Tonga, officially the Kingdom of Tonga, is an independent archipelago in the southern Pacific Ocean. It lies about a third of the way between New Zealand and Hawaii, south of Samoa and east of Fiji.
Tonga in Western Polynesia is considered by many to offer the best yacht charter sailing grounds in the Pacific South Seas. There are 170 coral islands to explore in three distinct groups, with the Vava'u Islands considered to be the finest. The yacht charter area of Tonga is suitable for both experienced and inexperienced sailors
Archaeological evidence shows that the first settlers in Tonga sailed from the Santa Cruz Islands some 6000 years ago. The "Lapita" people lived and sailed, traded, warred, and intermarried in the islands now known as Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji for 1000 years, before more explorers set off to the east to discover the Marquesas, Tahiti, and eventually the rest of the Pacific Ocean islands.
The in 1616 the first Europeans arrived, beginning with Dutch explorers Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire in 1616, who called on the northern island of Niuatoputapu. Later noteworthy European visits were by Captain Cook in 1773, 1774, and 1777, the first London missionaries in 1797, and the Wesleyan Methodist Walter Lawry Buller in 1822.
Tonga was united into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845. In 1875 Tonga was declared a constitutional monarchy, formally adopting the western royal style.
Tonga became a British protected state under a Treaty of Friendship on 18 May 1900. Within the British Empire, it was part of the British Western Pacific from 1901 until 1952. The Treaty of Friendship and Tonga's protectorate status ended in 1970 under arrangements established prior to her death by Queen Salote Tupou III.
Tonga offers deep channel waterways, protected bays, wonderful snorkelling and great beaches. The trade winds are fairly predictable, there is line of sight sailing and more than 50 yacht anchorages all within an easy day's sail on calm waters. As the sailing conditions are calm and inviting even an inexperienced sailor will appreciate Tonga in one of the world's premier, yet uncrowded sailing destinations.
The main yacht charter centre in Tonga is the Vava'u Islands, which have become a Mecca for sailors around the world. The Vava'u Islands are just one of the three island groups that make up the Kingdom of Tonga; the Vava’u Group is located to the north, the Tongatapu is to the south, and the Ha’apai is at the centre. A yacht charter in Tonga offers an opportunity to explore pristine islands of majestic beauty. The Kingdom has its own special South Seas charm. A yacht charter in Tonga is an experience not to be missed.
The Kingdom of Tonga consists of 170 low coral islands and only 37 or so of these are populated. The islands are relatively small. Grouped together they would cover only 250 square miles and yet they are spread over approximately 250,000 square miles of ocean. A yacht charter in these beautiful waters is comparatively effortless and has been compared to the British Virgin Islands. Their allure has another dimension as they have kept their nickname of "The Friendly Islands", given by Captain Cook who visited Tonga in the 18th century. A yacht charter in these secluded islands will bring you in contact with some of the most peaceful and welcoming people on earth.
Almost two-thirds of Tongans live on the main island of Tongatapu. The only urban and commercial centre is Nuku'alofa, where European and Tongan lifestyles have combined. Tongans represent more than 98% of the inhabitants with the rest from Europe, other Pacific Islanders and several hundred Chinese. English is commonly spoken.
The people of Tonga takes great pride in their culture and their Polynesian traditions. Christian faith influences daily life and dictates that all commerce and entertainment activities cease from midnight Saturday until midnight Sunday. The constitution declares the Sabbath to be sacred. Tongans dress modestly and tourists are expected to the same. Tongan law prohibits men from walking around without a shirt. Women should have their shoulders and legs covered unless you are on a beach and are a foreigner.
Tongans live in villages much as they have for centuries with fishing and farming as the primary occupations. Feasts are part of Tongan tradition and go back to ancient times. A traditional feast will include up to 30 dishes and feature dancing and singing. Tonga offers a glimpse of the true Polynesian way of life. There is very little development in the way of tourism and no overcrowding at all. Finding a yacht anchorage all to yourself will not be difficult.
Two domestic airlines Peau Vava'u and Airlines Tonga connect the Kingdom's main Islands of Tongatapu, Vava'u and Ha'apai. Air New Zealand is the main airline offering flights to Tonga and its Fua'amotu Airport (TBU). You will need to plan ahead your arrival to Tonga, as there are not daily flights from every destination. You may find it convenient to arrive via Samoa or Auckland. Polynesian Airlines offers other connections.
The main yacht charter season in Tonga starts in April and runs through October or November, although charters can run all year round. Some 300 or so international yachts will gravitate to Tonga for the season. Mild temperatures and steady trade winds blow in a south easterly direction at a constant 13-18 knots throughout the year and make sailing here a pleasure. Occasionally, northwest winds blow, which will usually shift to the south normally within twelve hours.
Tonga weather is tropical with temperatures mostly in the 20Cs during the day and a bit cooler at night. Tropical showers are common on most afternoons. The Vava'u, being further north than Tongatapu is warmer.
A crewed yacht charter will allow you to use the Ha’apai and Tongatapu island groups as a starting point. Bareboat yacht charter options are available only from the Vava'u group. It is recommended to organize provisions well in advance for Tonga as it can be a bit of a challenge. Provisioning is quite expensive as everything outside of tropical fruits and fish comes from New Zealand or Australia.
The Vava'u Group is made up of up of 71 islands, most of which are uninhabited. The main town of Neiafu overlooks the dramatic and protected Port of Refuge, which can be quite busy. Neiafu is the centre of all activity in Vava'u. You will have an amazing choice of destinations to visit on your yacht charter from the Port of Refuge Harbour. Outside of Neiafu many of the islands of Vava'u are still uninhabited and unspoiled, making a sailing yacht charter the best way to explore
Sheltered water sailing, fantastic diving, snorkelling and swimming with many islands close by to visit make Neiafu an obvious base. This perfect sailing area is a tropical paradise of warm crystal clear turquoise seas, amazing coral reefs, white sandy beaches and coconut edged islands. The water is so clear that visibility can exceed 30m. Divers can explore underwater caves and snorkellers can check out Mariners and Swallows Caves.
Those on a yacht charter are not alone in finding them to be the ideal place; whales and dolphins spend their winters here. Humpback whales migrate to Vava’u each year, between June and October, resting in the deep protected bays prior to breeding. All yacht charters must follow strict guidelines, which include a 100m exclusion zone and no direct or rear approach to the whales. Diving is banned around whales, although it is possible to swim or snorkel within 30m and listen to the unusual and exciting songs of the whales. Vava'u is one of the few places in the world where you can swim with these magnificent creatures.
The second largest island in Vava'u is Pangaimotu. There are over 50 surrounding islands. Many channels and bays make this the ideal place for sailing and there are hundreds of protected yacht anchorages. The best way to see the islands is clearly on a yacht charter.
The Ha’apai Group of Islands lies around 75 miles south of Neiafu and can usually be reached in 24 hours of sailing. There are 60 small islands in all, only 17 of which are populated. This scattering of islands has traditional fishing villages but only one beach resort and its tourism is not very organized. However, you will be delighted by your interaction with the islands’ inhabitants. The islands offer long white sand beaches, wonderful shells, great snorkelling, and swimming. The Ha’apai Group also enjoys humpback whales in season. As the group is made up of low, coral islands they should be approached with great caution. The reefs keep most yachts from exploring the region. The official port of entry is Pangai, the main village on the island of Lifuka, and the main island of the group. Many of the yacht anchorages in the Ha'apai Group are not charted, so you are likely to have heaven on earth all to yourself.
Tongatapu is the southernmost island group. As the largest island Tongatapu, named like its group, it is the main island in Tonga. The Kingdom’s capital, Nuku'alofa and royal family are also located on Tongatapu. Half the islands population is based here. Nukualofa is located about 30 minutes from the airport. Tongatapu houses the most numerous archaeological sites in Polynesia.
Tongatapu is a flat coral island with just a few beach resorts. There are small offshore coral islands within the lagoon which have a couple of nice beach resorts and offer excellent snorkelling but you will probably take off to visit other uninhabited islands with delightful beaches.