THE TRAIL BEGINS
The Tongatapu Highlighs Trail is a self-drive route to allow free and independent travellers to explore our island by vehicle. The trail is almost exclusively on sealed roads with a section offering small excursions through country roads, across the island, and to access two natural features plus a wildlife centre. The trail links together the major sites so that they can be seen in one day or at your leisure and utilises facilities outside the hub of Nuku'alofa.
Before you leave
One of the important things to note before you leave for the day is that food outlets outside of Nuku’alofa are almost non-existent! We recommend you pack a picnic lunch to take with you and if you’re keen to try out some of the local produce, here are some tips on what to buy for a refreshing lunch-time snack.
Pay a visit to the Talamahu Market on Queen Salote Rd in the centre of town, and remember to take a carry bag with you - these aren’t provided but can be bought for abour 50 seniti.
The market has a wonderful selection of fresh tropicai fruits in season such as pineapple, watermelon, mangoes and bananas.
You can also purchase green coconuts which the stall-holders will happily open for you to drink.
Oven-hot fresh bread can be found at Cowleys Bakery, also on Queen Salote Rd, or at the Hot Bread Shop on the main road just outside of town.
Small roadside stores (fale koloa) are dotted around the countryside which sell snacks and cold drinks, but ir is also worth taking some bottled water with you. There are, nevertheless, dining establishments at the resorts on the western point of the island, in the areas marked between
Check your vehicle
In the case of vehicle breakdowns don’t be afraid to ask for heIp as the villagers are happy to assist if they can and phones are mostly available at che roadside stores if you need to call your car rental agency. If driving on unsealed roads for long distances makes you nervous then you might want to avoid the stretch between markers
20 marked on your map and the points between
25 (although the points of interest here make the journey well worth it!). These areas may be a little hair-raising after heavy wet weather, in particular, the drive from marker
22 to "Pigeon’s Doorway" which, although unsuitable for vehicles after rain, is only a short distance to walk. Be sure to fill up on gas before you leave town (major service stations outside of Nuku’alofa are marked on the map which provide petrol and mechanical help) and our speed limits are
40km/hr and 65km/hr through built-up areas and open roads respectively.
On your way...
The trail begins at the INTERNATIONAL DATELINE HOTEL, 1, next to the Tonga Visitors Bureau, and takes you east along VUNA RD and our scenic waterfront to ALAIVAHAMAMA’O BYPASS RD
2. Turn right here to drive through the "suburban’ districts of NUKU’ALOFA and our small industries centre on your left as you approach marker
3. Turn right again here and drive to the end of BYPASS RD
4 which brings you to the main Street of NUKU’ALOFA, TAUFA’AHAU RD
The first stop of interest is the TONGA NATIONAL CENTRE 6. Here you can see and hear examples and demonstrations of Tongan art, dancing and handcrafts. A small museum is also on site to give you an understanding of the ancient traditions of our Kingdom.
THE CENTRE is open in the evenings when you can sample some of the local cuisine, enjoy cultural performances and even take part in a formal Kava ceremony.
Follow the markers 7 through
10 and up ahead you will come to the village of LAPAHA where a stone plaque on your left with a commanding view of the FANGA ‘UTA LAGOON marks the spot where the English navigator Captain James Cook landed in TONGA on his last voyage in the Pacific. This village served as che capital of TONGATAPU for 600 years and is the richest archeological site on the island. A must-see while driving through this area is the PAEPAE ‘O TELEA, the burial site of one of our ancient rulers, the TU’I TONGA.
There are around 28 of these stone tombs in the two villages of LAPAHA and MU’A between 11 and
12 and the stones in this particular monument have heen dated at around 1300AD. Used as burial mounds, these pyramid-like constructions were thought to bring their deceased closer to their ancient POLYNESIAN GODS. There is some speculation as to how these monuments were constructed - archeological findings say some of these quarried limestones were brought from various parts of the island while others say they may have heen cut from the next island group of HA’APAI.
The PAEPAE ‘O TELEA in itself is a rather fine example of stone engineering and close inspection wiIl give you an idea of the specifications to which this tomb was built. The enormous cornerstones on the bottom tier of the tomb are L-shaped reinforcements for these stress points and the bigger foundation blocks have a protecting rim to stop them from sinking into the ground under their weight. The upper surfaces of all the stones are bevelled.
The markers 13 through
16 wiIl take you along the picturesque coastal drive and through the fishing villages to the HA’AMONGA ‘A MAUI TRILITHON - another ancient capital and historic site of significance. Reminiscent of Stonehenge in England, there are many opinions as to the purpose this monument served. In the year of his coronation in 1967, KING TAUFA’AHAU TUPOU IV theorised that markings on the lintel indicated the rites of the seasons and it was found that the lintel is aligned along the southernmost point at which the sun rises, marking the summer solstice. Clearings in the surrounding bush have been cut in the directions of these markings and it was observed that the rising and setting of the sun was also in perfect alignment with these on the winter solstice.
Other theories suggested that the TRILITHON was the entrance to the ROYAL COMPOUND OF HEKETA which was once located here. There is a walking track which winds down through the area where the compound was built and this track continues on through the bush and down to the waters edge to give a panoramic view of the shoreline.
Travelling back along the same road you can opt to return along the coastal route or turn left to HAHAKE RD
18 for a short off-road excursion past marker
19 and back to the VILLAGE OF HOI
20. Driving along this country road will give you some idea of the agricultural production in Tonga. The leading exports for the country are squash pumpkins, a variety of coconut products and export quantities of kava, vanilla and local vegetables. Squash export to Japan has proved to be a lucrative industry for the local farmers and while the season itself only lasts around four months, much of the year is spent in land preparation. Some of the other roor crops that you might see while driving along this road are yams, taro, manioke and kumara.
Following your map, drive back along this main road to the VILLAGE OF VAINI and turn left ar the location marker
21. Take note that this is again an unsealed road and if you wish to avoid the bumps you can drive on to marker
26 as indicated on your map. However if you prefer the adventure, continue to the end of the road to HUFANGALUPE on the southern coastline of TONGATAPU, past
22 where you can be witness to not only a fantastic geological structure but also some rather spectacular views.
The cave, now known as HUFANGALUPE (PIGEON’S DOORWAY), collapsed many years ago during an earthquake leaving behind a gigantic hole in the ground where che Pacific Ocean comes crashing through. A very sound natural "bridge" remains from which the rugged southern coastline can be viewed.
THE TONGAN WILDLIFE CENTRE AND BIRD PARK is at marker 24 on your map and is only a short distance up the dirt road from HUFANGALUPE. For a small entrance fee you can check out some examples of our breathtaking native birdlife and foliage. The park opened in 1990 and was initially funded by the Brehm Fund of Germany and houses a fascinating array of tropical birds. The beautifully maintained gardens are also a perfect spot for a picnic.
From there drive to Loto Rd and turn left to take you back on to the main drive at marker 25. Travel a short distance past markers
27 through to the VILLAGE OF LIAHONA. Built by the Mormon Church, the compound includes Liahona High School, the largest of the Mormon mission schools, and the MORMON TEMPLE.
From marker 28 you can turn left towards the coastline again. On a windy day, at high tide, the BLOW HOLES at HOUMA to the west of NUKU’ALOFA are nothing short of spectacular. As the waves surge towards the coastline, the water is forced up through holes in the coral limestone, spouting up to
metres high 30.
Return to the intersecrion indicated by marker 31 on your map and turn left to reach the western-most point of the island. The end of HIHIFO RD brings you to some of the most impressive beaches and lookout points on TONGATAPU and it is in this area, around markers
33, that you will find some excellent dining facilities at the beach resorts in which to relax after your long drive.
NIU’AUNAFE POINT is marked starting at number 33 on your map and the HA’ATAFU BEACH marine reserve - an excellent beach for swimming and snorkeiling and the best beach for surfing on TONGATAPU. Marker
34 indicates at the intersection, when you return to the main road, to turn left and continue to
35 where you will come to a gate. Through the gardens is the ABEL TASMAN LANDING monument and observation platform which you are free to visit, but please make sure you shut the gate behind you. This gate has been installed to keep the pigs out of the garden who otherwise roam freely throughout the village!
Bach through the gate and a short distance along the road is point 36 and the landing place of the first missionaries to TONGA in 1787. While Christianity became an integrai part of Tongan society, KING GEORGE TUPOU I was establishing his parliament and instituting land reforms that are still in effect today. The lookout from this spot offers a panoramic view of the bay area and out to ‘ATATA ISLAND. On the drive back into town, again along the HIHIFO RD, you will pass through the VILLAGE OF KOLOVAI
37 - home to hundreds of fruit bats, or flying foxes, hanging upside down in the casuarina trees on the roadside. These nocturnal crearures are considered sacred by che Tongan people and remain protected animals in the Kingdom.
Follow on from marker 38 at the intersection through to
42, which will take you back to the NUKU’ALOFA town centre via the scenic waterfront esplanade, where you should arrive at the ROYAL PALACE on the edge of town.