The kingdom of Tonga is perched just east of the International Date Line: when it’s a fun-packed Saturday at the beach in Samoa, it’s already time for Sunday prayers in Tonga. Thus it’s said, most often by the island’s tourism industry, that Tonga is ‘the place where time begins’.

Others, perhaps observing the pace of local life, call it the place where time stands still. Both statements are true in a way, as Tonga is an eclectic country where ancient traditions sit alongside the latest offerings of modern life.

The snorkeling and diving are amazing here. Some travellers plan their entire trip around Tonga’s marvelous whale-watching. There are many opportunities to get right off the beaten track in Tonga’s 170-odd islands, with tiny forested islets calling your name left and right. The Ha’apai Group offers deserted white beaches, vibrant reefs and only a smattering of other tourists.

For those seeking a genuine cultural experience, society in the Pacific’s only remaining kingdom has remained quite impervious to outside influences. You may find you have to work a little to get into the locals’ confidence, but it’s worth the effort.

Islands of the South Pacific