A lot of places claim to be paradise. But how many of them truly are? A big resort with cookie-cutter rooms doesn’t sound heavenly. Neither does an overcrowded beach or lines for, well, anything. To you, a true paradise is quiet, unique, and unspoiled. You’ll just have to keep traveling farther and farther away to find it.
Tonga should be far enough for now. The island nation’s 170 islands lie south of Tahiti and Fiji in the South Pacific. Captain James Cook called them the Friendly Islands for the warm welcome he received in 1773. Unlike most of their neighbors, the islands were never colonized by Europeans, though the British protected them for 70 years. To this day, Tonga is ruled by an absolute monarch, who is currently King Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV.
You land on Vava’u, the largest of the Vava’u Islands in northern Tonga. It’s where you’ll find Neiafu, a large town surrounded by a deep-water port on one side and striking, flat-topped Mount Talau on the other. You’ll return to Neiafu to see the whitewashed St. Joseph’s Cathedral (the highest point in the city), go shopping for tropical fruit in the Utukalongalu Market, and board boats to go sailing, scuba diving, and fishing around remote, uninhabited islands. But you need to see Fetoko Island first.
Fetoko Island is just a 30-minute boat ride from the airport or a 10-minute boat ride from Neiafu, but it feels worlds away from everything. The little island can be measured in acres, not miles. Its interior is covered with palm trees, fruit trees, and a little eco-resort. A white-sand beach, whose size is dependent on the tides, rings them. Pristine coral and even smaller islands lie just offshore. The salty air has a hint of vanilla in it. While humpback whales use the always-warm water to give birth between May and October.
But back to that little resort. Mandala Resort only has five bungalows. Each features French doors, a daybed, and an open-air shower. Views of the turquoise water and cool sea breezes are standard, too. But one room is a little more special than the others. It’s the Luxury Tree House, which stands on high stilts among the trees. After you see the view from its balcony, you might never want to leave.
Once you start exploring the nearby sights—like underwater caves, blowholes, and disappearing cays—sipping rum and coconut water straight from a coconut, and taking afternoon naps in a hammock strung between two palm trees, you’ll start to believe that paradise does still exist. You just had to go to Tonga to find it.