Ta da! The Kingdom of Tonga — the final stop on my Pacific island odyssey.
As a kingdom, Tonga has a different feel from the other Pacific nations I’ve visited. Although I wasn’t able to have lunch with King Tupou VI — aw shucks! — his presence is felt and people speak reverently of him. His gated white palace is on the beach in Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa. Two weeks ago when his cousin Princess Mele Siu’ilikutapu (75) died, the entire country went into mourning. During my visit to Tonga, homes and businesses were draped with purple and black banners and her portrait was displayed. Her gravesite in Nuku’alofa’s village green is still fresh.
Tonga is the only remaining indigenous monarchy in the Pacific islands. Although Britain served as Tonga’s “protector” from 1900 to 1970, Tonga has been ruled by a succession of hereditary dynasties for almost 3000 years. For centuries, Tonga dominated the South Pacific from New Caledonia to Tahiti. Ancient tombs are testaments to the power and longevity of the Tongan empire. Legends describe how Haʻamonga ʻa Maui (the “Stonehenge of the Pacific”) was constructed by the demi-god Maui … although historical records say that it was built around 1200 AD to honor a king’s two sons standing together.
Only 45 of Tonga’s 171 islands are inhabited. The two largest islands are Tongatapu and Eua. Together they have an area equal to New York City’s five boroughs — with about 1% of NYC’s population. The tourist infrastructure of Tonga is not well developed. To see Tongatapu, I rented a car and used maps.me to find all the island’s unmarked sites and attractions.
In addition to the royal tombs and Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, Tongatapu has a clock to acknowledge Tonga’s proximity to the International Dateline (Tonga’s time zone is UTC+13.), many cemeteries with billboards advertising the deceased, and large well-maintained churches. (Tonga is 97% Christian.)
It rained almost the whole time I was on Tonga. Although I’d hoped to visit the outlying island of Eua, the weather was stormy and the ferry wasn’t running. I was content to remain on Tongatapu and go spelunking — a good activity on a rainy day.
This concludes my Pacific island hopping adventure. Click here for a map of the islands I’ve just visited. Look below for a summary of the practical details of my travels.
|Travel dates||May 15 to June 10|
|Starting and ending points||Kosrae to Sydney|
|Island nations visited||Marshall Islands|
|Number of flights||13|
|Total airfare (United, Nauru Airline, Fiji Airways)||$2,598|
|Food, lodging and surface transportation||$3,171|
|Visas + departure taxes||$107|
|Average daily cost||$225|
|Currencies used||US dollar|
|Missed planes, illnesses, bad days||None!|
Although my daily travel costs are usually about half of what this trip cost me, I travelled fast, stayed in nice places and ate food that was mostly imported. Was it worth it? Yes!
I’ve now visited every island nation in the Pacific, which brings my country count to 178 United Nation members. This journey has been more than just checking off destinations. It’s been a learning experience. Before I started this trip, I assumed that the Pacific islands are all pretty much the same, with sandy beaches shaded by palm trees, and natives in grass skirts doing fire dances. I know now that every one of these island nations is different — completely different! Travel is the best teacher.
The next time you hear from me, I’ll be on the other side of the world. Stay tuned.