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Tonga

Main attractions

'Eua National Park, Tonga
'Eua National Park / angrysunbird (Duncan), . CC BY-SA 2.0

The Kingdom of Tonga consists of 176 islands, land area is 748 km². In spite of the small size the country has an amazing number of interesting landmarks. The highlights of Tonga are:

  • Archaeological heritage. Tonga and Samoa are two likely sites where the Polynesian culture has been born - here are located the oldest settlements where the ornate Lapita ceramics are found. In Tonga are located several surprising megalithic structures.
  • Scenery and wildlife in 'Eua and several volcanic islands (Tofua, Kao, Niuafo'ou).

Natural landmarks

Volcanoes and geothermal fields

  • Fonualei fumarole field – Vava'u, Fonualei. Active island volcano with an active field of fumaroles in the centre. Frequent eruptions.
  • Home Reef – Vava'u. Ephemeral volcanic island, which after eruptions rises above the sea and then is washed away. Last time such event took place in 2006, when the island became 0.5 by 1.5 km large, with hot crater lakes on it. There are several more such ephemeral islands in Tonga.
Mariners Cave, Tonga
A boat approaches Mariners Cave / Stefan Heinrich, . CC BY-SA 3.0

Caves and sinkholes

  • 'Ana 'Ahu (Smoking Cave) – 'Eua. Some 80 m deep, vertical cave (or sinkhole?) with smooth walls. Small stream falls into it and constant mist rises up from the hole.
  • "Cathedral Cave" – northern part of 'Eua. Magnificent marine cave, rich with life.
  • Makalea Cave – 'Eua. Narrow, approximately 40 m deep sinkhole (or vertical cave?) with vertical walls and eerie echo effect.
  • Mariners Cave – Vava'u, Nuapapu Island. A site of legends – reportedly here was hidden a beloved of one young nobleman who was afraid of the king.
  • Matalanga 'a Maui – 'Eua. Very impressive sinkhole.
  • Swallows Cave – Vava'u, Kapa Island. Spectacular cave in steep sea coast. Cave is partly flooded and thus represents a spectacular dive site. Hundreds of swallows live in the cave. Cliff drawings by Tongans.
Mapu a Vaea - amazing blowholes in Tonga
Mapu a Vaea / Boris T. Johnson, . CC BY-SA 2.0

Other natural landmarks

  • 'Eua National Park – 'Eua. Important pristine tropical forest (499 ha) with beautiful scenery and many endemic species of plants and animals. Especially impressive are the dramatic cliffs at the eastern coast of the island. 'Eua is the only place where a conifer Podocarpus pallidus is met. Not more than 1,000 trees are left.
  • Giant 'Ovavas of 'Eua - 'Eua. Several giant banyan trees ('ovava) in the primeval tropical forest.
  • Hufangalupe – Tongatapu. Impressive natural bridge at the sea.
  • Liangahuo a Maui – southern part of 'Eua. Spectacular natural arch at the sea.
  • Mapu a Vaea – Tongatapu. Group of spectacular blowholes at the sea.
  • Nuku'alofa rain tree - Tongatapu, centre of Nuku'alofa. Giant rain tree (Albizia saman) - an introduced tree from Latin America.

Man made landmarks

Ancient settlements

  • Nukuleka Lapita sites – Tongatapu. Possibly the first settlement of Lapita people in Tonga, inhabited 900 BC. Some scientists love to declare that Polynesian culture is born here – a thesis contested by some researchers of prehistoric sites in Samoa.
  • Tongoleleka – Ha'apai, Lifuka Island. A site of ancient settlement from Lapita period (850 BC). Found nearly 50,000 sherds of ceramics, including many sherds of decorated Lapita ceramics. Site is rich with remnants of extinct reptiles (the up to 1.2 m large iguana Brachxylophus gibbonsi), megapode (Megapodus alimentum), many extinct doves and other extinct species.
Langi Tau'atonga, Tonga
Langi Tau'atonga in Lapahi / Tau'olunga, . CC BY-SA 3.0

Megaliths

  • Ha'amonga 'a Maui (Trilithon) – Tongatapu. Amazing megalith – a trilithon of three limestone slabs, located in the second capital of Tonga (established around the 10th century AD). Each stone weighs some 20 tons and is some 6 m high. Built in the beginning of the 13th century, possibly as a royal gateway. Nearby is large upright stone slab – Maka Fa'akinanga – a legendary throne of the king.
  • Langi in Afa - Tongatapu. The oldest megalithic burial mounds in Tonga, built by the mighty king Tu'itatui in 12th century AD. Remnants of two langi are seen - Langi Heketā and Langi Mo'ungalafa.
  • Langi in Lapahi – Tongatapu. Burial mounds in the first capital of Tonga – Lapahi (Mu'a), where are buried the kings of Tu'i Tonga dynasty. Lapahi served as a capital in the 12th – 16th centuries and for several centuries more – a spiritual centre of Tonga. The town contains some 28 royal burial mounds – rised platforms (pyramids), laid with enormous, rectangular coral slabs. These coral slabs fit together very well. One of the best preserved langi is Paepae-o-Tele'a.
  • Siaulufotu – Ha'apai, Uoleva. The largest pigeon snaring mound, built in the 15th century. Volume of this unusual structure is 8 876 m³, it is covered with enormous stone blocks which are fitted well together. Pigeon snaring mounds are unique structures, characteristic for Tonga.

Petroglyphs

  • Houmale'eia petroglyphs – Ha'apai, north of Foa Island. A group of more than 50 petroglyphs - stylised depictions of humans and animals, footprints. When analysing the style, these signs could be carved around 1400 - 1600 AD.
  • Telekivava'u petroglyphs - Ha'apai, Telekivava'u Island. Group of petroglyphs at the beach.
Royal Palace in Tonga
Royal Palace in Tonga, 1900 / Author unknown, . Public domain

Monuments of architecture

  • Neiafu St. Joseph's Cathedral – Vava'u. Beautiful and ornate, white church, established by Marists – zealous catholic missionaries in the middle of the 19th century.
  • Royal Palace in Tonga – Tongatapu, Nuku'alofa. Ornate wooden building, constructed in 1867.

List of described attractions by division

Tonga is divided into 5 divisions.

'Eua
Ha'apai
Ongo Niua
Tongatapu
ArrowHa'amonga 'a Maui (Trilithon) and 'esi Maka Fa'akinangaMegalith, Monument
Vava'u

Map of Tonga

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