Ha’apai’s Most Fascinating Historical Points of Interest
Most travellers flock to the sandy shores of Ha’apai to bask in its tropical beauty and swim with whales. However, a tiki tour around the main island, Lifuka, will reveal fascinating historical sites relating to battles and several royal tombs that predate European arrivals. Ha’apai is where much of modern-day Tonga’s story begins as the birthplace of today’s royal family. Take a step through time with the help of this guide to the best historical sites in Ha’apai.
1. Velata Mound Fortress
Check out an example of a traditional ditch fortification that was used throughout the South Pacific from the 15th to the 19th Century at the Velata Mound Fortress. Located in the village of Hihifo on the island of Lifuka, the Velata Mound Fortress is indicated by a plaque explaining the history, as well as a sign with an aerial diagram of the fortress. For more free sights, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Ha’apai.
Location: Signposted from the main road (Hala Holopeka), Hihifo, Lifuka Island. From Hala Holopeka Road, take Hihifo Road east, crossing both Tuakolo and Tua Roads. The fortress entrance is easy to spot approximately 200 m (220 yards) down a dirt road that’s fine for 2WD vehicles.
2. Langi ‘o Olovehi
Close enough to the Velata Mound Fortress to check out, Langi ‘o Olovehi is a royal burial ground. The interpretation panel here is written in Tongan, but the short story is that the tomb was constructed in the late 1700s for a woman named Nanasipau’u, the eldest sister of the Tu’i Tonga. It is claimed that many individuals were killed and buried around the outside of the tomb to serve her in the afterlife. Learn more about the Tu’i Tonga line of royalty in A Brief History of Tonga.
Location: Tua Road, approximately 200 m (220 yards) north of the Velata Fortress turn-off, Hihifo, Lifuka Island.
3. ‘Api ko Niu’ui (King Tupou I Birthplace)
The first in the line of the Tupou royal family was born at this site in Tongoleleka in 1797. A plaque at this site named ‘Api ko Niu’ui or “Birthplace of King Tupou I” tells the story of how King George Tupou I became the founder and architect of modern-day Tonga by ordering all people of Tonga to become Christian.
Location: Signposted at the southern end of the old hospital, Hala Holopeka Road (main road), Hihifo, Lifuka Island.
4. Mystery Cross
Seemingly signposted all over Pangai, you’ll no doubt be intrigued by the Mystery Cross. According to Tonga Tourism Authority, the story goes: “It was 5 am on 6th October 1975 when Rev. Kalavite ‘Uhila was on his way to church and he saw a bright cross-shaped light in the church ground of the Free Wesleyan Church in Pangai, Ha’apai.” To commemorate this miracle, the layout of this cross has been constructed lying down on the grounds of the church. You can check it out when the gates to the grounds are open.
Location: Signposted from the main road (Hala Holopeka), Pangai, Lifuka Island. Turn down the road at the Customs Office and the entrance to the Free Wesleyan Church is approximately 100 m (110 yards) down this road.
5. Shirley Baker Monument and European Cemetery
Another historical site to see in Ha’apai is the Shirley Baker Monument and the European Cemetery. Among the cemetery of 19th and 20th-Century European traders and missionaries, the grave, monumental plaque and looming statue of Rev. Shirley Waldemar Baker can be found. He was Tonga’s first prime minister and advisor to King Tupou I. Also, opposite the site, is a Tongan cemetery decorated with sand and coral mounds.
Location: Signposted along the main road (Hala Holopeka) at the northern entrance of Pangai, Lifuka Island.
6. Tau’akipulu Palace
One of several royal palaces constructed across The Kingdom, Ha’apai’s rendition is Palasi Tau’akipulu or Tau’akipulu Palace. It’s not looking so historic, however, as it goes through frequent renovations to keep it looking, well, fit for a king. Regardless, the palace still makes for a fun photo opportunity as you explore Pangai.
Location: Signposted along the main road (Hala Holopeka) between the Customs Office and the Catholic Church, Pangai, Lifuka Island.
7. Hulu’ i Paongo Tomb
And at the southern tip of Lifuka, you’ll find amazing views where the road ends at Hulu’ i Paongo Point. Just before you reach Hulu’ i Paongo Point, stop by the Hulu’ i Paongo Tomb, a burial site of a long line of chiefs called Mata’uvave. Despite being the highest burial mound on Lifuka, it’s easy to miss; it’s up a grassy hill just next to the modern cemetery (in other words, it’s not the cemetery with all the decorations).
Location: At the very southern end of the main road, Hala Holopeka, just before reaching the beach, Lifuka Island. The last kilometre of road is a dirt road, but it’s still suitable for 2WD vehicles.
8. Port Au Prince Memorial
Visit a monument just north of the airport runway on Lifuka to see the place where the captain and around half of the crew of the Port au Prince were massacred on 26 November 1806. The ship was a French ship, captured by the British and made into a privateer. It was the ship that William Mariner arrived, an English writer who lived with Tongans for four years and kept a detailed journal published as The Tongan Islands, William Mariner’s Account.
Location: Signposted off Hala Holopeka Road, approximately 260 m (850 yards) north of Koulo village and the runway, Lifuka Island. The memorial is approximately 260 m down the dirt road to the coast (it was just Ok for 2WD vehicles last time we checked).
More About Historical Sites in Ha’apai and Tonga
Now that you know some of the fascinating historical sites in Ha’apai, how about finding more through the following guides:
- 10 Fascinating Historical Sites in Tonga
- Sightseeing in Ha’apai: Top 10 Sights in Ha’apai
- 20 Best Things to Do in Ha’apai