Map of Tongatapu.
|Area||259 km2 (100 sq mi)|
|Largest city||Nukuʻalofa (pop. 22,400)|
|Population||71,260 (as of 2006)|
|Density||273.57 /km2 (708.54 /sq mi)|
|Ethnic groups||Tongan (majority), European, Chinese, Pacific Islanders.|
Tongatapu is the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga and the location of its capital Nukuʻalofa. It is located in Tonga's southern island group, to which it gives its name, and is the country's most populous island, with approximately 71,260 residents (2006), 70.5% of the national population. Tongatapu is Tonga's centre of government and the seat of its monarchy.
Tongatapu, as a commercial and transport hub, has (led by Nukuʻalofa) experienced more rapid economic development than, as well as attracting many internal migrants from, the other islands of the Kingdom.
The island is 257.03 square kilometres (99.24 square miles) (or 260.48 km² with neighboring islands) and rather flat, as it is built of coral limestone. The island is covered with thick fertile soil fertilized with volcanic ash from neighboring volcanoes. At the steep coast of the south, heights reach an average of 35m gradually decreasing towards the north. Tongatapu is highest in elevation around the villages of Fua'amotu and Nakolo with a height of 65m.
North of the island are many small isolated islands and coral reefs which extend up to 7 km from Tongatapu's shores. The almost completely closed Fanga'uta and Fangakakau Lagoons are an important breeding ground for birds and fish as they live within the mangroves growing around the lagoon's shores. The lagoons were declared a Natural Reserve in 1974 by the government.
The island has only but a few sandy beaches because of its raised coastlines apart from the many small islands in the north boasting some of the best beaches in Tongatapu.
Tongatapu has a rather cooler climate than the rest of Tonga as it is the southernmost group of islands in Tonga. Because of this, Fruit production is lower in Tongatapu than it is in the warmer islands in the north.
People of the Lapita culture
Tongatapu is known as having one of the highest concentration of archaeological remains in the Pacific. The earliest traces of Lapita pottery found in Tonga was from around 900-850 BC, 300 years after the first settlements in Tonga were established. Archaeologist David Burley discovered the pottery around the Fanga'uta Lagoon, 2000 km away from the Lapita pottery found at Santa Cruz in the Solomon Islands.
Although Tonga was always the seat of the Tongan Empire, but in an area of distances up to 1000 km, it was often only a symbolic rule. From the first capital at Toloa, around 1000 years ago, to the second capital at Heketā, at the site of the Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon. None boasts more traditional attractions than the third capital at Mu'a (from 1220-1851) with more than 20 royal grave mounds.
Tongatapu was discovered by Europeans on 20 January 1643 by Abel Janszoon Tasman commanding two ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen commissioned by the Dutch East India Company of Batavia (Jakarta). The expedition's goals were to chart the unknown southern and eastern seas and to find a possible passage through the South Pacific and Indian Ocean providing a faster route to Chile. The expedition set sail from Batavia on 14 August 1642. Tasman named the island "t’ Eijlandt Amsterdam" (Amsterdam Island), because of its abundance of supplies. This name is no longer used except by historians.
Note on spelling
The earliest mention of Tongataboo was recorded by Captain Cook in 1777 as he wrote his memoirs for the Three Voyages Around the World, Volume 1.
Sites on Tongatapu
- Nukuʻalofa - Capital of Tonga
- Muʻa - Second largest town in Tongatapu. Site of the ancient burial mounds and the Papae 'o Tele'a Tombs.
- Langi - Tombs of Tongan kings
- Mapu ʻa Vaea - Blowholes in the coral reef on the south-western side
- Hūfangalupe - Natural landbridge on the south eastern side of Tongatapu
- Pangaimotu - Small resort island close to Nukuʻalofa
- Landing site of Captain Cook
- Flying Fox Preserve - Located in Kolovai in the western district
- Haʻamonga ʻa Maui - Trilithon
- Nukuleka - possibly the site of first human settlement in Tonga
- Tupou College - first educational establishment in the kingdom located in the eastern district of Tongatapu near Malapo
- Tonga Quick Facts
- photographs from Tongatapu, Tonga
- The European discovery of the Tonga Islands by Brian Hooker