|Area||259 square kilometres (100 sq mi)|
|Largest city||Nukuʻalofa (pop. 22,400)|
|Population||71,260 (as of 2006)|
|Density||273.57 /km2 (708.5 /sq mi)|
Tongatapu is the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga and the location of its capital Nukuʻalofa. It is located in Tonga's southern island group, to which it gives its name, and is the country's most populous island, with approximately 71,260 residents (2006), 70.5% of the national population. Tongatapu is Tonga's centre of government and the seat of its monarchy.
There are numerous historical sites on Tongatapu, relating to both the early history of the Tongans as well as the post-European contact period. One of the most iconic of these is the Royal Palace, located on the capital's waterfront and formerly the monarch's principal residence, but since the accession of King Siaosi Tupou V now occupied only by HM Queen Halaevalu Mataʻaho ʻAhomeʻe, the Queen Mother.
Tongatapu, as a commercial and transport hub, has (led by Nukuʻalofa) experienced more rapid economic development than, as well as attracting many internal migrants from, the other islands of the Kingdom
Tongatapu was discovered by Europeans on 20 January 1643 by Abel Janszoon Tasman commanding two ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen commissioned by the Dutch East India Company of Batavia (Jakarta). The expedition's goals were to chart the unknown southern and eastern seas and to find a possible passage through the South Pacific and Indian Ocean providing a faster route to Chile. The expedition set sail from Batavia on 14 August 1642. Tasman named the island "t’ Eijlandt Amsterdam" (Amsterdam Island), because of its abundance of supplies. This name is no longer used except by historians.
Before the reform of Tongan language spelling in 1943, Tongatapu was written as Tongatabu. The Tongan p is sounded between the English p and b, something that up to the end of the 19th century was probably more pronounced than at present. When first written, Tongan used "b" for this sound but by the beginning of the 20th century many words were already spelled with a "p". Such a well established name as Tongatapu was the last to follow and the IATA abbreviation of Fuaʻamotu International Airport is still TBU.
Tongatapu is Tonga's largest island with over two-thirds of the country's small population. It is a coral island surrounded by coral reefs. The capital,Nuku'alofa, on the north coast, has a relaxed air, despite the troubles of a few years ago (see article on Tonga). There are some interesting places to visit and some nice beaches with good snorkelling and Tongatapu provides a good opportunity to view a unique culture. Most of the interesting places are outside Nuku’alofa but most of the places to stay are in the capital. There is a good bus network and car rental is possible.
Tongan is the official language but English is very widely spoken
There are several flights a week from Auckland and Suva. See Tonga for more details.
Nuku'alofa is small enough to walk around and taxis are available.
Tongatapu can just about be seen in one day by car or motorbike. You can rent cars and motorscooters. A Tongan driver's license for T$25 is available and can be obtained at the police department with your home license.There are few or no road signs on Tongatapu so you'll need a good map if you're touring in a car. The speed limit on most of the island is 40kph and this is stuck to by the local drivers. The Police have radar guns to check. The roads are good in and around Nuku'alofa but deteriorate the further from the town and the further south you travel.You can hire a car from the Friend's Tourist Centre (near the main post office) for about 50 Pa'anga and a tour of the island is about 120 km.
Most cars on the island are in a terrible state, maintained on a budget and held together by a combination of 'Western Union' stickers and prayer. The low speed limit helps to keep accidents down.
Teta Tours and Toni's guest house offer day tours of all the main tourist sights (40-80 Pa'anga depending on how many are on the tour).
Buses to various points on Tongatapu run from the bus concourse on the seafront in Nuku'alofa although there are no timetables posted and local sources say that they are not reliable after about 1530 hours on most days. With no bus stops you just stand on the side of the road and flag the driver down (do not wave, they will wave back and keep driving). The most popular buses in Tonga are generally the loudest, so when you want to get off a reasonably loud "STOP" will do it (again, just anywhere you want them to stop). If you don't like kids or crowds avoid the buses at the end-of-school time, they get packed out and the only limit on how many people in a bus is how many can fit in. The general cost of getting from Nuku`alofa to the surfing destination of Ha`atafu on the western penninsula is roughly T$2.20.
Take a day trip to Pangaimotu or one of the outer islands. A trip to Pangaimotu Island costs about T$20 return. The small island, the closest one to Nuku`alofa has a half sunken ship wreck to snorkle around. However, beware of jumping off as the bottom is shallow on some sides and the rusted ship is sharp. The ship also attracts sea snakes. The island takes about an hour to meander around and has a restaurant which serves good food and hires snorkling gear (costly). Good idea to go on Sunday when most other things are closed.
Toni's tour of Tongatapu is a great option on Sunday when everything else is closed. T$40 per person min. 4 people
For a small town, Nuku'alofa offers a decent range of restaurants and bars. Expect to pay 15-40 Pa'anga for a main course in a restaurant and about 5 Pa'anga for a takeaway at one of the roadside sellers. Seafood is usually good.
The Oholei beach dinner and show is set in Hina cave on the beach on the south-east side of Tongatapu, near the airport. It includes a Tongan dinner and a traditional show (inside a limestone cave). The cost is about T$30 each and can be booked from the Tonga Visitors Center. Transport is extra. Make sure you understant the travel arrangements when you make the booking e.g. where and when to be picked up.
Most restaurants and eateries are closed on Sunday but there are a couple of Chinese restaurants which are open Sunday.
Tongatapu is very safe but the usual travel precautions apply. Don't flash expensive cameras and jewelry and don't leave passports, money, clothes, etc. lying around in hotel rooms. If you're staying with locals (there is a good chance you'll be invited to stay at someone's home on Tongatapu) take your valuables with you during the day and secure them at night
Tongan drivers are sometimes erratic so watch out. Asking for a helmet when you hire a bicycle is advisable. Dogs can be a nuisance especially in some areas outside of the capital.
Water that crashes over the reefs into the lagoons is sucked back out again through gaps in the reefs. Be careful when snorkelling that you don't get caught in one of these channels of water heading for open sea or you could be seriously damaged by the coral.
There are several internet cafes in town. The Friend's Cafe is most expensive at about T$8 an hour and some places charge as low as T$2 an hour. Avoid inserting camera cards into the slots due to the risk of viruses. Use Skype to call overseas because it's about T$1 per minute if you buy a phone card.
'Eua Island is located only 17.5km east-southeast from Tongatapu. It is the highest island in Tonga and is not related geologically to the other islands, being much older. It has beaches on the western side but dramatic cliffs on the east coast, with Tonga’s largest tropical rain forest, which is a great place to go trekking.
‘Eua is just an eight-minute flight from Tongatapu on Chathams Pacific Airline . There is also a ferry that leaves from Nuku’alofa at 12.30 in the afternoon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Cost is T$25. The ferry can get rather crowded, so be early.
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