30 interesting facts about Tonga

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The most interesting facts about Tonga include the International Dateline, migrating humpback whales and volcanic islands.

Interesting facts about Tonga include its visiting humpback whales
Interesting facts about Tonga include its visiting humpback whales (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Kingdom of Tonga
Capital city: Nuku’alofa
Population: 106,095
Area: 747 sq km
Major languages: Tongan, English
Time zone: UTC+13 (Tonga Standard Time)
(Source: CIA World Fact Book)

Interesting facts about Tonga

1. Tonga has been inhabited for around 3,000 years. The first people to arrive were the Austronesian-speaking people of the Lapita culture, famously known from their elaborately decorated pottery.
(Source: Britannica)

2. Tonga is the only monarchy in Oceania.
(Source: The Independent)

3. Tonga’s first king was known as the Tu’i Tonga, was ‘Aho’eitu. Coming to power during the mid-10th century, he was the first in a line of almost 40 men to hold the title.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

4. In 1616, Dutch explorers became the first Europeans to visit Tonga.
(Source: BBC News)

5. Between 1773 and 1777, famed British explorer Captain James Cook visited Tonga three times.
(Source: BBC News)

An island in Tonga
Tonga is made up of over 170 islands (Shutterstock)

6. Cook referred to Tonga as the ‘Friendly Islands’ because the indigenous people gave him and his crew a warm welcome.
(Source: Britannica)

7. Tonga was a British protectorate from 1900 to 1970. However, it was never formally colonised. It gained complete independence in 1970.
(Source: BBC News)

8. In 1965 six Tongan teenagers survived for 15 months on a remote uninhabited island. The event was dubbed the “real Lord of the Flies” after the 1954 best-selling novel by William Golding. A Hollywood studio has recently bought the rights to make a film of the events.
(Source: The Guardian)

9. From the 1830s onwards missionaries converted chief Taufa’ahau Tupou to Christianity who in turn then converted fellow islanders. Today around 99% of Tongans identify as Christian.
(Source: BBC News, Lonely Planet)

10. As such, Tonga is a deeply conservative Christian country and completely shuts down on Sundays when it strictly observes the Sabbath. On Sundays, recreational activities such as swimming are considered ‘provocative’.
(Source: FCO, Lonely Planet)

11. Furthermore, respectful dress is very important in Tonga. It is illegal for men and women to be topless in a public place.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

A church in Tonga
Tonga is a deeply Christian country (Shutterstock)

12. Tonga is made up of over 170 islands spread across an area of the Pacific Ocean approximately the size of Japan.
(Source: BBC News)

13. Of those islands, only 36 are inhabited.
(Source: The Commonwealth)

14. Tonga’s territory straddles the International Dateline.
(Source: The Commonwealth)

15. As such Tonga is one of the first countries – along with Samoa and Kiribati – to celebrate the New Year and see the first light of every day.
(Source: The Telegraph, Frommer’s Travel Guides)

A volcano spews smokes
Volcanoes account for at least two interesting facts about Tonga (Shutterstock)

16. In 2014 a new island called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai was created in Tongan waters after an underwater volcano erupted.
(Source: The Guardian)

17. Tonga only has one indigenous land mammal. The ‘flying fox’, a large fruit bat with a wingspan of up to one meter, can only be found in Tonga.
(Source: The Commonwealth)

18. Tongan King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, who reigned from 1965 to 2006, was known as the world’s heaviest monarch. At one point he weighed 210kg before he lost more than 75kg.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

19. Tonga’s flag has a cross of red as a symbol of the deep-rooted Christian religion in the country. The red in the flag represents the blood that Jesus shed at his Crucifixion and white signifies purity.
(Source: CIA World Fact Book)

A Tongan flag
The Tongan flag (Shutterstock)

20. There are active volcanoes on four of Tonga’s islands, including Tofua Island whose crater is filled with hot water.
(Source: The Commonwealth)

21. In 2018, Tonga was devasted by Cyclone Gita, thought to be the worst storm to hit the country in 60 years. The country’s Parliament building was destroyed by winds over 230km/h.
(Source: The Guardian)

22. Tonga is known for its hundreds of blowholes called Mapu’a ‘a Vaea (Chief’s Whistles). The blowholes spread 5km along the coast can spurt water up to 30m into the air.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

23. In 2004, Tonga successfully sued its court jester in an American court. The jester had spent £13 million of the king’s money on bad investments.
(Source: The Telegraph)

24. Tonga is a great place to spot humpback whales. The whales migrate from Antarctica to breed in the warmer waters of Tonga from July to October.
(Source: Tonga Ministry of Tourism)

The Ha’amonga ‘a Maui (Maui’s Burden) AKA Stonehenge
Tonga’s Stonehenge (Shutterstock)

25. Tonga is home to the South Pacific’s equivalent of Stonehenge. The mysterious Ha’amonga ‘a Maui (Maui’s Burden) splits opinion with some archaeologists saying it was built by Tu’itatui, the 11th Tu’i Tonga, while others say it was built by ancient Chinese explorers.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

26. Tonga, like many Pacific nations, has one of the fattest populations in the world. In 2017 a report ranked Tonga as the world’s 8th most obese nation.
(Source: World Health Organisation)

27. Boxer, Paea Wolfgramm won Tonga’s first and only Olympic medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics/. He won a silver medal for super heavyweight boxing.
(Source: International Olympic Committee)

28. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Tongan athlete Pita Taufatofua shot to fame for breaking official rules by going shirtless during the opening ceremony. The scenes went viral online.
(Source: The Guardian)

29. Pita Taufatofua again hit the headlines when he repeated the stint in freezing temperatures at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Seoul. He was the only athlete from Tonga.
(Source: The Guardian)

30. It is thought that Tonga has the world’s largest number of Latter-day Saints (more commonly known as Mormons) per capita. Around 60% of Tongans are considered to be Mormon.
(Source: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)