Natural, Cultural and Historical Sights in Vava’u
The nature and culture entice many to the breathtaking 52 islands of Vava’u in Tonga. Not only are the commanding views from the islands’ various lookouts a reason to explore the great outdoors but it’s what’s between the islands that give travellers a heightened appreciation for the nature and culture of this island group. The waters of Vava’u harbour beautiful coral gardens, sea caves and a refuge for humpback whales to raise their young, while an intriguing history of māna’ia and royals bewitch the land. See some of the best cultural sights and natural attractions in this guide to sightseeing in Vava’u!
Note that sightseeing at most of the sights listed below is no longer permitted in Vava’u. For alternative Sunday activities, check out the 10 Things to Do in Tonga on a Sunday.
1. Swallows Cave
A top snorkelling spot and a priority on most boat tours’ itineraries in Vava’u, Swallows Cave (‘Ana Pekapeka) is a stunning natural attraction. Carved into the side of Kapa Island, this towering cave provides a safe place to hide for large schools of fish, which make astonishing patterns in the water when you snorkel with them. Check out some of the tours that will take you there in the 10 Best Boat & Sailing Tours of Vava’u.
Location: Northwestern tip of Kapa Island.
2. Mt Talau
Get an amazing vantage point of the Neiafu Harbour and the Port of Refuge from the peak of Mt Talau. Easily accessible from Neiafu, Mt Talau is situated in the Mt Talau National Park. There is a set of steep steps to take you to the top of its flat peak at 131 m (331 ft) where there are two viewing platforms in place to provide picture-perfect views. Learn more about walking here in the 10 Best Walks & Hikes in Tonga.
Location: From Neiafu, follow Tapueluefu Road (just past the Police Station) for approximately 2 km (1.2 mi) until you see the entrance signs for the Mt Talau National Park.
3. ‘Utula’aina Lookout
Speaking of views, some of the most breathtaking views can be found at the ‘Utula’aina Lookout on the northern coast of ‘Utu Vava’u. After making your way via rental car or one of the land tours, your reward is a viewpoint across the northern coast of the island with its white-sand beaches, rugged clifftops topped with forest, and turquoise waters. An elevated platform here makes the viewing all the easier, while the interpretation sign explains how this site was once the residence of the 10th Tu’i Tonga – find out more about this line of kings in A Brief History of Tonga.
Location: Well signposted from the north of Holonga village, ‘Utu Vava’u. From Holonga, follow the gravel road north for approximately 1 km (0.6 mi) and turn left at the fork. The lookout is another 650 m (710 yards) down this road.
4. ‘Esi ko Salote Lookout
Another vantage point of the northern coast can be found at ‘Esi ko Salote, just along the road from ‘Utula’aina. Aside from more spectacular views of Vava’u’s dramatic coastline and the possibility of seeing whales in the whale season, this site was known to be frequented by Queen Salote Tupou III who was said to have watched her sons from this viewpoint while they swam at the beach below.
Location: Well signposted from the north of Holonga village, ‘Utu Vava’u. From Holonga, follow the gravel road north for approximately 1 km (0.6 mi) and turn right at the fork. The lookout is another 350 m (380 yards) down this road.
5. Veimumuni Cave
An easy natural attraction to get to from Vava’u’s main island, ‘Utu Vava’u, Veimumuni Cave is on the coast of Toula village. A short walkway leads down to a viewing platform of the coast, as well as the cave’s entrance where you’ll find a freshwater pool. A refreshing dip is made all the more inviting by the steps leading into the pool, even if the cave does look a little spooky. According to legend, the cave was the bathing place of the maiden goddess, Vei.
Location: Signposted from the main road in Toula village, ‘Utu Vava’u.
6. Hila ki Tapana Lookout
Another lookout on the main island of Vava’u, Hila ki Tapana perhaps doesn’t give the best views of all the lookouts but the elevated platform with a spiral staircase is pretty darn cool. The site became legendary after a handsome mana’ia named Lepuha built his residence here to have constant views of Tapana Island where his love interest lived. Thus, Hila ki Tapana means “to glance towards Tapana”.
Location: Signposted from Leimatua village, ‘Utu Vava’u. North of Leimatua, follow the signposted gravel road north for approximately 3.3 km (2 mi) to the lookout car park. Note that the last 200 m (220 yards) of the road quickly deteriorates but can still be handled with a 2WD vehicle if handled with care.
7. ‘Esi o Lupepau’u Lookout
Yes, you read that right; it’s another lookout but one you’ll definitely not want to neglect if visiting or staying on the causeway-connected ‘Utungake Island – see nearby accommodations in Where to Stay in Vava’u. The lookout platform at ‘Esi o Lupepau’u provides unbeatable views of one of Vava’u’s inner harbours, Puatalefusi.
Location: Hala Utungake Road, halfway between Utungake village and Talihau village. The gravel access road to the viewpoint is approximately 200 m (220 yards) south of Utungake village. The road was really rough last time we checked, so we recommend parking at the bottom and walking approximately 150 m (160 yards) to the top.
8. Kilikilitefua Wall
The census for the royal family was quite an unusual one around 400 years ago when rocks began to be placed at Kilikilitefua for each member of the family. There were so many volcanic rocks placed here that it made an entire wall (but not quite seen from space)! It is said that the wall was a lot bigger before residents at some point started taking stones for their own construction projects… Check out more sites like this in the 10 Fascinating Historical Sites in Tonga.
Location: South of Makave village, ‘Utu Vava’u. From Makave Free Wesleyan Church, follow the road south and keep left at the fork. Continue on this road for approximately 400 m (440 yards) and Kilikilitefua Wall is on your left.
9. Mariner’s Cave
The “other” famous sea cave in Vava’u is one far less visited as it provides a bit of skill to get inside. The top of the cave entrance peeks from just above the water’s surface on the cliffs of Nuapapu Island because, yes, you have to dive underwater for a length of around 4 m (13 ft) to emerge in the cave’s airtight chamber.
Location: Northwestern coast of Nuapapu Island.
10. Nuku Island
Vava’u is made up of around 50 islands, many of which are a great example of your picture-perfect paradise islands with white sandy beaches backed with swaying coconut palms. One such island is Nuku Island, not too far from Swallows Cave, which also makes it a popular stop for boat tours. Sit on its white sands, have a picnic and even snorkel around the island to spot eels in the sand. For stops on boat tours, see The Best Snorkelling in Vava’u: Top 10 Places to Snorkel.
Location: Nuku Island, off the southwest coast of Kapa Island.
More About Sightseeing in Vava’u
That’s it for our guide to sightseeing in Vava’u and the best sights and natural attractions. For more experiences across the islands, take a look at the following:
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The Complete Travel Guide to Vava’u.