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Tonga Travel Guide

Royal Palace, Nukualofa
the Victorian-era Royal Palace in Nukualofa

Sights of Nukualofa

Begin your visit at Vuna Wharf, the main port of entry to Tonga from 1906 until construction of Queen Salote Wharf in 1967. The Treasury Building (1928), opposite the wharf, was once Nuku'alofa's main post office. Nearby Railway Road is named for a former line that once carried copra to the wharf and it's still Nuku'alofa's only one-way street. The House of Parliament on Railway Road is a small wooden building prefabricated in New Zealand and reassembled here in 1894. The 30 members of parliament deliberate May-October. Walk through the park across the street from parliament, passing the Tongan War Memorial, and turn left on Taufa'ahau Road to the century-old Prime Minister's Office, with its central tower.

Continue west across the soccer field beside the Westpac Bank of Tonga to the Victorian Royal Palace, closed to the public but easily viewed from outside the grounds. This gingerbread palace was also prefabricated in New Zealand for reassembly here in 1867. The second-story veranda was added in 1882. The gables and scalloped eaves of this white frame building are crowned by a red roof and surrounded by Norfolk pines. The bronze statue of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV in front of the palace was presented by the Chinese Embassy in 1999. The best vantage point for taking photos is around on the west side of the palace compound.

Nuku'alofa's nicest stroll is west of the palace where many old colonial-style residences line Vuna Road, including the former British High Commissioner's residence, with a flagpole surrounded by cannon from the privateer Port-au-Prince, sacked at Ha'apai in 1806. South of the residence is Mt. Zion, site of an 18th-century Tongan fortress and, in 1830, the first missionary chapel. This hill is now crowned by several communications towers.

Centenary Church (1952), south of Mt. Zion, is the principle house of worship of the Free Wesleyan Church, the largest of Tonga's three Methodist denominations. Some 2,000 persons can be seated here, and most Sunday mornings members of the royal family are among them for the 1000 service. The church's president lives in the impressive mansion (1871) on the west side of the church, a former residence of 19th-century missionary and Tongan premier Rev. Shirley Baker.

East on the south side of Laifone Road are the Royal Tombs, where Tongan royalty has been buried since 1893. Across Laifone Road from the Royal Tombs is another important Free Wesleyan church, which was only completed in 1985. The striking Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua (1980), back on Taufa'ahau Road, is worth visiting for its soaring interior. The restaurant in the basement of the basilica has long been a budget standby with good lunch specials.