The Top Food Tours and Experiences in Vava’u
Despite food being an integral part of the Tongan culture, most of the activities orientate around whale swimming, scuba diving and sailing in Vava’u. Nevertheless, those who like to experience a place through its tastes are still in for some interesting foodie experiences. Learn about the tropical produce grown across the main islands, see it sold at the Neiafu Market, and try some of the goods for yourself in a Tongan feast! Check out some of the top foodie experiences in Vava’u in the list below!
While you’re here, you might also be interested in The Food Guide to Vava’u: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
1. Learn About Natural Superfoods and Enjoy a Tongan Buffet at ‘Ene’io Botanical Gardens
Learn about tropical plants, fruit and vegetables and their health benefits on a garden tour of the ‘Ene’io Botanical Gardens, which also makes its own health foods and natural products. Your tour guide and curator of the gardens, Haniteli Fa’anunu, will show you a wide range of interesting plants from Vava’u and all around the world. Better yet, upgrade to the “Ene’io Grand Tour” with the addition of a demonstration or live show of how plants are processed into valuable products by the local women. The Grand Tours concludes with a traditional umu feast and cultural show! Find out more about the tour in the 5 Best Guided Island Land Tours of Vava’u.
Location: For the “Grand Tour”, pick-ups are offered from Neiafu. For the standard tour, make your way to the east side of ‘Utu Vava’u (the main island), south of Tu’anikivale. Keep left at the fork in Tu’anikivale and ‘Ene’io is approximately 900 m (980 yards) down this road. If no one is waiting for you at the gate entrance, continue down to the beach.
2. Do a Tour of a Vanilla Plantation
Vava’u provides the perfect conditions for growing vanilla beans, where a drive around the main islands will reveal plantations of sprawling vanilla. One of the main producers in Vava’u is Albert Guttenbiel Vanilla, who offers short but laidback and informative tours of one of their vanilla plantations where you’ll learn about the lifecycle of these complex vines and the arduous task of hand-pollinating every flower. Of course, you’ll also have the opportunity to purchase the raw product on this already very affordable tour that lasts approximately 30 minutes.
Location: Tours take place at the Albert Guttenbiel Vanilla Plantation between Feletoa and Mataika villages, ‘Utu Vava’u. At the large crossroads in Mataika, turn west towards the airport and Feletoa. The vanilla plantation is approximately 125 m (137 yards) down this road.
3. Take Part in a Tongan Umu Feast
Tongans are very food-centric, with one of their most renowned cultural events being umu feasts complete with a floor show. There are a few places around the islands of Vava’u where you experience this for yourself. Food is slow-cooked in an earth oven, the “umu”, while a spit-roast pig is also usually a staple. Tongan feasts can be experienced at ‘Ene’io Botanical Garden and Beautiful Ofu Island Backpackers, while Humpback Lodge hosts a similar experience except with kava drinking instead of the floor show. Be sure to pre-book as minimum numbers are usually required for the event to go ahead. Learn more about these experiences in the 10 Best Cultural Shows in Tonga.
Location: All over Vava’u! See the link above for recommended feasts and their locations.
4. Indulge in Vava’u’s Restaurants
The best way to describe Vava’u’s restaurant scene is that it has tons of hidden surprises. You’ll find Italian food, Spanish food and Chinese food with a tropical flair. For instance, the Bellavista Cafe & Restaurant serves up Tongan seafood dishes, as well as pizzas and pasta. A rustic roadside setting, The Basque Tavern is more than meets the eye with its ever-changing menu of delectable tapas. Try a Tongan dish like ota ika or a fresh fish burger at the Tongan Beach Resort. See more recommendations in the 15 Best Cafes & Restaurants in Vava’u.
Location: All over Vava’u! See the link above for recommendations and their locations.
5. Browse the Neiafu Market
A must for foodies in Neiafu, the Neiafu Market or “‘Utukalongalu Market” is where you can get a great insight into grocery shopping in the South Pacific. Admire piles of tropical fruit and vegetables, mingle with the locals and check out the handicrafts for sale in the section next door. The best time to go is on a Saturday morning, but it’s open throughout the day Monday to Saturday.
Location: On the waterfront of Halaevalu Wharf, Neiafu, ‘Utu Vava’u.
6. Catch Dinner on a Fishing Charter
Vava’u’s waters provide some exciting fishing for beginner and experienced anglers alike! Sports fishing is huge in Vava’u where species like blue marlin are one of the highly prized fish here. However, this species is usually released in order to achieve sustainable fishing practices, so tell your skipper that you want to keep a fish for eating and they’ll help you target the best species for dinner! Compare charters in The Best Fishing Charters in Vava’u.
Location: All over Vava’u! See recommended charters and their locations in the link above.
7. Taste Kava at a Faikava or Humpback Lodge
Engage in the local culture by joining a kava circle, locally known as faikava. In the Tongan culture, typically men sit in a circle around a kava bowl and socialise (just like going down to the local pub). Nevertheless, both men and women can sample this experience, as locals are usually very welcoming and proud to share this aspect of their culture. Locally-run guesthouses in Neiafu and Toula are the best ones to go to help organise this experience for you. Alternatively, Humpback Lodge hosts a weekly kava night with Tongan food and a string band! And just so you know what you’re drinking, kava is a slightly narcotic drink made from the ground-up root of a pepper plant grown across the South Pacific.
If you’re joining a faikava in a village, it’s customary to bring some cash (TOP$50) or kava to contribute. Learn more about aspects of the Tongan culture in The Guide to the Tongan Culture and Traditions.
Location: All over Vava’u! Humpback Lodge – Just across the causeway south of Toula village, Pangaimotu.
8. Experience the Buzz of the Saturday Fish Market
Halaevalu Wharf becomes a hive of activity on Saturday morning when fisherfolk arrive to sell last night’s catch. Locals flock to the wharf to rummage through the cooler bins in a frenzy of colourful reef fish, pelagic monsters and crayfish. Head down between 6 am and 8 am to join in the fun.
Location: Halaevalu Wharf, Neiafu, ‘Utu Vava’u.
9. Learn About Kava and Taro on an Island Tour
While not exclusively a foodie experience, guided land tours around the main islands of Vava’u provide an interesting insight into the plantations across the main island. Vava’u is the biggest producer of kava in Tonga, which is a pepper plant used to make a narcotic drink – see 10 Drinks in Tonga You Have to Try. A drive around the island will also reveal vast taro plantations, banana plantations, vanilla plantations and more. Be sure to ask questions to make the most of these island tours! Check out some of the best guided land tours in the 5 Best Guided Tours of Vava’u.
Location: ‘Utu Vava’u. Tours typically offer pick-ups from Neiafu.
10. Enjoy a Private Dinner on the Beach
Get your own private table set up on the beach at one of Vava’u’s island resorts. Treasure Island Eco Resort, for instance, can serve you dinner under the stars while you feel your toes in the sand – perfect for couples on honeymoon as listed in the 10 Most Romantic Things to Do in Vava’u. Alternatively, pack your own picnic and head to one of the 10 Best Beaches in Vava’u which are almost always deserted (except for public holidays and weekends).
Location: All over Vava’u! Treasure Island Eco Resort is located on Euaiki Island, while beach locations are specified in the link above.
More Foodie Experiences in Vava’u
That’s it for our list of the best foodie experiences in Vava’u. For more food-related trip-planning wisdom, check out the guides below:
- The Food Guide to Vava’u: Places to Eat & Food Tours
- 10 Unique Foods in Tonga You Have to Try
- 10 Best Foodie Experiences in Tonga
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The Guide to the Food in Tonga.