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Tonga Travel Guide

The Ha'apai Group

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This great group of 51 low coral islands and two volcanoes between Nuku'alofa and Vava'u is a beachcomber's paradise. Perfect white powdery beaches run right around the mostly uninhabited islands, but treacherous shoals keep cruising yachts away. There are two clusters: Nomuka is the largest of the seldom-visited southern islands, while Lifuka is at the center of a string of islands to the north. Over 8,000 people live on 16 of the islands. Snorkelers and scuba divers have 150 km of untouched barrier reef, vast banks of soft and hard coral, and 1,600 species of tropical fish to keep them busy. Humpback whales (July-Oct.), spinner dolphins, and sea turtles add to the fun. Fins n Flukes in Pangai serves divers, whale watchers, and kayakers.

The first European to visit Ha'apai was Abel Tasman, who called at Nomuka in 1643. Captain Cook made prolonged stops on the same island in 1774 and 1777; on a visit to Lifuka in 1777 he coined the term "Friendly Islands," unaware of a plot by the Tongans on Lifuka to murder him. Later, off Tofua on April 28, 1789, Fletcher Christian and his mutineers lowered Captain William Bligh and 18 loyal members of his crew into a whaleboat, beginning one of the longest voyages in an open boat in maritime history, from Tongan waters to Timor in the Dutch East Indies (6,500 km)--a fantastic accomplishment of endurance and seamanship. Bligh's group suffered its only casualty of the trip, John Norton, quartermaster of the Bounty, when they landed on the southwest side of Tofua just after the mutiny and clashed with Tongans.