The Kingdom of Tonga has four main island groups located in the South Pacific. Toward the north end of Tonga’s islands lies the Vava’u archipelago. The other archipelagos are Tongatapu, home to the capital of Nuku’alofa; Ha’apai, located in the southeast region of Tonga; and Niuas, home to a traditional way of living in Tonga located even farther north than Vava’u.
New Zealand cruises to Vava’u take you to what is often considered to be Tonga’s most scenic area. The Vava’u archipelago has 34 islands, though only 21 of those are inhabited. The main city in Vava’u is Neiafu, where cruises to Vava’u pull into port. Here, you’ll find a bustling city center with grocery stores, shops, governmental buildings, and a post office.
The South Pacific is known for soft, sandy beaches by translucent aquamarine water, and Vava’u is no exception. One of the most popular beaches on Vava’u is Ene’io Beach on the island’s southeast coastline. It’s located next to Ene'io Gardens, which are botanical gardens that are lovely to walk around. There is also a coral reef just 600 feet off the beach.
Seeing one of the vanilla plantations in Vava’u is an interesting way to better understand the farming culture of Tonga. When you visit a vanilla plantation, you’ll learn more about the history of vanilla on the island and how it is harvested.
Learn more about the history of Polynesia and the South Pacific on a tour that shows you various cultural aspects of Tonga. You’ll see demonstrations by islanders on pandanus leaf weaving, cooking, jewelry making, and other local arts and crafts. In addition, you’ll visit historical sites in Neiafu and learn about the Vava’u Code.
Mui Houma Beach is a gorgeous, remote beach on the island of Kapa. Taking an excursion there during a cruise to Vava’u makes for a blissful, relaxing day full of beauty and sunshine. Mui Houma Beach is close by Swallow Cave, a deep cave in the side of the island you can peer into from your boat.
Spend a morning or afternoon at Tonga Beach Resort during a shore excursion getaway. On your way to the Tonga Beach Resort, you’ll travel past gorgeous scenery and even vanilla plantations before you’re at the beach and ready to relax or take part in water sport fun.
If you want to try some of the produce that Tonga is known for, try the local squash, pumpkin, and vanilla. For fresh seafood, visit the Fish Market. Café Tropicana and Aquarium Café are also great spots for a bite to eat or drink in Neiafu, and you’ll find wifi there as well.
The people of Tonga originally came from Fiji and are believed to have moved to the islands in 1500 BC. You’ll hear the Western Polynesian language while in Tonga, but English is also widely used and is often what is used in schools. In 1875, the king of Tonga declared the country a constitutional monarchy and put together Tonga’s first constitution. Today, Tonga is the last Polynesian monarchy.
The culture of Tonga straddles both the traditional Tongan way and the western way. Some traditional customs include cooking in earth ovens, performances of Tongan songs and dances, and a focus on fishing and farming the tropical vegetation and blue lagoons that make up the area of Tonga. In addition, there is a Tongan law that dictates a person must wear a shirt in public. It is even custom to wear shorts and a t-shirt when swimming at public beaches. In general, the people of Tonga dress conservatively, and it is advised for visitors to do the same.
If visiting on the weekends, be aware that most businesses close by 1pm on Saturday and don’t open at all on Sunday.
The Vava’u cruise port is a tender port, meaning your ship will anchor offshore and you’ll be transferred to Vava’u in a tender boat. There are no port facilities, but the tender boats drop passengers on Vava’u cruises right in town, so you’ll be a short stroll away from shops, food, and ATMs.
There’s not much in the form of public transportation on the island of Vava’u. However, you will find minibuses and a ferry service connecting to nearby islands.
A great place to shop in Vava’u with a local vibe is Utukalongalu Market in Neiafu, where you’ll find vendor stalls selling local produce and arts and crafts, including weavings, carvings, and jewelry.
The accepted currency in Vava’u is the Tongan pa’anga. You’ll also find that most credit cards are accepted at larger businesses and stores, though it’s wise to have cash on hand if visiting any remote areas or markets with individual vendors during cruises to Vava’u. In addition, banks in Tonga will usually accept traveler’s checks. Tipping isn’t expected in Tonga, though it is appreciated.