Tonga’s Fascinating Facts
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 all about Tonga for you! 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 50m (164ft) high and 2km (1.2 miles) 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 320m (1,050ft) 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.
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 4,830km (3,000-mile) journey from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic to the warm waters of Tonga each year between June 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 10 Photos That Will Make You Want to Swim with Whales in Tonga Now.
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 300km (186 miles) north of the nearest Tongan island group, Vava’u. In fact, The Niuas are closer to Samoa than Vava’u, which especially reflects 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.
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 ships’ 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.
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 208.7kg (460lb). Nevertheless, he managed to lose about 40% of his weight becoming a health role model for the whole of Tonga.
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 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 just couldn’t get their plan straight so abandoned the operation just before the feast.
7. Tonga is the Only Pacific Nation to Not Be Colonised
The pride of the Tongan nation, Tonga is the only Pacific country not to be colonised. In fact, the Tongans themselves were into their own 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) created Tonga’s own constitutional monarchy… With the aid of an overly helpful British reverend who became the first prime minister of Tonga.
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 had an influence on Tongan laws. One of the Christian laws still carried out to this day is the ban on conducting business on a Sunday. 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 dos and don’ts in Tonga here.
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.