What Makes Tonga Different?
When deciding which of the South Pacific Islands to visit, it can be hard to tell the difference at first glance. But Tonga is certainly unique in its culture, its wildlife and its activities. We’ll show you a few unique aspects that make Tonga different in this list of things you can only do in Tonga.
1. See the Palace of the Pacific’s Only Monarchy
That’s right, Tonga has the only monarchy in the South Pacific and was the only South Pacific Island to never be officially “colonised”. Tonga is proud of its heritage from the early “Tu’i Tonga” to the modern royal house of Tupou. While there are many ancient royal tombs to visit around the island, one of the most iconic royal sights in Tonga is the Royal Palace in the nation’s capital, Nuku’alofa. Learn more about Tonga’s interesting history in A Brief History of Tonga.
2. See the Only Megalithic Trilithon in the South Pacific
Speaking of historic sites, one of the most intriguing in The Kingdom is Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, the South Pacific’s only megalithic trilithon. Dubbed the “Stonehenge of the South Pacific”, Ha’amonga ‘a Maui was thought to have been built in the 13th Century under the rule of an early Tongan king. The trilithon with limestone blocks weighing 30 to 40 tons can be seen in the village of Niutoua in Tongatapu. Check out more interesting sights like this in the 10 Fascinating Historical Sites in Tonga.
3. See a Lakalaka Performance
For obvious reasons, Tonga is the best place in the world to experience the Tongan culture. While there are many complex aspects to this fascinating Polynesia culture, one that we can all enjoy are lakalaka performances. This is a style of Tongan singing and dancing where the women dance slowly and elegantly while the men perform more aggressive movements. Cultural shows featuring lakalaka performances can be enjoyed in several resorts and cultural shows in Tongatapu. Learn more about experiencing the Tongan culture in The Guide to the Tongan Culture for Travellers.
4. Try the Tongan Cuisine
Another aspect of the Tongan culture to experience in Tonga is the cuisine. Try an interesting mix of tropical root crops, such as taro, cassava, yams and kumala combined with the tastes of the sea or, the Tongan favourite, a spitroast pig. You’ll also discover the nation’s obsession with canned corned beef, which is combined with coconut cream and taro leaves for a unique Tongan dish called “lu pulu”. Learn more about Tongan cuisine in The Guide to the Food in Tonga.
5. See or Even Make Tongan Handicrafts
And one last point we’ll mention about the Tongan culture is their amazing handicraft skills. Tongans are not only skilled weavers but also make paintings onto a textile known as ngatu or tapa – the bark of a mulberry tree beaten to make a canvas that can be painted and woven into bags, clothing and all sorts of decorative and practical things. Admire Tongan handicrafts at the various markets and gift shops around the country or even learn how to make your own, following Where to Learn Tongan Handicrafts.
6. See the Tongan Whistler or Tongan Megapode
Apart from large bats called flying foxes and insects, the only wildlife found on land in Tonga are birds. Only in Tonga can you find rare species such as the Tongan whistler and the Tongan megapode. The Tongan whistler is a yellow-breasted bird only found on the islands of Vava’u, while the Tongan megapode is rarer still, only naturally found on the island of Niuafo’ou. Learn about how to see these birds and more in the 5 Best Places for Bird Watching in Tonga.
7. Take the World’s Shortest Commercial Flight
Only in Tonga can you take the world’s shortest commercial flight! The flight between Tongatapu and the island of ‘Eua clocks in at seven minutes for the journey! Learn more about flights in Tonga here.
8. Eat an ‘Ofato
The remote island of Niuafo’ou has many unique aspects, from its own unique language to the already mentioned Tongan megapode, but another thing you can only find on this island is the Niuafo’ou grub called the ‘otafo. You’re lucky if the locals here just invite you for a cook-out or a barbecue, but some locals will even take you out to find ‘Ofato and eat it straight from the treebark! Learn more about these interesting islands in The Complete Guide to The Niuas.
9. Watch the Sunrise from One of the First Countries to See the New Day
Tonga, along with Samoa and Kiribati, holds an interesting place on the International Date Line where they are the first countries in the world to see the new day. A monumental way to experience the new day for yourself while you’re in Tonga is to watch the sunrise from which there are many stunning beaches to do so. Check out the 8 Most Beautiful Sunrise & Sunset Spots in Tonga for inspiration.
10. Swim with Humpback Whales
Technically, Tonga isn’t the only place where you can legally swim with humpback whales but it is the best place for it. Humpback whales are abundant in Tonga’s tropical whales between June and October each year as part of their mating and calving ritual. Tonga has a selection of highly regulated whale swimming tours so that you can enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience with minimal disturbance to the whales. Check out The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga for more information.