The Vava’u group, blessed with the beautiful (and well-protected) Port of Refuge Harbour, is one of the yacht charter centers of the South Pacific. From July to November, cruising yachts flock to the group’s southern islands, where sheltered waters wind between islands (with fine beaches and snorkel-perfect reefs) make for memorable sailing. And for a bonus, this is also the season when humpback whales come here to breed in the calm seas.
Tonga is one of the few constitutional monarchies in the world, and the seafront Royal Palace in Nuku’alofa is a Victorian charmer dating to 1867. After a visit, swing by the downtown street market for a look at colorful tropical fruits and the nearby Tongan National Centre, with its cultural exhibits of arts and crafts (plus a weekly feast and dance). Then choose east or west: East will take you to Tonga’s version of Stonehenge, the 1,000-year-old Ha’amonga’a Maui Trilithon and the tombs of early Tongan royalty. West leads to the island’s best beach (Keleti) and the Mapu’a’a Vaca Blowholes, which can shoot skyward nearly 100 feet.
Capt. James Cook was enthralled by Tongan dancing on his 1777 voyage of exploration – and some of the dances he saw, such as the formal, ceremonial me’etu’upaki, performed with paddles, can still be seen today. Tongan dance is more restrained and subtle than the hip-swiveling Tahitian tamure style, and some traditional numbers are performed sitting down, with only hand movements to tell a story.