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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. (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in Nuku Alofa
- Nuku’alofa. This is the capital of Tonga and the largest city of Tongatapu. The crumbling wooden Royal Palace was built in 1867 and is the official residence of the King. Until its death in 1966 the palace grounds housed a tortoise given to the then King by Captain Cook.
- Talamahu Market, Salote Road, Nuku'alofa, ☎ (676) 24146. Situated in Nuku'alofa next to the Central Police Station, Talamahu is the main market in Tongatapu where all the local farmers bring their fresh produce and sell. You can find all types of seasonal fruits, fresh vegetables and root vegetables such as yams, kumara, taro, manioke. Upstairs you will find local handicrafts, second hand clothing, shoes, carvings and jewelry of all types.
- Ha’amonga ‘a Maui. Near the village of Niutōua, in the northeast corner of the island. This is a trilithon made out of coral, limestone rock. The name means ‘Maui’s burden’, referring to the Polynesian God Maui, who according to legend formed the Kingdom of Tonga by fishing the islands from the depths of the sea. The Ha’amonga ‘a Maui is thought to have been built around 1200 AD. There are several theories regarding its purpose. One is that the King, fearing his two sons would quarrel on his death, erected it as a symbol of brotherhood. Each son was represented by a stone pillar, and united by the lintel. A more likely explanation is that it was the gateway to the King’s palace at his new capital. This capital did not last long, hence the present-day isolation of the trilithon.
- Mu’a. This town, on the eastern edge of the lagoon, was the home of the Tu’i Tonga line of kings and was for centuries the capital of the island. It is notable for many tombs of the kings that can still be seen. When a Tuʻi Tonga king died he was buried in a langi, a big, artificial hill surrounded by huge slabs of coral rock, usually in three or more layers. This rock was quarried from along the coast of Tongatapu or from nearby islands. The accuracy by which the slabs were cut so that they fit each other with little space between is considered remarkable.
- Blowholes. These are near the village of Houma to the southwest of the island. When waves crash into the reef, natural channels in the volcanic rock allow water to be pushed through and forced up into the air. Best at high tide.
- Flying foxes. These are found in trees at Kolovai, to the west of the island. They are Pacific Flying Foxes, a species of fruit bat. Only the King is allowed to hunt them, hence these undisturbed colonies.
- The Tongan National Cultural Centre. On the edge of Fanga'uta Lagoon on Taufa'ahau Road, around 1.5 km south of Nuku'alofa. This center is constructed with traditional buildings that house exhibitions of the kingdom's history. Artisans work on their crafts such as carving, tapa making and weaving and the items they make are sold to the visitors. Large buffet dinners are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays with demonstrations of traditional dancing and other skills.
Popular events in Nuku Alofa in the near future
About Nuku Alofa
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.
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.
- Friend's Cafe, Taufa'ahua Road, Nuku'alofa, ☎ (676) 22390. The main place for tourists on Tongatapu. Serves coffee, tea, and excellent breakfast. Try the vanilla french toast. The milk shakes are also very good. There is an adjacent souvenir shop, information desk, and computers for internet access
Most restaurants and eateries are closed on Sunday but there are a couple of Chinese restaurants which are open Sunday.
The market located in the center of the Nuku'alofa is an exciting place where you can bargain for jewelery and souvenirs.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Tongatapu on Wikivoyage.