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
Major religions: Christianity
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 for their elaborately decorated pottery.
– Source: Britannica

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

3. Tonga’s first king 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: Brash et al. (2012) South Pacific Travel Guide. Lonely Planet: London

A map of Tonga
Tonga is located in the Pacific Ocean (Encyclopædia Britannica)

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

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

Tongan people dancing
Traditional dancing, Tonga (DFAT, CC 2.0)

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

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

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: Brash et al. (2012) South Pacific Travel Guide. Lonely Planet: London

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

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

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

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

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

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: Brash et al. (2012) South Pacific Travel Guide. Lonely Planet: London, Lonely Planet

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: Brash et al. (2012) South Pacific Travel Guide. Lonely Planet: London

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

Blowholes erupting on the coast of Tonga
The Mapu’a ‘a Vaea blowholes(Atlas & Boots)

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, 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

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

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

26. 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

27. 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

28. 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

A humpback whale in Tongan waters
A humpback whale in Tongan waters (Shutterstock)

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 Mormons.
– Source: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

We have worked hard to corroborate these facts about Tonga using only primary sources. However, if you do find an error or have any questions, please contact us.