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"Vavau" redirects here. For the village in Samoa, see Vavau, Samoa.
Map of Vavaʻu.
Location Pacific Ocean
Coordinates Coordinates: 18°39′S 173°59′W / 18.650°S 173.983°W / -18.650; -173.983
Archipelago Tonga Islands
Total islands 55
Major islands 1
Area 138 km2 (53 sq mi)
Highest elevation 131 m (430 ft)
Highest point Mount Talau
Largest settlement Neiafu
Population 14928 (as of 2011)
Density 108.2 /km2 (280.2 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Tongan (majority), European, Chinese, Pacific Islanders.
Vavaʻu is located in Pacific Ocean
Location of Vavaʻu in the Pacific Ocean

Vavaʻu is the island group of one large island (ʻUtu Vavaʻu) and 40 smaller ones in Tonga. It is part of Vavaʻu District. According to tradition the Maui god fished up both Tongatapu and Vavaʻu but put a little more effort into the former. Vavaʻu rises 204 m above sea level at Mt. Talau. The capital is Neiafu, which is the fifth largest city in Tonga, situated at one of the best harbours of the world, the Port of Refuge (Puatalefusi or Lolo-ʻa-Halaevalu).


Myths and legends[edit]

In Polynesia it is explained that the islands were created by the god Maui, who caught the bottom of the sea with his magic hook, fished up and left on the sea surface what became the islands of Vavaʻu. In total there are 70 islands, of which 17 are inhabited, spread over six districts.

Recorded history[edit]

Don Francisco Mourelle de la Rúa, commanding Spanish frigate Princesa was the first European to come to Vavaʻu, on 4 March 1781. He charted Vava'u as Martín de Mayorga who was the Viceroy of New Spain at the time.[1] Captain James Cook knew about the islands a decade before, but the people in Haʻapai told him it would be no good for him to go there as there was no harbour. Apparently they did not want him to go there, and Cook heeded their advice anyway.

But Mourelle found excellent anchoring, of which he was in desperate need after having failed on Fonualei (Bitterness island) and Late, and he gave the spot the name Port of Refuge. But his original Port of Refuge was the bay on the west coast of the main island, near Longomapu. In 1793 Alessandro Malaspina visited for a month, following up on Mourelle and claiming the islands for Spain.

Tuʻi Tonga George Tupou I instituted the Vavaʻu Code in Vavaʻu in 1839.


The Vavaʻu group measures about 21 km from east to west and 25 km from north to south. Vavaʻu had 15,485 inhabitants at the 2006 census total of 138 square kilometres (53 sq mi). 3,900 lived in the capital Neiafu. The main island of Vavaʻu is 97 square kilometres (37 sq mi), the second largest island in Tonga.

Vava'u is a coral reef with superior oblique in the north up to 200 metres (660 ft) high cliffs. On the south side of the island group, it is dissolved into many small islands and waterways. The largest of these waterways, the fjord-like Ava Pulepulekai channel extends 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) inland from the harbor of Neiafu, the capital.

The Vavaʻu island is a raised platform of coral cliffs on the north coast and a low and irregular coastline south that opens in a complex network of channels, bays and islands forming one of the best protected natural harbors in the Pacific.

Vavaʻu is also home to the ʻEneʻio Botanical Garden, Tonga's only botanical garden.

New island[edit]

In 2006, eruptions of the previously submarine volcano Home Reef caused it to rise above sea level, forming a new island to the southwest of the Vavaʻu archipelago.[2]


Vavaʻu has a much warmer climate than the rest of Tonga except the Niua group of islands furthest to the north. Because of the island's warm climate and fertile soil, Vavaʻu is a haven for vanilla and pineapple growers as well as other tropical fruits.



Due to its scenic beauty Vavaʻu is particularly popular with sailors and other tourists and is one of the most important tourism sites in Tonga. From May to October, the Port of Vavaʻu welcomes sailing boats from all over the world to dive with birthing humpback whales and explore underwater caves.

Tourism, agriculture and fishing are the main sources of income of the population. The vanilla grown here is considered one of the best in the world. Moreover, even giant clams and pearls are cultured.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Gerstle, Donna (1973). Gentle People: Into the Heart of Vavaʻu, Kingdom of Tonga: 1781–1973. San Diego: Tofua Press. OCLC 800856. 

External links[edit]