20 Fun Facts About Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com
20 Fun Facts About Tonga

20 Fun Facts About Tonga

© TongaPocketGuide.com

Interesting Facts About Tonga

Tonga is a nation with a colourful history, interesting culture and natural wonders. Just for fun, we’ve picked out some of the best fun facts about Tonga throughout our research for this online travel guide. Enjoy!

1. Tonga Has a Disappearing Island

Fonuafo’ou means “New Island” in Tongan and is the apt name for a submarine volcano that has come and gone across history. Between 1781 and 1865, there were reports of what seemed to be a large shoal in the Ha’apai Group of islands. In 1867, the British HMS Falcon confirmed it was a coral reef. The island grew to 50 m (164 ft) high and 2 km (1.2 mi) long by 1885, when Tonga declared the new island, Fonafo’ou! But in 1894, the island went missing! It then reappeared two years later at 320 m (1,050 ft) high before disappearing again. It reemerged in 1927 then disappeared again by 1949 then on and on. Currently, Fonuafo’ou is in its “hidden” phase.

9 Fun Facts About Tonga© Public Domain

2. Humpback Whales Travel 3,000 Miles to Breed and Give Birth in Tonga

One of the main reasons many visitors come to Tonga is to swim with humpback whales. They make their amazing 4,830 km (3,000 mi) journey from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic to the warm waters of Tonga each year between July and October. They come to Tonga to breed, give birth and raise their young before returning to the Antarctic. Learn more fascinating facts about the whales in What Does Whale Swimming in Tonga Look Like?

10 Fun Facts About Tonga(c) tongapocketguide.com

3. The Niuas are Closer to Samoa than to any Other Island in Tonga

Tonga is made up of around 170 islands, split into five administrative divisions. One of which is The Niuas, a group of three islands located approximately 300 km (186 mi) north of the nearest Tongan island group, Vava’u. In fact, The Niuas are closer to Samoa than Vava’u, which is especially reflected in the locals of Niuafo’ou, who speak their own Tongan dialect with some influences from Samoa. Learn more about The Niuas in The Complete Guide to The Niuas.

10 Fun Facts About Tonga(c) Teta Tours Tonga

4. Niuafo’ou Used to Be Called “Tin Can Island”

Speaking of Niuafo’ou, the island has an interesting history concerning its postal service. Since there was no anchorage or landing site around this rocky island, residents had to get creative for receiving mail and supplies from passing ships. A strong swimmer would swim out to ships that would throw mail stuffed in a biscuit tin for the swimmer to retrieve. For outward mail, the swimmer would tie the tin box to the end of a long stick to pass to the ship’s crew. This unique postal method persisted until 1931 when, allegedly, the mail swimmer fell victim to a shark attack…Today, the Niuafo’ou postage stamp is legendary among stamp collectors.

10 Fun Facts About Tonga(c) Eunice Pongipongi

5. Tonga Was Home to the World’s Heaviest Monarch

A lot of the fascinating facts about Tonga surround its monarchy, but let’s start with the most important: King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV was the world’s heaviest monarch! In fact, he still holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s heaviest monarch at 208.7 kg (460 lb). Nevertheless, he managed to lose about 40% of his weight becoming a health role model for the whole of Tonga.

10 Fun Facts About Tonga(c) CDC Public Health Image Library

6. James Cook Only Called Tonga the “Friendly Islands” Because a Tongan Chief’s Plan Didn’t Work

British explorer James Cook famously called Tonga the “Friendly Islands” and it’s a phrase that the tourism industry of Tonga uses to sell their destination to this day! Captain James Cook nicknamed the islands after attending a lavish feast and festival in his honour, organised by a chief in Ha’apai, Finau. Little did Cook know, however, that the feast was actually planned as an ambush to loot his ship… Finau and his noblemen allegedly couldn’t get their plan straight so abandoned the operation just before the feast.

10 Fun Facts About Tonga(c) tongapocketguide.com

7. Tonga is the Only Pacific Nation to Not Be Colonised

The pride of the Tongan nation, Tonga is the only Pacific country to not be colonised. In fact, Tongans were into their own form of colonisation during the 10th Century. Instead of handing over all powers to the British, which infiltrated Tonga with missionaries, the Tu’i Tonga (King of Tonga), instead, created Tonga’s own constitutional monarchy… With the aid of an overly helpful British reverend who became the first prime minister of Tonga. Learn more about Tonga’s history in A Brief History of Tonga.

10 Fun Facts About Tonga(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism

8. It’s Illegal to Conduct Business, Play Sport or Even Do Chores on a Sunday

Speaking of that constitutional monarchy, it was in this first constitution that the church influenced Tongan laws. One of the Christian laws still carried out to this day is the ban on conducting business on a Sunday, known as the Sabbath. Of course, to meet modern demands, there are a few businesses that are exempt from this, including tourist resorts. Otherwise, most of Tonga shuts down on Sunday in favour of family, church, resting and eating. Oh yeah, and it’s also prohibited to play sports, exercise or do certain chores on a Sunday, so you better not do your laundry! See more of Tonga’s Sunday customs in our guide, Tongan Etiquette: Tonga Customs & Traditions.

10 Fun Facts About Tonga(c) tongapocketguide.com

9. There are Different Numbering Systems in the Tongan Language

The two official languages in Tonga are Tongan and English. However, don’t just think you’ll get by knowing how to count to 10 in Tongan. The Tongan language has different numerical systems for different items. For instance, counting coconuts has different words for numbers than counting fish. There are many fun language quirks in the Tongan language that we outline in The Guide to the Tongan Language.

9 Fun Facts About Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

10. Tonga Was Home to the Oldest Radiated Tortoise Ever Recorded

Famously, Tui Malila was a 200-year-old tortoise, the oldest radiated tortoise ever recorded and was the pet of Tonga’s royal family. It is said that the tortoise from Madagascar was gifted to King George Tupou I by Captain James Cook in July 1777. The tortoise stayed with the royal family until it died on 16 May 1966.

20 Fun Facts About Tonga© Public Domain

11. Flying Foxes are Property of the King

Tonga’s only native land mammals, a species of bats known as the Pacific flying fox or “peka“, are considered a delicacy in other South Pacific islands but are thriving in Tonga. Do you know why? They can only be harvested by the royal family which, incidentally, means that the flying fox population is protected from over-exploitation! It’s a win for the bats! For more interesting facts about wildlife, check out Wildlife in Tonga: Animals in Tonga & Where to See Them.

20 Fun Facts About Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

12. There is an Airport Runway with a Road Running Through it

Ha’apai Solote Pilolevu Airport just happens to have one of the main roads of Ha’apai passing right through it. It’s not as chaotic as it sounds, though, as gates close the road when a plane is scheduled to land and take off. Check out more facts about Tonga’s airports in our guide to Airports in Tonga: Where Can You Fly to in Tonga?

20 Fun Facts About Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

13. Tonga is Home to the South Pacific’s Only Three-Headed Coconut Tree!

Sure, you see plenty of coconut trees in the South Pacific, but only in Tonga can you see a coconut tree with three heads! Local farmers have been careful not to cut down this phenomenon that has grown along the roadside in Liahona on Tongatapu, which is now a tourist attraction! Learn more about Tongatapu’s quirky sights, including the “Fishing Pigs” in the 50 Best Things to Do on Tongatapu.

20 Fun Facts About Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

14. Tonga Has a Third Gender Tradition

Tonga has a cultural acceptance of a unique gender identity called “fakaleiti.” These individuals are assigned male at birth but take on feminine roles in society. The fakaleiti play a distinctive and respected role in Tongan culture. Learn more about Tongan society in A Traveller’s Guide to the Tongan Culture.

20 Fun Facts About Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

15. Every High School in Tonga Has a Brass Band

Brass music is hugely popular in Tonga. Each secondary school in The Kingdom has its own brass band that will play in schools, every week and Sunday church services, for special events, and for annual competitions!

20 Fun Facts About Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

16. Tonga is One of the First Countries to See the New Day

Tonga is one of the first countries to experience the new day thanks to its position immediately west of the International Date Line. With that, Tonga is also one of the first to celebrate the New Year, along with Samoa, Tokelau and Kiribati which share the same time zone.

20 Fun Facts About Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

17. The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Volcanic Eruption was the Largest Recorded Since the Eruption of Krakatoa in 1883

The last volcanic eruption in Tonga was the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption which began in December 2021 and lasted around two weeks with a powerful climax on 15 January 2022. This was the largest eruption recorded since Krakatoa in 1883. Ash flew up 61 km (38 mi) into the atmosphere, while around 146 teragrams of water vapour (around 60,000 Olympic-size swimming pools) went into the Earth’s stratosphere. Learn more about natural disasters in Tonga in The Guide to Volcanic Eruptions, Earthquakes & Tsunamis in Tonga.

20 Fun Facts About Tonga© worldview.earthdata.nasa.gov

18. Tonga Doesn’t Have Any Poisonous Land Snakes or Spiders

That’s right, there are no nasty land animals that can seriously harm you in Tonga, including no poisonous land snakes and spiders. There are, of course, mosquitos, nasty little centipedes, coral and the rare jellyfish and stonefish that you wouldn’t want to get too friendly with. Other than that, Tonga is a pretty safe country. Learn more about safety in Tonga in our Tonga Safety Tips: Is it Safe to Travel to Tonga?

20 Fun Facts About Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

19. The Tongan Alphabet Only Has 17 Letters

There are only 17 letters in the Tongan alphabet: a, e, i, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, ng, o, p, s, t, u and v. The final letter of the Tongan alphabet is a glottal stop (fakaʻua).

Learn about the history of the language, how to pronounce the alphabet and how to say important words in What is the Tonga Language?

20 Fun Facts About Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

20. Tonga is Considered the “Cradle of Polynesia”

The earliest date of settlement in Tonga has been found in today’s village of Nukuleka on Tongatapu, with the uranium-thorium dating of an abrader found in Nukuleka dating back to 888 BC – which is older than anywhere else in today’s Polynesia! It is believed that Nukuleka is where Melanesian settlers developed a new culture and social structure that would become the Polynesian culture, giving Nukuleka its name “Cradle of Polynesia”.

20 Fun Facts About Tonga© TongaPocketGuide.com

More Fun Facts About Tonga

That’s it for our list of fun facts about Tonga but there’s much more to learn about the South Pacific’s only kingdom. Learn more about Tonga in the following guides:

Finally, get started in planning the ultimate trip to Tonga with The Complete Travel Guide to Tonga and the 30 Tips for Travelling in Tonga.


Robin (Lopini) C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of Tonga Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before settling in the South Pacific, so he knows a thing or two about planning the perfect trip in this corner of the world. Robin works and consults regularly with the Ministry of Tourism of Tonga. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides and is a regular host of webinars with the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

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