I’m just back in Australia from two wonderful weeks in a country that doesn’t have a single traffic light, where pigs run around in the streets and where you can eat lobster for less than $ 10 USD. Welcome to the kingdom of Tonga.
The kingdom of Tonga
The 171 islands that constitute Tonga (around 40 inhabited) lies about two thirds of the way between Hawaii and New Zealand in the Pacific Ocean.
- Capital: Nuku’alofa
- Population: 104,227 (July 2001 est)
- Languages: Tongan, English
- Currency: pa’anga (TOP) 1 TOP = 0.46 USD (April 2002)
- Literacy: 98,5%
- Climate: Around 20 to 30 degrees Celsius most of the year
- Chief of state: King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV (since 16 December 1965)
The kingdom of Tonga only has 2 ATMs, and those two have only been around since the year 2000. Tonga doesn’t see all that many tourists, but Tonga is not at all a backward country.
The people with golden teeth
Tongans are very friendly, and they have golden smiles – literally. Having gold in their teeth appears to be a status symbol, and it is very common for Tongans to have holes drilled so they can put in some gold. Apparently this is so common and affordable, that it is a really good deal for foreigners also to get some gold caps if they want.
Tonga is a kingdom and proud of it. The government is not elected, but rather both prime minister and deputy prime minister are appointed by the king. Only 9 of the 30 seats in the unicameral Legislative Assembly or Fale Alea is actually elected by the people. (9 positions are reserved for country’s nobles and 12 for government ministers ex officio). Not only does Tonga have the world’s most powerful monarch, but also once the heaviest. The Guinness Book of World Records in 1976 had King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV listed as 201kg. However, he has since been on a diet (and promotes that for the commoners of Tonga as well – since 60% of the population is clinically obese) and lost around 75 kg.
We sort of choose the wrong time of year to come to Tonga. The wet (cyclone) season lasts from November to April, but temperatures were quite pleasant around 25 – 30 degrees Celsius everyday when we were there in April. And it didn’t rain that much.
The real reason I am saying we came at the wrong part of the year, is because the humpback whales doesn’t cruise into Tonga until June. The humpback whales can be easily spotted (they are around 16m long, weigh 40 – 45 tonnes and sing quite loudly) between June and November. The singing whales are one of the strongest draw cards to come to Tonga.