Tongatapu – ‘Sacred South’ – is the sleepy southern starting point for visitors exploring the authentic Polynesian vibe of the Kingdom of Tonga. Expect a warm welcome at one of the world’s most easy-going international airports before journeying north across the island to the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa. The harbourside town is the centre of Tongan commerce and government, and also the residence of the Royal Family in the South Pacific’s only monarchy. Around 70,000 people live on Tongatapu, and Nuku’alofa – ‘Abode of Love’ – is a raffish and vibrant introduction to the Kingdom. Ferryboats and trading ships dot Nuku’alofa Harbour, preparing to venture to the far-flung Vava’u, Ha’apai and Niuas island groups to the north. Nuku’alofa’s Talamahu market is a proudly local affair, selling pyramids of fresh tropical produce and authentic Tongan arts and crafts. On Sundays, the churches of Tongatapu glow with soaring harmonies and a warm welcome to visitors. Ancient Tongan history includes the fascinating 11th century AD Ha’amonga ‘a Maui trilithon and the ancient Langi (terraced tombs) of the Tongan kings. More recent are the Tongatapu landing sites of Abel Tasman and Captain James Cook, and on Nuku’alofa’s waterfront you’ll find the elegant Royal Palace. Offshore island resorts effortlessly combine the rustic with the romantic, and the ‘Anahulu Cave and the Mapua ‘a Vaea blowholes present Tongatapu’s more rugged natural beauty. Both just hint at the pristine and authentic appeal of Tonga’s other island groups awaiting intrepid visitors.
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