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Santa Maria
Map of Gaua
Womtelo Map-Banks-Vanuatu 1000.png
LocationPacific Ocean
Coordinates14°15′54″S 167°31′12″E / 14.26500°S 167.52000°E / -14.26500; 167.52000Coordinates: 14°15′54″S 167°31′12″E / 14.26500°S 167.52000°E / -14.26500; 167.52000
ArchipelagoVanuatu, Banks Islands
Area342 km2 (132 sq mi)
Highest elevation767 m (2,516 ft)
Highest pointMount Gharat
ProvinceTorba Province
Largest settlementJolap
Population2,491 (2009)
Pop. density2.2 /km2 (5.7 /sq mi)

Gaua (formerly known as Santa Maria Island) is the largest and second most populous of the Banks Islands in Torba Province of northern Vanuatu. It covers 342 km².


Gaua was first sighted by Europeans during the Spanish expedition of Pedro Fernández de Quirós, from 25 to 29 April 1606. The island’s name was then charted as Santa María.[1]

Physical geography[edit]

Location of the Banks Islands in the north of Vanuatu

It has rugged terrain, reaching up to Mount Gharat (797 m), the peak of the active stratovolcano at the center of the island. The most recent eruption was in 2013. The volcano has a 6 × 9 km caldera, within which lies a crater lake known as Lake Letas, the largest lake in Vanuatu. To the east of the lake is Siri Waterfall (120 m drop).

Population and languages[edit]

The island has a population of 2491 (in 2009), with an annual growth rate of 2.0 percent.[2] This population is scattered in various coastal villages on the western, southern and northeastern sides of the island. The eastern side has a few hamlets with an immigrant population coming mainly from the two smaller islands Merig and Merelava, southeast of Gaua. The largest village is Jolap, on the west coast.[3]

Besides the language of this immigrant population (Mwerlap), there are five languages traditionally spoken on Gaua: Lakon or Vuré; Olrat; Koro; Dorig and Nume.


The population of Gaua lives of the traditional agricultural economy of Melanesia, combining fishing and horticulture. The principal exports are copra and cacao.


The island is served by Gaua Airport at the northeast corner of the island.



  1. ^ Kelly, Celsus, O.F.M. La Austrialia del Espíritu Santo. The Journal of Fray Martín de Munilla O.F.M. and other documents relating to the Voyage of Pedro Fernández de Quirós to the South Sea (1605-1606) and the Franciscan Missionary Plan (1617-1627) Cambridge, 1966, p.39, 62.
  2. ^ "2009 National Census of Population and Housing: Summary Release" (PDF). Vanuatu National Statistics Office. 2009. Retrieved November 21, 2010.
  3. ^ Satellite photo of Jolap village.

External links[edit]