In this Article by South Pacific travel expert Ian Osborn
Vavau Holidays Overview — Neiafu Town & Main Island — Pangaimotu Island — The Outer Islands — Vavau Travel Information
Vava'u is one of the most idyllic destinations in the South Pacific for adventurers. The small island group attracts yachties from around the world during the winter sailing season between June and October, game fishing enthusiasts to catch the big marlin and kayaking fanatics to explore its meandering shorelines, bays and inlets. It is also a world renowned destination for spotting, and swimming with humpback whales which come to the protected waters to give birth to their calves.
The drawback is all the above are pretty much seasonal and this high season from May to October is in stark contrast to the summer months between November and April when few tourists visit and many tour companies and restaurants close down for the season. But if you plan to visit for a relaxing beach break and to do a little sightseeing, then this can be the best time to visit with no crowds.
Vavau Map & Pictures
Vavau Holidays Overview
The Vava'u Group is more commercially orientated with the town of Neiafu having several excellent cafes and restaurants, a couple of lively waterfront bars and organised tours to explore the limestone islands, its caves, coral reefs and uninhabited islands. From May to October humpback whales migrate to the protected bays to give birth and rest before heading back to their southern feeding grounds and it's one of the best places in the world to spot whales, and one of the few where you're permitted to enter the water amongst them. The arrival of the whales coincides with the sailing season, and amongst yachties Vava'u has a reputation of being one of the best South Pacific islands to visit.
Neiafu Town & The Main Island
Neiafu Town is the centre of all activity in Vava'u. Sitting on the southern prominence of the main island, the ramshackle town has an attractive harbour setting alongside the Port of Refuge. This is the administration centre of the group with banks, schools, tour companies and lots of good restaurants, cafes and bars by the waterfront. Neiafu doesn't have a beach and there are only a couple of nice beaches on the main island with most of the coast being limestone cliffs. However, the town makes an affordable base to explore the islands on a day tour and there are several good places to stay including Paradise Hotel overlooking the Port of Refuge.
There are some great walks around Neiafu with attractive coastal scenery, notably the hike to Mt. Talau (131m) with its excellent views over the Port of Refuge. Another good hike from Neiafu is to Toafa Church on Vava'u's west point with its splendid views of the Hunga Cliffs and offshore islands. For the most spectacular views on Vava'u, visit Utu'alina Point on north Vava'u.
Vava'u is the best place in the South Pacific to watch humpback whales. The whales visit every year between June and October, resting in the deep protected bays to give birth to their calves and to mate. It is not uncommon for up to twenty whales to be playing in and around the bay at any one time. Whale watching tours by boat are available during this time and any charter must follow strict guidelines set out by the Ministry of Fisheries and include a 100m exclusion zone and no direct or rear approach. Diving is banned around whales, although it is possible to swim or snorkel within 30 metres and listen to their unusual eerie songs.
The second largest island in Vava'u is Pangaimotu, seen across the water from Neiafu Harbour and connected by land bridge at Vava'u's southern point. The beaches on Pangaimotu are much nicer and there a small resort at the Tongan Beach Resort, overlooking the passage to Port of Refuge.
The surrounding islands (over 50 in all), are a mix of limestone uplifts and flat coral atolls. The many channels and bays make this the ideal place for sailing and there are hundreds of protected anchorages.
If you are not on a yacht, the best way to see the islands is either by sea-kayak or by joining an overnight sailing trip or small boat day cruise. Small boat tours cost from just T$ 60 for a day of cruising, lunch, snorkel gear and towels included, while a sailing tour can cost from T$ 120 per person depending on the number of passengers. Highlights of these tours include a visit to Swallows Cave, snorkelling in the Coral Gardens and anchoring at one of the many secluded beaches.
The islands in the south of Vava'u are much flatter and here you'll find several gorgeous uninhabited coral atolls surrounded by reefs, many of which are home to thousands of nesting sea birds including frigates, and boobies.
Vavau Travel Information
There are daily flights (except Sunday) from Tongatapu to Lifuka in the Ha'apai Group (20-minutes) and to Vava'u (40-minutes), with the later receiving several flights per day. There is no public transport in Ha'apai with bicycles or horse the best way of exploring Lifuka and finding a boat captain to visit some of the more remote islands. Vava'u has a better infrastructure with taxis usually available in Neiafu Town and an infrequent bus service around the main island. Water taxis, small boat tours and sailing cruises are available from Neiafu for exploring the lagoon.