Graduating to upper middle-income status in 2012, Tonga has a small open economy which is vulnerable to external shocks and was hard hit by the Global Financial Crisis. It continues to face development challenges such as natural hazards, non-communicable diseases and gender inequality.
Australia will continue to work with Tonga and its development partners to address these challenges, pursuing priorities such as Governance, economic and private sector development, the health system, gender issues, and skills development for Tongan workers.
The majority of Australian volunteer assignments in Tonga align with the Australia-Tonga Partnership for Development priorities of public sector development, health, infrastructure and cross-cutting sectors of environment, culture, gender and sport.
Nuku'alofa is on the north coast of Tongatapu Island, the most populated region of Tonga. Nuku'alofa Harbour is the island's only deep-water harbour, which determined its selection as the site for the capital. Buses and taxis are readily available and it is also possible to walk around the capital due to its small size and flat landscape. While bicycles are the preferred mode of transport, there are also regular boat and air services available from Nuku'alofa to other islands. The temperature is generally warm, with a brief cool winter.
As the economic hub of the country, Nuku'alofa has a central business district and numerous marketplaces. Services such as banks, mobile reception and internet are accessible. The island features monuments, tombs, limestone caves and blowholes. The Tongatapu group of islands is home to coral reefs and tropical fish, creating opportunities for snorkelling, diving, fishing and whale watching.
The islands of Vava'u, one of Tonga's three main island groups, are located 240 kilometres north of Tonga's capital city, Nuku'alofa. Vava'u features over 50 islands with lush tropical landscapes, white sandy beaches and colourful coral reefs. There are regular boat and air services to Nuku'alofa, which is on Tongatapu Island, and to other islands within Tonga. Unlike Tongatapu, which is generally very flat, the Vava'u islands are hilly with some locations exceeding 200 metres above sea level.
Neiafu is the economic and government centre of Vava'u and has a population of around 10 000, which is the majority of Vava'u's total population of 13 000. Services such as banks, mobile reception and internet are accessible. Neiafu attracts a majority of the tourists who visit Tonga each year, as it is the country's best location for whale watching.