Is the king of Tonga really a king?
What's the difference between the three main Tongan island groups?
When do I have to go if I want to see whales?
Can I travel around Tonga by boat or do I have to fly?
Doesn't everything close down on Sunday here?
His Royal Highness King George Tupou V rules the only Pacific country never colonized by Europeans, although the British did run a protectorate there from 1900 to 1970. The Constitution of 1875 remains the law of the land and until recently, the king ruled absolutely. He still has the power to dissolve parliament, dismiss ministers, veto legislation, suspend habeas corpus, and proclaim martial law but in 2010 he surrendered his right to appoint cabinet ministers. A small majority of members of parliament are now elected directly by the people.
Many of Tonga's tourist facilities and sightseeing attractions are on flat Tongatapu in the south. Neighboring 'Eua Island is mountainous and undeveloped, a good hiking locale. The Ha'apai Group in the center of the country has Tonga's best beaches, and the budget-priced guest houses make for a relaxing stay. Vava'u to the north is the yachting hub of the South Pacific, and also an excellent sea kayaking, scuba diving, deep sea fishing, caving, bicycling, and hiking venue. Vava'u also has a good selection of resorts and hotels.
Humpback whales visit Tonga from July to October to bear their young in these warm island waters before returning to Antarctica for the southern summer. Whale watching is now highly developed at Vava'u with daily trips from Neiafu, the main town.
Most of the islands mentioned above are linked to Tongatapu daily except Sunday by Chathams Pacific airlines. Regular ferry services run from Nukualofa to Ha'apai and Vava'u twice a week charging deck fares a half to a third those of the planes. Several boats link Nukualofa and 'Eua daily except Sunday, although services are suspended in bad weather. At least one ferry ride is an essential part of any Tonga holiday.
On Tongan Sundays all offices and most restaurants are shut and all flights and bus services are suspended. Nightclubs and bars (except private clubs) also close at midnight Saturday, but some reopen at midnight Sunday and do their best to make up for lost time! However, most hotel restaurants remain open. In Nukualofa, the best thing to do on a Sunday is to take a boat trip to one of the small offshore island resorts for a day of relaxation. Another Sunday option is to peddle a bicycle rented on Friday or Saturday out to the east or west ends of Tongatapu Island where impressive archaeological remains are to be seen and beautiful beaches are to be enjoyed.