The Best of Vavau

View of the bay in Vavau Tonga

After a year in French Polynesia and a lovely but too short visit to Niue, we sailed to Tonga. Only a week after we arrived in Vavau, Tonga, we got stuck! Our starting motor died so while we waited for a replacement, we had a lot of time to explore and enjoy the best of Vavau Tonga.

About Vavau

Vava’u (pronounced va-vuh-ooh) is an island group in The Kingdom of Tonga, and the most popular area of the country for sailing. It consists of 50+ islands, the biggest of which is Utu Vava’u. This is where we spent several weeks on a mooring ball waiting for a new starting motor. On a boat, there’s always something that needs fixing! We maximized our waiting time by seeing the sights and visiting the bars and restaurants, discovering the best of Vavau.

You should know: In Tonga, churches are everywhere and Sunday rules are strict. No working. No tours on the water and no noise aside from singing in church. Fortunately, resorts and bars catering to tourists are open on Sundays, but not much else.

Rent a Bike

The roads in Vava’u are a mix of dirt tracks and rutted pavement. Still, the drivers are mostly considerate, so we rented bikes and went for a couple of rides in Vava’u.

Bicycles at a viewpoint in Vavau Tonga
We biked to some viewpoints in Vavau

There’s honestly not a lot of sights to see, but we saw them. We biked to two different scenic lookouts on the north end of the island with stunning views.

Ocean view, cliffs, Tonga, Vavau
Stunning view from one of Vavau’s scenic lookouts

The Pigs

Captain Cook brought pigs to many South Pacific islands, and Tonga really adopted these animals into their lives. We saw pigs – and piglets – everywhere in Vavau. The population of the islands is less than 15,000 but there may be more pigs than people!

pig, Vavau, Tonga
Fierce looking pig in Vavau Tonga

Vavau’s Culinary Scene

Neiafu Vavau has several cruiser friendly restaurants and bars. Most of them served burgers, pizza, and fish and chips, plus Tongan and New Zealand beers. Here’s a recap of some great places for sailors and other visitors to eat and drink in Vavau.

The Kraken

The Kraken takes the prize as Sava’s most visited venue in Vava’u. We enjoyed the friendly staff and nightly happy hour. Convenient for cruisers with it’s own dinghy dock, The Kraken is built around an old ship that was abandoned nearby.

The Kraken in Vavau Tonga
The Kraken is a great waterfront bar and restaurant in Vavau

Basque tavern

Our best dining experiences were the tapas at The Basque Tavern. We had seafood, chorizo, cheese, and beef dishes at this Spanish restaurant just up the hill from the bay in Nieafu.

The Basque Tavern in Vavau Tonga
The Basque Tavern in Vavau
Tapas, prawns, beef
Tapas at The Basque Tavern

The Basque Tavern also hosts pool and dart tournaments. We visited one night when the locals were playing pool and they were good!

coffee and tees

We really liked this coffee and art shop. They served delicious espresso drinks and egg sandwiches in a fun atmosphere. If you need wifi, Coffee and Tees has it!

Coffee and Tees Nieafu
Inside Coffee and Tees in Nieafu

This is where I got a custom made shirt to commemorate my love of Tongan pigs.


Tropicana is a cafe and cruisers lounge/yacht services company all in one. We had breakfast and lunch there, rented bikes, got propane fills and laundry done, and more. They make bread and yogurt with advance notice, sell maps, and do all sorts of great services for boaters. We were there almost everyday and met a lot of nice people at Tropicana.

falaleu deli

With scant tables, Falaleu Deli, run by a couple of ex-pat Canadians, is more of a take-out place. The menu is very good, and they sell a lot of high-quality frozen meats. We can attest to the deliciousness of their steaks.

Falaleu Deli in Vavau Tonga
The Falaleu Deli

Rugby Match

One of the highlights of being stuck in Vavau was having time to walk over to the local high school sports field for a rugby match. The action was fun both on and off the field.

Rugby players in Vavau Tonga
We went to a high school rugby match in Vavau

Similar to watching baseball in Nicaragua or cricket in The Grenadines, one of the best parts of the game was the fans! They cheered, they sang, they threw the plastic chairs they’d brought to sit on. At the end of the match, they stormed the field and brought down the goalposts. It was a fun afternoon in Tonga.

The fans go wild at a Tongan high school rugby match

An Island Feast

We were lucky to get our engine working and visit an outlying island in the Vavau group to partake in an island feast. While more expensive than the Marquesan oven, we had a lot of fun on David’s island alongside cruisers from New Zealand, the US, and beyond.

David cooked a suckling pig on a spit, accompanied by multiple salads and side dishes. All the food was delicious but the highlight came after: the singing and dancing! Dancing was supplied by David’s talented daughters, accompanied by David on guitar. The guitar was supplied by another cruiser and it was passed around so many of the guests, including Brian, played and sang. We were happy to be free of our mooring in town to have a fun night on the beach in Tonga.

Provisioning in Vavau

Provisioning in Tonga was neither great nor terrible. There are many shops in Neifau, but we quickly learned they sell the same products. One kind of rice (calrose), onions and potatoes, cheddar cheese, and giant packages of cream cheese are some examples of what we found in every store in Neifau.

The farmers market was better, with fresh peppers, eggs, and sometimes lettuce, tomatoes, green beans and eggplants. We bought what they had when they had it because it wouldn’t be available again for weeks. We did okay with fresh food in Vava’u. Our goal in Tonga was to finish the food on the boat so as not to have it confiscated in Fiji.

Vavau Market
Vavau Market is the best place for fresh eggs and produce

In The Water

After all these years onboard, this is one of the rare places we didn’t spend a lot of time in the water because Vavau was cold and rainy. One night it got down to 13C, the coldest ever recorded in Tonga. It is winter, but that was cold. We snorkeled a couple of times and dove once. We were not blown away; there weren’t much fish and the water was cold. I am not trying to beat up on Vavau, but this was our experience, good and bad.

The Not So Good

Vavau left us conflicted. Tonga calls itself “the Friendly Islands” but we beg to differ. Not that the people were rude, more that they were shy. Captain Cook, who gave them that name, would be surprised at the change.

We also were disappointed in Tonga’s trash problem. Even at Mt. Talau National Park, which has stunning viewpoints of the bay, we saw rubbish. We walked to a cave, another island attraction, and it was also littered with plastic bottles. It disturbed me so much I couldn’t get into the water with the plastic bags and bottles floating in it.

Viewpoint at Mt. Talau in Nieafu Tonga
Beautiful view at Mt. Talau Nieafu

Recap on Vavau Tonga

Tonga is a beautiful country with lush greenery and cute pigs running around on land. We were a little bit too early for one of the top attractions of visiting Tonga: the whales! Tonga is a rare place where you can even get into the water and swim with the humpback whales, so if that’s on your bucket list, plan to go between mid-July and October. We saw whales as we were leaving Vavau, which was a nice way to say goodbye.

If we get a chance next season, we may try to return to Vavau, with an extra starting motor, if only to see more whales. What do you think? Want to check it out yourself?

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Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, blogging about the places we visit and the adventures we have. Love hiking, cycling, scuba, animals and adventure.

8 thoughts on “The Best of Vavau”

  1. Hello, i am Sybille from the Pure Fun, i am german and i miss the button „ select language“, because my english is not very good. Best regards from the pure fun.

    1. Hi Sybille, Thanks for letting me know about the translate bar. It was removed by mistake and I’ve added it back. Cheers!

  2. Unfortunately I read your “best of Vava’u” only after we have left it. But luckily we detected most of the spots you have described in your excellent summary. Your comment regarding the trash we fully agree. It was even worse on the small archipelago of Niuatoputapu. Discussing with people, however, showed us, that they are getting aware of the problem, they just do not know yet, how to takle it.

  3. I just stumbled upon your article about the best of Vava’u Tonga and I was fascinated by your adventures. You have a great way of writing that makes me feel like I’m there with you. I loved learning about the different islands, the culture, the food, and the wildlife of this amazing place. Your photos are stunning and really capture the beauty and diversity of Vava’u. Thank you for sharing your insights and tips on how to make the most of a visit to Vava’u. You have inspired me to add this destination to my travel wishlist.

  4. I’ll be honest I had to google where Vava’u and Tonga are on a map lol, I love how you guys always sail to and write about destinations I hadn’t considered before! That looks very remote. Do many non-sailing tourists visit there, like by flying or taking short day trips from Fiji?

    1. Good question, Claire. The resorts in Tonga were full of tourists from New Zealand and Australia. For Kiwis, the flight is only about 4 hours, sort of like a trip to the Caribbean for Americans and Canadians. July-September is the high season because it’s winter, and to see the whales.

  5. Vava’u looks gorgeous, despite the weather. I wonder if you would like it even more if you visited in more tropical weather!? I love that you went to a rugby game! That makes so much sense in Tonga!

    Really interesting about the shyness vs friendliness. I met a lot of Tongan people in Japan (mostly through touch rugby tournaments) they were so, soooo friendly and fun. I wonder if you just need to scratch the surface to be introduced by a local, or have something in common (like the rugby) to get the full force of their cheer?

  6. What an experience! Glad you were able to make the best of the time you had while waiting for your repairs. I had no idea Tonga had so many pigs – it’s like the chickens on Kauai! Thanks for sharing both the good and the bad.

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