Most interesting landmarks of Tonga

Below are listed the most amazing natural and man made landmarks of Tonga.

Natural landmarks of Tonga

Volcanoes and geothermal fields
  • Fonualei fumarole field – Vava’u, Fonualei. Active island volcano with an active field of fumaroles in the center. 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.
Caves and sinkholes
A boat approaches Mariners Cave, Tonga
A boat approaches Mariners Cave / Stefan Heinrich, . CC BY-SA 3.0
  • ‘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.
Other natural landmarks
Mapu a Vaea, Tonga
Mapu a Vaea / Boris T. Johnson, . CC BY-SA 2.0
  • ‘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, up to 18 m high blowholes at the sea. Here the wave action has created travertine terraces and pools with numerous blowholes. Fascinating and unusual landscape.
  • Nuku’alofa rain tree – Tongatapu, center of Nuku’alofa. Giant rain tree (Albizia saman) – an introduced tree from Latin America.

Man made landmarks of Tonga

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 shards of ceramics, including many shards 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 in Lapahi, Tonga
Langi Tau’atonga in Lapahi / Tau’olunga, . CC BY-SA 3.0
  • 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 center of Tonga. The town contains some 28 royal burial mounds – elevated 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.
  • Houmale’eia petroglyphs – Ha’apai, north of Foa Island. A group of more than 50 petroglyphs – stilised depictions of humans and animals, footprints. Analysis shows that these signs could be carved around 1400 – 1600 AD.
  • Telekivava’u petroglyphs – Ha’apai, Telekivava’u Island. Group of petroglyphs at the beach.
Monuments of architecture
Royal Palace in Tonga, 1900
Royal Palace in Tonga, 1900 / Author unknown, . Public domain
  • 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.

Described landmarks of Tonga

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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).

Featured: Ha’amonga ‘a Maui (Trilithon) and ‘esi Maka Fa’akinanga

Ha'amonga 'a Maui in 1990, Tonga
Ha’amonga ‘a Maui in 1990 / Holger Behr, Wikimedia Commons. Public domain

One of the most unusual megalithic monuments in Pacific is Ha’amonga ‘a Maui in Tonga. It has no analogues regarding its construction, shape and the enormous size of stones.

Most likely this giant structure was created some 800 years ago as a monument of the inseparable royal dynasty of Tonga. There are not many countries in the world with such centuries old monument for their unity.

Recommended books

Tonga (Other Places Travel Guide)

Tonga has eluded outsiders for much of its history. From the imperial powers of Europe to modern-day travelers, Tonga has often been overlooked amongst the South Pacific island nations. But for those who do venture to this archipelago nation, a timeless Polynesian experience awaits; one that is all its own.
The writers of this guidebook each lived, worked and played throughout Tonga as Peace Corps Volunteers. They lived with local families, learned village life, and experienced this fascinating country like few outsiders have before.

Making Sense of Tonga

This guide to the Kingdom of Tonga’s rich Polynesian culture is a user-friendly description of what makes Tongan society so unique. Wonder why a Tongan won’t have eye-to-eye contact? Wonder why the Tongan keeps flicking his eyebrows? Wonder what that woven mat is around the Tongan’s waist? These and many more fascinating elements of what makes up day-to-day Tongan life are described with a touch of humor for easy digestibility.

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