Coordinates: 18°39′05″S 173°59′01″W / 18.65139°S 173.98361°W / -18.65139; -173.98361
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Map of Vavaʻu.
LocationPacific Ocean
Coordinates18°39′05″S 173°59′01″W / 18.65139°S 173.98361°W / -18.65139; -173.98361
ArchipelagoTonga Islands
Total islands55
Major islands1
Area138 km2 (53 sq mi)
Highest elevation131 m (430 ft)
Highest pointMount Talau
Largest settlementNeiafu (pop. 3,731)
Population14,283[1] (2021)
Pop. density108.1/km2 (280/sq mi)
Ethnic groupsTongan (majority), European, Chinese, Pacific Islanders.

Location of Vavaʻu District in Tonga

Vavaʻu is an island group, consisting of one large island (ʻUtu Vavaʻu) and 40 smaller ones, in Tonga. It is part of Vavaʻu District, which includes several other individual islands. According to tradition, the Maui god created both Tongatapu and Vavaʻu, but put a little more effort into the former. Vavaʻu rises 204 m (669 ft) above sea level at Mount Talau. The capital is Neiafu, situated at the Port of Refuge (Puatalefusi or Lolo-ʻa-Halaevalu).


Myths and legends[edit]

In Polynesia, it is said that the islands were created by the god Maui, who reached into the bottom of the sea with his magic hook, caught something on it, and pulled it up to the sea surface, and it became the islands of Vavaʻu.

Recorded history[edit]

Don Francisco Mourelle de la Rúa, commanding the Spanish frigate Princesa, was the first European to come to Vavaʻu, which he did on 4 March 1781. He charted Vavaʻu as Martín de Mayorga, naming it after the incumbent Viceroy of New Spain.[2] Captain James Cook had known about the islands a decade earlier, but the people in Haʻapai had told him it would be no good for him to go there; they told him there was no harbour. They may have told him this to dissuade him from going there; but Cook heeded their advice.

As it turned out, Mourelle found excellent anchoring, in Vavaʻu, which he desperately needed, because he had failed to find a harbour at the last two places he had tried to land, Fonualei (Bitterness island) and Late. He gave the harbour at Vavaʻu the name Port of Refuge, although his original port of refuge had been the bay on the west coast of the main island, near Longomapu.

Twelve years later, in 1793, the Malaspina Expedition visited the area for a month, following up on Mourelle's investigations, and formally claiming the islands for Spain.

Whaling vessels were among the first regular Western visitors to the islands. The first on record was the Fanny, on 17 June 1823, and the last was the Robert Morrison, from July through September, 1883.[3] These vessels came for water, food, and wood - and sometimes they recruited islanders to serve as crewmen on their ships. They stimulated commerce and were significant agents for change on the islands.

In 1839, the Tuʻi Tonga (chief), George Tupou I, instituted the Vavaʻu Code in Vavaʻu.


Neiafu (left) and Fungamisi (centre) at the Port of Refuge
Vavaʻu is located in Pacific Ocean
Location of Vavaʻu in the Pacific Ocean

The Vavaʻu island group is spread out across an area that measures about 21 km from east to west and 25 km from north to south. Vavaʻu had 13,738 inhabitants at the 2016 census, 5,251 of whom lived in the capital, Neiafu.[4] The islands in Vavaʻu District, outside of the Vavaʻu Group, are uninhabited. The main island of ’Utu Vava’u, at 97 km2 (37 sq mi), is the second largest island in Tonga.

Vavaʻu is a coral reef with cliffs in the north rising to 200 m (660 ft) above sea level. On the south side, the island group is dispersed into many small, scattered islands and waterways. The largest of the waterways, the fjord-like Ava Pulepulekai channel, extends 11 km (6.8 mi) inland from the harbor of Neiafu (the capital).

The north coast of ’Utu Vava’u island is a raised platform of coral cliffs. The southern coastline is low and irregular, and opens out into a network of channels, bays, and islets, forming one of the best-protected natural harbors in the Pacific.

’Utu Vava’u is also home to the ʻEneʻio Botanical Garden, which is Tonga's only botanical garden.


Vavaʻu's climate is by far the warmest in Tonga (apart from the Niuas, which are the northernmost islands in the kingdom). Its warm climate and fertile soil makes it a haven for growers of vanilla, pineapple, and other tropical fruits.


Historical population
1976 15,068—    
1986 15,175+0.7%
1996 15,715+3.6%
2006 15,505−1.3%
2011 14,922−3.8%
2016 13,738−7.9%
2021 14,283+4.0%
Sources:[8] [9][1]


Whale watching in Vavaʻu

Vavaʻu is popular with sailors and other tourists, because of its scenic beauty. It is one of the most prominent tourism sites in Tonga. From May to October, the Port of ’Utu Vava’u welcomes sailing boats from all over the world and arranges for tourists to dive with humpback whales and explore underwater caves. The island is served by Vavaʻu International Airport.

Tourism, agriculture, and fishing are the main sources of income for the inhabitants. The vanilla beans grown here are considered among the best in the world. Giant clams are farmed, and pearls are cultured.

Vavaʻu is considered one of the best places in the world to catch sailfish.[10]


Vavaʻu is home to 262 species of plants, 11 species of lizard, 38 species of bird, and 41 species of terrestrial snail.[11]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Tonga's population drops to 100,209". Matangi Tonga. 24 December 2021. Archived from the original on 24 December 2021. Retrieved 24 December 2021.
  2. ^ Landin Carrasco, Amancio Mourelle de la Rúa, explorador del Pacífico Madrid, 1971, p.79.
  3. ^ Robert Langdon (ed.) (1984), Where the whalers went: an index to the Pacific Ports and islands visited by American whalers (and some other ships) in the 19th century, Canberra, Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, pp.239–40. ISBN 086784471X
  4. ^ "Census 2016". Tonga Department of Statistics. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  5. ^ "TONGA KING ANOINTS ROYAL RELATIVE AS GOVERNOR". Pacific Islands Report. 7 July 2011. Retrieved 17 December 2021.
  6. ^ Noble Luani dies suddenly in Vava'u
  7. ^ 'Akau'ola Siosateki Tonga Veikune Faletau
  8. ^ "1996 Tonga Census Administrative Report". Tonga Department of Statistics. p. xii. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  9. ^ "Census". Tonga Statistics Department. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  10. ^ Olander, Doug (7 June 2019). "The World's Best Sailfish Spots". Sport Fishing Magazine. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  11. ^ "Rapid Biodiversity Assessment of the Vava'u Archipelago, Kingdom of Tonga" (PDF). SPREP. 2014. pp. vii–ix. Retrieved 6 January 2022.

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]