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Travel to the edge of the world on the islands of Tonga

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
If the edge of the world exists, it is here! The archipelago of the Tonga islands does not resemble a post card, it is a post card. Putting the islands together would form a place still hardly larger than London. Whereas, considering their spacing, the size of the territory should be comparable to that of China. The 171 islands are filled with vanilla fragrance. As many sites as distractions: excursions in humid forests, a walk around the lakes located in the craters of volcanoes, diving into the underwater world... Merely the name of the capital raises desire: Nuku'alofa: exoticism at its purest will await anyone who chooses to travel to Tonga.

Our Editorial team's advice

For a long time, Tonga has borne the reputation of an expensive destination reserved for a fortunate and priviledged few. Today, things have changed, mainly due to the fall in the prices of flights. It equally depends on how you live when you get there. If you go for the local style, staying in small guesthouses, eating in cheap eating houses and market stalls, using the bus and public boats, your daily budget cannot exceed £25. Meanwhile, if you opt for the grand Hollywood game under the shade of exotic coconut trees, the azure cocktails on the poolside of a luxury hotel, drowned in the tropical vegetation flanked by a private lagoon, lobsters and champagne served by a butter in livery, a chartered yacht for a dive in an atoll, your budget might be a little higher...

pros

  • +A genuine Eden of the tropics, nature of a pristine beauty and a warm and welcoming people: for two centuries now, the Solomon Islands have been nursing the dreams of romantic souls.
  • +A highly epicurean lifestyle, taking an unbridled advantage of the sun and trade winds, indifferent to the turmoil of the outside world.
  • +Incredibly beautiful seafloors, amongst the most magnificient on the planet.
  • +A good season well placed on the summer calendar.
  • +Discounts for flights bound for Oceania.

cons

  • -A horizon limited to "Sea and Sun", a tourism somewhat lazy that may easily numb or weary one's desires.
  • -High cost of living due to the need to import most consumer goods.
  • -The length of the journey (no direct flight), the weariness, the jet lag and the climate.

Traditions

Dancing has always held a central role in Tongan culture, and helped to depict legends of oral history, and to honour gods and kings. You can get a clear picture during the Heilala festival celebrating the king's birthday on 4 July. Community life is organised collectively around the family in the extended sense of the term. The family offers solidarity and sharing amongst its members, and rules out the notions of individual ownership and exclusive relationships of parentage. Exchanging gifts is a common practice, even to strangers. It is advisable to prepare a handful of souvernirs in your luggage for such occasions. Christianity is deeply-entrenched on the islands, where the Mormons are presently very active. Finally, note that although the Tongans are friendly people, they are equally very stout. King Taufa'ahu Tupou IV weighs over 195 kg, a world record for a monarch.

Food

Tongan cuisine is essentially made up of a base of cocoyams, sweet potatoes, coconuts, roast pork, chicken, corned-beef and, of course, seafood. It is of a rather good quality. Amongst the specialties, the lu pullu (a dish of meat and onions, marinated in coconut milk and and cooked in cocoyam leaves in an oven dug in the earth, the umu), the feke (roasted octopus), the ota (raw fish marinated in lemon juice) and lobsters. You can equally treat yourself to an endless variety of tropical fruits. The island produces excellent coffee, and the people drink a lot of coconut juice, beer and Kava, the national liqueur.

Souvenirs

Souvenirs: local artefacts, (pareos, embroidery, baskets, pottery, wood sculptures...) mother-of-pearl jewellery, shells, spices, traditional music cassettes... Bargaining is rare. Shops are generally open from 9h00 to 17h00 from Monday to Friday, and 9h00 to 12h00 on Saturday.