Tonga is a monarchy.
Known as ‘The Friendly Islands’, it comprises 172 islands (36 inhabited; some coral and some volcanic, four with active volcanoes) and straddles the international date line.
Tongans enjoy life expectancy of some 73 years.
The Kingdom of Tonga, known as ‘The Friendly Islands’, lies in the central south-west Pacific, surrounded (clockwise from the west) by Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Samoa, Cook Islands and, to the south, New Zealand. The islands, which straddle the international date line, lie to the east of the Tonga Trench, containing some of the deepest waters of the South Pacific. The main island sub-groups are Tongatapu, Vava’u and Ha’apai. The largest island is Tongatapu.
Nuku’alofa (capital, pop. 24,229 in 2011), Mu’a (5,200), Tofoa–Koloua (3,526), Haveloloto (3,465) and Vaini (3,235) on Tongatapu; Neiafu (4,051) on Vava’u; Pangai (2,055) on Lifuka in the Ha’apai group of islands; and Ohonua (1,528) on Eua.
There are 680 km of roads, 27 per cent paved and the rest surfaced with compacted coral. The two main ports are at Nuku’alofa and Neiafu, and have shipping connections with Australia and Europe. Ferries run between the islands.
Tonga is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
Of the 172 islands, only 36 are permanently inhabited. The islands to the east are of coral formation, the Lifuka and Nomuka groups with many small coral islands and reefs. The islands to the west are volcanic. There are active volcanoes on four of the islands, including Tofua Island whose crater is filled with hot water. Falcon, an active volcano under the sea, sends up lava and ash from time to time.
Hot and humid from January to March; cooler from April to December. Cyclones may occur November to April.
The most significant environmental issues are deforestation, damage to coral reefs by excessive coral and shell harvesting, and depletion of sea turtle populations by hunters.
Tongatapu island is flat and covered in small agricultural plantations with coconut trees and other crops. Eua island is hilly and partly forested. The Vava’u Islands are densely wooded. Coconut palms grow along the coastline and cover some of the coral islands. Forest covers 13 per cent of the total land area and there was no significant loss of forest cover during 1990–2012.
Tonga was the first South Pacific country to initiate a conservation programme, with a series of marine and forest reserves. The only land mammal indigenous to Tonga is the ‘flying fox’, actually a large fruit bat with a wingspan of up to one metre. It occurs in a large colony near the village of Kolovai on Tongatapu. Birds include the red-breasted musk parrot and the blue-crowned lory, said to be the most beautiful bird of the Pacific.