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Tonga Travel Guide

Ata and Minerva


Ata Island, 136 km southwest of 'Eua, has been without permanent inhabitants since the 1860s, when King George Tupou I ordered the 200 villagers to move to 'Eua, where he could better protect them against the depredations of Peruvian slavers.

The lack of a harbor and remote location have made resettlement unlikely, although in 2002 it was reported that juvenile delinquents were being sent to Ata for a survival course as part of their rehabilitation.

Ata is an extinct volcano, and one of its twin peaks reaches 382 meters. It's the main breeding place in Tonga of the wedge-tailed shearwater, red-footed booby, Kermadec petrel, masked booby, blue-grey noddy, and red-tailed tropicbird.


Tonga ends at the two Minerva reefs, far to the south of Fiji's Lau Group and 290 km southwest of Ata.

Minerva's only visitors are yachties who call occasionally between Vava'u and New Zealand, or New Zealand and Fiji. A deep pass on the northwest side of North Minerva's circular reef gives access to a protected lagoon five km wide with good anchorage on the north and east sides. At low tide you can walk across the reef's flat surface, but at high tide the only things visible between you and the breakers are old shipwrecks, a few coral boulders thrown up by storms, and a flagpole without a flag to the south. This recalls an attempt by right-wing American millionaires to seize Minerva Reef in the early 1970s for the creation of a taxless utopian state. In 1972, the king arrived in person to declare Tongan sovereignty. It's an eerie place, the outer edge of paradise.