Tonga is the last Polynesian kingdom: It was never colonized by a European power. This tiny South Pacific island nation has strong traditions and, until his death in September 2006, had a larger-than-life king who ruled for 41 years. (Before he went on a weight-loss program, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV made the Guinness World Records book for weighty monarchs). Tonga is less Westernized and less modernized than many of its Polynesian neighbors—which is good news for travelers in search of an authentic South Pacific experience. The faka Tonga (Tongan way), which emphasizes hospitality and gift giving, still holds sway, and the Tongan people are among the friendliest in the South Seas.

For such a small place, Tonga has a lot to offer—fascinating historical sites, beautiful coral reefs and reasonable prices. What these islands don't offer is an array of luxurious resorts. But Tonga is no longer off the beaten path. With airlines offering more flights to the island nation and more tour operators including it in their Polynesian itineraries, it's easier for travelers to get there—which is a mixed blessing, of course, for those seeking a completely authentic experience. On Tongatapu and Vava'u, the only islands with tourist accommodation and facilities, you definitely won't be alone in your quest for the unspoiled tropics.

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