Vava’u natives will tell you that their little piece of heaven on earth is the shining star in the kingdom of Tonga. And rightfully so! White beaches, azure blue lagoons, and a beautiful climate make the Vava’u island group a treasure.
About 260 kilometers (160 miles) north of the main island of Tongatapu, Vava’u consists of one main hilly island and 33 small islands. About two-thirds of those little islands are inhabited, mostly by families who have lived here for generations. Vava’u is easily accessible by plane from Tongatapu or via ferry from Nuku’alofa.
The main island is home to Port of Refuge, a stunning harbor considered one of the best anchorages in the South Pacific. During peak yachting season – from May to October – this fjord-like harbor is alive with hundreds of sailors and their crews, who’ve come to Vava’u to enjoy the crystal clear waters and see the migrating humpback whales.
But Vava’u isn’t just for yachtsmen. Others also enjoy the tranquility of the islands as well as other active pursuits and the sightseeing opportunities available to guests.
The town of Neiafu, with a population of about 5,000, sits above the Port of Refuge and beckons guests to stop by and visit. The town is easy to explore on foot and locals are eager to direct you to their favorite spots, both in and outside town.
Neiafu is the administrative capital of the Vava’u group but boasts a quaint seaside flavor, given its proximity to the harbor and the fact that it caters to sailors for about six months of each year.
The airport is located about four miles from Neiafu and all of the island’s hotels are located here as well. Just about all of them are eager to organize sightseeing tours for their guests, so exploring the island with a guide is easy and often the best way to proceed.
Neiafu is also the place for shopping, offering a myriad of stores and stalls staffed by Vava’u women peddling their very fine handicrafts, including baskets, mats, wood carvings, jewelry, and other items. The baskets are especially well-known for their quality.
The best way to explore the other small islands of the Vava’u group is by yacht or organized group boat tour. Flightseeing tours are available as well. Swimming, snorkeling, and diving in the vicinity of these tiny islands are the favored activities, given the miles and miles of white sand beaches and enticing marine life that gather around the coral reefs. If you collect sea shells, you’ll soon find that the small coral islands of this group are the perfect place to add to your collection.
Sea kayaking is also an ideal way to explore the islands and there are a few outfitters on the main island that can equip you for a ride on your own or offer you a guided tour through the islands, often lasting from five to eleven days and including meals and camping equipment.