Tonga is an independent archipelago located in the very heart of the South Pacific, about a third of the way between New Zealand and Hawaii, south of Samoa and east of Fiji. It is one of the most scenic and unspoiled of the Pacific island nations. Tonga’s population of 103,036 is scattered across a chain of more than 170 small islands occupying a combined land mass of just 270 sq. miles.
Geologically, the Tongan islands generally comprise two types: volcanic islands rising directly from the ocean floor, and seismically uplifted coral limestone islands overlaying an older volcanic base. The islands sit on the eastern edge of the Indo-Australian Plate, right on the so-called Tonga Trench and in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Here, some parts of the ocean floor are more than 6 miles deep. One of the most impressive natural features are the coastal cliffs, especially the limestone formations along the south coast of Tongatapu.
The 170 islands are divided into four groups, each scenically diverse featuring a unique scenic and topographic variety from high volcanic to low coral terrain.
The Tongatapu Group with the capital Nuku’alofa on the main island of Tongatapu is the most populated and farthest south. Although Tongatapu is Tonga’s culture center and more developed than its neighbors, it still maintains an unhurried and peaceful lifestyle. The naturally most interesting island of the Tongatapu group is the island of ‘Eua, which lies just a few miles off the south-eastern tip of Tongatapu Island. Eua National Park is Tonga’s premier nature destination and bird watchers paradise providing one of the best full-day treks in the Pacific through Tonga’s largest tract of native forest. Local guides lead visitors to lookouts high over the forest, where rare birds like the frigate bird and the ‘koki’, the red breasted musk parrot found only on ‘Eua, can be observed.
The Ha’apai Group is an archipelago of low coral islands and volcanoes in the center of the country. Ha’apai is a diver’s and fisherman’s dream, while the Vava’u Group, located further north is considered to be Tonga’s sailing centre. It is a beautiful cluster of waterways and pristine, sparsely inhabited islets and immense landlocked harbor in the center.
The most northern group is called Niuas, an isolated trio of volcanic islands where traditional Tongan customs and culture still thrive. Niuafo’ou, the northernmost island of Tonga is the tip of an underwater volcano, which was created by sub-oceanic eruptions many years ago. In the island’s south and west, extensive, blackish grey fields of lava bear witness to Niuafo’ou’s volcanic history.