Tonga stretches over about 800 kilometres (500 mi) in a north-south line – about a third of the distance from New Zealand to Hawaii. It is surrounded by Fiji and Wallis and Futuna (France) to the northwest, Samoa to the northeast, Niue to the east, Kermadec (part of New Zealand) to the southwest, and New Caledonia (France) andVanuatu to the farther west.
Tonga became known as the Friendly Islands because of the congenial reception accorded to Captain James Cook on his first visit in 1773. He arrived at the time of theʻinasi festival, the yearly donation of the First Fruits to the Tuʻi Tonga (the islands' paramount chief) and so received an invitation to the festivities. According to the writerWilliam Mariner, the chiefs wanted to kill Cook during the gathering but could not agree on a plan.
Tonga has never lost its sovereignty to a foreign power. In 2010, Tonga took a decisive step towards becoming a fully functioning constitutional monarchy, afterlegislative reforms paved the way for its first partial representative elections.