic place. Here are four things you can count on if you ever visit the Friendly Islands
When my family and I went to Tonga, we made friends with the receptionist at the hotel where we stayed, and she once offered to go into the kitchen and cook for us. We felt very privileged as a ceramic plate of fresh ota ika (a salad of raw fish mixed with finely chopped vegetables, coconut milk, and lemon juice), roast meat, and leaf-wrapped lu sipi (lamb cooked with coconut) arrived at our table.
If you’re expecting disco houses and mojito bars scattered among the traditional, modest buildings, prepare to be disappointed. But this lack of nightlife venues does not mean that the Tongans don’t party—they just do it in their own way. In any given week, you can expect to come across at least one song-and-dance celebration, pageant, or other public event.
The Great Outdoors
Tonga offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor activity, so put on your comfy shoes, rent a bike, and get exploring. Cycle past beautiful wooden churches,Captain Cook’s landing place, and Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, the Tongan version of the Stonehenge. Discover an untouched beach and take a photo so you’ll know it wasn’t just a dream after you leave.. Bike down a dirt path between plots of farmed palm trees, and you may come across a group of farmers sitting on the side of the road chopping coconuts, which they might even offer free of charge.
By the time your last day in Tonga arrives, you will probably want some souvenirs to remember your experience. At Talamahu, the biggest market in Tonga, you can find not only local food but also conchs of all sizes, hand-painted fans, shell necklaces, wooden carvings, and other mementos. I recommend buying a CD of Tongan music to remind you of the island’s vibrancy. Be sure to explore all the stalls before buying something, as the prices vary, and get ready to haggle!
This story appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Baedeker.