Official name: Kingdom of Tonga
Area: 748 square kilometers (289 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Kao Island (1,033 meters/3,389 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Southern and Western
Time zone: 1 A.M. (the following day) = noon GMT
Longest distances: 631 kilometers (392 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 209 kilometers (130 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest
Land boundaries: None
Coastline: 419 kilometers (260 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Tonga, also known as the Friendly Islands, is an archipelago consisting of 171 islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Tonga is about one-third of the way from New Zealand to Hawaii. The nearest island groups are the Nieu Islands to the east, the Kermadec Islands to the south, Fiji to the west, and Wallis and Futuna to the north. Tonga's area of 748 square kilometers (289 square miles) is just over four times that of Washington, D.C.
Tonga has no territories or dependencies.
Most of Tonga is far enough from the equator to have a pleasant subtropical climate moderated by trade winds. There are only two real seasons: the warmer season, from December to May, and the cooler season from May to December. Temperatures range from 16°C to 21°C (60°F to 70°F) in the coolest months of June and July, and average 27°C (80°F) in December, the hottest month.
Rainfall and humidity increase from south to north. Average annual rainfall ranges from 160 centimeters (63 inches) in Tongatapu, to 221 centimeters (87 inches) in Vava'u, to 257 centimeters (101 inches) in Niuatoputapu.
From north to south, the islands are clustered in three major groups: Vava'u to the north, Ha'apai in the middle, and Tongatapu to the south. There is also a smaller, more remote group, called the Niuas, situated farther north, as well as individual islands both to the north and south.
Tonga's islands are the tops of submerged volcanoes, four of which are still active on the islands of Tofua and Niuafo'ou. The islands of all the groups, from north to south, align into two parallel rows. Those in the western row are purely volcanic in origin; those in the eastern row consist of submerged volcanoes capped by coral and limestone formations.
Tonga is located in the South Pacific Ocean.
The South Pacific Ocean surrounding Tonga is very seismically active. The region's continuing seismic activity created a new island, called Metis Shoal, in 1995. The long underwater channel called the Tonga Trench is 10,800 meters (35,400 feet) deep. The trench, which reaches from Tonga to New Zealand, has one of the greatest ocean depths in the world. Several of Tonga's islands are formed from coral reefs, and there are many other submerged reefs in the surrounding waters, including the Minerva Reefs at the islands' southern end.
The Piha Passage separates the main island of the Tongatapu group from the smaller islands to its northeast.
The northernmost island group, Vava'u, has thirty-four islands; the Ha'apai group in the middle has thirty-six. The Tongatapu group to the south is composed of the island of Tongatapu, one other major island ('Eua), two much smaller ones, and a number of reefs. With an area of 256 square kilometers (99 square miles), Tongatapu is the largest single island and the site of the kingdom's capital.
Tonga has many white sandy beaches and magnificent swimming, diving, and snorkeling locations.
There are lakes on the islands of Vava'u, Nomuka, Tofua, and Niuafo'ou, some of which have waters that are very good for swimming, but none of which are of significant size.
Because it is immediately west of the International Dateline, Tonga is the first nation to greet each new day, leading to the saying "Tonga is where time begins." Tourists flocked to the islands on December 31, 1999, to be among the first to greet the new millennium.
Tonga has no rivers. The island of 'Eua has creeks, and there is a single stream on Niuatoputapu.
There are no deserts in Tonga.
Hills rising to elevations between 152 and 305 kilometers (500 and 1,000 feet) are found on islands in the Vava'u group.
Tonga's highest point is on Kao Island, in the central Ha'apai group, at an altitude of 1,033 meters (3,389 feet). A volcanic ridge on the island of 'Eua, the second-largest island in the Tongatapu group, rises to 329 meters (1,078 feet).
The island of 'Eua, in the Tongatapu group, has numerous limestone caves and sinkholes, and there are also caves in the Ha'apai and Vava'u island groups.
Tonga has no plateaus and no significant monoliths.
A mammoth thirteenth-century stone monument called the Ha'amonga'a Maui Trilithon is located at the easternmost end of the island of Tongatapu. There are also more than two dozen pyramid-shaped stone burial tombs on the island of Mu'a.
Ellem, Elizabeth Wood. Queen Salote of Tonga: The Story of an Era 1900-1965 . Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press, 1999.
Fletcher, Matt, and Nancy Keller. Tonga . London: Lonely Planet, 2001.
Rutherford, Noel, ed. Friendly Islands: A History of Tonga . New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Stanley, David. Tonga-Samoa Handbook . Emeryville, CA: Moon Publications, 1999.
Lonely Planet: Destination Tonga. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/pacific/tonga/ (accessed April 11, 2003).
Tonga: The Kingdom of Ancient Polynesia . http://www.vacations.tvb.gov.to/index.htm (accessed April 11, 2003).