The family members of King George Tupou V waited in a special royal shelter at Nukualofa airport for his body to arrive on a chartered China Southern Airline flight after his passing in Hong Kong last week.

School girls from Queen Salote High School sat beside tapa mats while members of the King's family including Prince Tungi, the King's nephew, approached the plane from the tarmac.

The new King greeted his family as he entered the VIP chalet at the airport, walking past schoolgirls with bowed heads.

As rain started to fall, those waiting were not allowed to cover themselves as a sign of respect.


The white covered coffin was lifted by army officers. A special group of men called nimatapu, who are allowed to touch the King, watched on as the royal flag was draped over the coffin. The only sound that could be heard was that of the plane engines.

Around thirty nimatapu took over from the military, following beside and behind the van that slowly made its way past the patient guard of schoolgirls, up to the chalet.

The van left the airport, travelling to the Royal Palace, past thousands of mourning Tongans, all with their heads bowed as the final goodbye to King George Tupou V gets underway.


On the early flight from Auckland this morning, Tongans stowed metre-long wreaths in black with traditional tuvalu mats wrapped around them.

One 35-year-old woman had cut short a six week holiday in San Francisco to attend the funeral; "This is the third King I have worked for. I was in China when the last one died, I just wanted to be here."

She was sitting next to a Tongan Princess Moheofo Tuita on the plane and as a sign of deference to her status received her food from the stewardess from behind the Princess' back.

Also on the flight was Samoan royalty and King Tuheitia and his wife.