AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013
It’s not surprising the Vava’u is popular with ex-pat foreigners of all nationalities as it is regarded as one of Tonga’s most scenic island groups with a total of 34 islands of which only 21 are inhabited. It also has Tonga’s second largest port which is a major entry and exit point for ocean going yachts. It is considered one of the world’s great sailing destinations with a number of secluded anchorages and deep channels.
It is only a about a 50-minute flight to Vava’u from Tongatapu, so it is also easily accessible. On the morning I arrived we headed for an early breakfast at the Tropicana Café. It was just after 8am. From a corner of the café a VHF radio was booming out messages. It transpires that between 8am-8.30am the local VHF frequency for boaties brings everyone up to speed on the weather forecast, tides, local news, winds and community activities and it seems everyone listens in! Welcome to the town of Neifau, the Vava’u Island groups capital.
Vava’u is spread across 115 square kilometers where you’ll find peaceful island villages, remote sandy-fringed uninhabited islands, spectacular deserted stretches of white sandy beaches and a landscape of beauty that a digital camera finds impossible to capture.
Most people spend a few days exploring Neifau as it is the hub of this island region. The town has restaurants, cafes and bars, assorted shopping options, two banks with ATMs, post office and a range of hire operators. If you are there on a Saturday expect a bustling local market from about 7.30am in the morning. Down by the wharf you’ll see Ukukalongalu Market where all the freshest fruit and vegetables can be bought. There is also a range of local handicrafts such as carvings, mats and baskets on sale here as well.
At 10am I was stepping onto a beautiful 1974 Orams 52ft yacht named Jocara (translated it means ‘to play’). The Jocara is a private yacht operated by Melinda Sea Adventures and it works life as a charter cruise yacht holding a maximum of four guests in two double suites. The average charter lasts for four days, allowing time to get out to some of the more beautiful and least visited outer islands.
My destination was Mouna Island, all six and a half acres of it. It is an eco property built to exacting standards by its owners, Lynn and Alan, New Zealanders who decided to settle in this remote corner of paradise 16 years ago. They have just four fales (en-suite bungalows) on their island. Ideal if you want peace and solitude on an exquisite slice of island of beauty that takes all of 10 minutes to circumnavigate its pearl white sands on foot. Seafood dinners are served on their main deck as kerosene lamps illuminate the lodge interior whilst the starlit universe provides the main attraction.
Blue Lagoon: A trip to the outer islands wouldn’t be a trip without a visit to one of the most stunning lagoons in Tonga. The Blue Lagoon also offers a savvy traveller the opportunity to stay in a fale over the water (very rare) where schools of fish swim below often attracting diving birds in front of your deck. The cuisine served up here is also renowned as some of the best in Tonga.
On my return to Neifau we stopped in at Lape Village, what can only be described as one of the smallest Tongan island villages in the island group. There are just 16 adults and 16 children who live on the island and they are totally self-sufficient except for some aid from Japan and New Zealand. There are five fales (kitset houses) on the island that were built in New Zealand and shipped to Tonga that supplement the already existing buildings. The Japanese are now installing solar panels for each building. One of the ways the locals supplement their income is to hold a regular Friday night feast that includes cultural dance and handicrafts that they sell which attracts a great number of yacht owners.
Port Wine Guest House: This small family run business is probably the busiest of all the accommodation options in town. With an historic house and two purpose built fales it offers great value for money with the bonus of really friendly hosts. On the first night I stayed there they offered a small feast of a spit-roasted piglet with beautiful side accompaniments.
For intrepid adventurers who like to try different activities head further along the wharf to where Vava’u Adventures offer guided kart safaris into the remotest parts of the island along dirt tracks through taro and pineapple plantations to stunning panoramic coastline outlooks. This vehicle is like a quad bike on steroids and a great way to see a side of the islands landscape that is otherwise inaccessible.
The trip ends with a visit to the Ene’io Botanical gardens, dubbed by one writer as the “Garden at the End of the World.” This 22 acre piece of land was first planted in 1972 and since then they calculate they have grown 40,000 plants and cultivated 550 species that attract 26 species of birdlife, some endemic to Vava’u. The organic gardens sit above beautiful bay and visitors have the option of three tours of varying lengths.
‘At sea’ options include kayaking, surfing, sailing charters, game fishing, whale watching and diving: with a port as bustling as Neifau its not surprising that there are a whole boat load of operators competing for some tourism dollars. There are three kayak operators and three surfing operators, five dive operators, 10 fishing operators and 10 boat hire and charter operators and finally add 15 whale watching operators so you’ll have a smorgasbord of options to choose from.
‘Accommodation’ options include at least nine beach and outer islands resorts to choose from, another six apartments or lodges, five hotels or motels and 10 guest houses and backpacker lodges. Depending on your budget there is something for everyone in Neifau.
Melinda Sea Adventures, Vava’u
Departing Neifau this is a great multi-day outer island cruising option which is fully inclusive.
T: 676 889 7586
Port Wine Guest House, Vava’u
The best little guest house in Neifau without a doubt and an easy walk into town.
T: 676 70 479
Mounu Island Resort, Vava’u
For that get away from it all feeling spend a few nights in one of the world’s top 30 island beach resorts to get a real feel of South Pacific hospitality.
T: 676 886 6403
Mango Restaurant and Bar, Vava’u
One of the best waterfront restaurant bars with a great menu and superb location.
T: 676 70 644
Ene’io Botanical Gardens Guided Tours, Vava’u
Tour 1. Garden Tour plus Polynesian Cultural Demonstration – five hours. Tour 2. Bird Watching and Garden tour plus promontory hike – 2.5 hours. 3. Walk Among the Natives.
T: 676 71 048
Riki Tiki Tonga, Vava’u
Riki operates dive charters and dive instructor courses/lessons but will also double up as a water shuttle transfer boat when required.
T: 676 70 975
Kart Safari Tours, Vava’u
Expect some off-road adventures on this thee hour guided round trip tour.
T: 676 874 6248