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Geography, Weather, & Wildlife of Tonga


Tongan Geography - Coastline

Tonga consists of over 170 islands, but only 36 are inhabited. These Polynesian islands, which also sit close to Melanesia, are broken down into the Vava'u, Ha'apai, and Tongatapu island groups.

The islands in the country's east are generally coralline or limestone in origin, making them low-lying as the soil tends to be poor. The western islands, which include many of the Vava'u islands, are generally volcanic in origin giving these islands a larger profile as well as more fertile soils. This includes Kao Island, which is essentially just a mountain reaching over 3,300 feet (1,000 meters), the highest point in the country. There is little fresh water on the coral islands so this, in addition to the poor agricultural production, means most of the population lives on the more mountainous islands.

The nearby ocean currents run from the north or northeast and move to the island's south and southwest. It is likely this is how the first people arrived as the people are generally Polynesian and these ocean currents run strongly from the heart of Polynesia to the islands of Tonga. However, these ocean currents aren't enough to attract regular visitors so over time the people on Tonga became almost completely isolated and developed a unique culture.


Tongan Geography - Haatafu Beach
Haatafu Beach

Tonga's weather is hot, humid, rainy, and fairly predictable. This climate makes the country, or at least the volcanic islands that have good soil, ideal for crop growth and human settlement as the rains and temperatures are somewhat steady. These rains allow the people to grow numerous foods, it gives them access to fresh water, and these conditions also allow animals to thrive, although few animals exist on the islands.

There are two basic seasons in Tonga, the dry season, which is a bit cooler and runs from about May to October and the wet season, which is hotter and runs from about December to April. Since the differences between "hot" and "cold" in Tonga are nearly negligible, the real difference in seasons is rainfall.

Tongan Geography - Blowholes

During the dry season (May-October) daily lows average about 65° F (18° C), but day time highs are around 77° F (25° C) and most days tend to be in the 70s° F (21-25° C). There is less rain during this season as the average is about 4 inches (100 mm) a month during this time.

The rest of the year is a bit warmer as temperatures peak in January to March, when the average daily low is about 73° F (23° C), but daily highs average 85° F (29° C). This is also the rainy season and the months of February and March tend to average over 7 inches (175 mm) of rain each. The rainy season is also cyclone season, but major cyclones are rare as they only occur every dozen years or so, although they can arrive in quick succession and small cyclones occur nearly every year.


Tongan Wildlife - Flying foxes
"Flying foxes"

The number of native plants and animals in Tonga are severely limited since the country is an island nation. The native land life is almost non-existent and the native plant life was also very limited. The migrating birds and sea life had the most significant presence in creating today's plant and animal life. Much of what is found on the islands today was introduced in pre-historic times by the migrating people, birds, winds, and ocean currents.

As an island nation that rose from the sea floor there were no native mammals in Tonga, although a few bat species arrived thousands of years ago. The most famous of these is the "flying fox," a large bat found throughout the country. Other than this, no land mammals existed on Tonga until the arrival of the earliest people, who likely came from the region of New Guinea, and may have brought with them rats, dogs, and pigs, three animals that eventually made their way to Tonga.

The seas are also home to mammals as dolphins and whales call the surrounding waters home. These waters are also filled with thousands of fish, shellfish, and other forms of sea life. This sea life includes surgeonfish, clownfish, sailfish, puffer fish, butterfly fish, grouper, barracuda, tuna, mackerel, marlin, mahi-mahi, shrimp, krill, crab, seahorses, manta rays, sharks, jellyfish, starfish, sea urchins, and coral among many others.

Tongan Wildlife - Breadfruit tree
Breadfruit tree

These sea animals and the islands have also attracted numerous birds, many of whom feed off the animals in the sea. The bird life in Tonga includes doves, owls, passerines, scrub fowls, heron, terns, pigeons, and cuckoos among others.

The reptilian and amphibious life is fairly limited for the same reasons the mammalian life is limited. The most common of these animals are those adapted to the water and swimming as sea turtles can be found in the nearby waters. Land species have again made their way to the islands in numerous methods and today lizards are among the most common of these animals.

The insect and other small animal life is fairly diverse as many insects can fly or float and have made their way to Tonga. These animals include butterflies, moths, bees, ants, flies, snails, spiders, and worms among others.

The plant life is also limited due to the geography of Tonga as an island. It is doubtful any significant plants originated in the country itself other than a limited number of local grasses and shrubs. However the winds and water currents have taken seeds to the islands and in other cases birds and people have transported seeds to the islands. Because of this many of the more commonly known plants on the islands today are native to the distant islands of New Guinea and those further west. Plants from these islands, that now thrive in the country, include coconuts, taro, breadfruit, bananas, yams, arrowroot, lemons, and sugarcane among others.

There is also a presence of other trees and plants, including orchids, hibiscus, eucalyptus, frangipani, ferns, mosses, mahogany trees, mangrove trees, and pandanus trees.

This page was last updated: November, 2013