On Tongatapu (meaning 'Sacred South'), old and new Tonga collide. Nuku'alofa (Abode of Love) will challenge your vision of a South Pacific idyll. The main island constitutes one third of the kingdom's land mass and a third of the island's population lives in Nuku'alofa, Tonga's 'big smoke'.
Outside Nuku'alofa most of the flat island's land is covered in a patchwork of plantations (coconuts, pumpkins, root crops), studded with sleepy villages that are home to roaming pigs and seemingly more churches than houses, and fringed with long stretches of white-sand beaches.
The first port of call for most visitors, due to its position at the hub of all activity within the kingdom of Tonga, it's hard to escape spending some time on Tongatapu. There's something to be seen and experienced here at every point of the compass. Head east and you'll stumble onto one of the densest concentrations of ancient structures in the Pacific, where you'll find the mysterious Ha'amonga 'a Maui trilithon, a sort of Stonehenge of the South Pacific. Explore the Lapaha area, riddled with langi (tiered tombs) and ringed with moats. Drop down south for the symphonic spurts at the blowholes, and wade in protected rock pools in sandy coves. Venture westward to the island's accessible surf breaks and beach resorts.
Still not enough for you? Then board a boat bound for the reefs and motu (coral islet) just north of the main island, where fine diving and snorkelling await and island resorts on Pangaimotu, 'Atata and Fafá will melt away your stress. An ecotourist's dream lies just a boat-ride south of Tongatapu on low-key 'Eua, with some of the best hiking in the Pacific.