The Travel Guide to Vava'u on a Budget©
The Travel Guide to Vava'u on a Budget

The Travel Guide to Vava’u on a Budget


How to Visit Vava’u on a Budget

Tonga’s rugged northern islands are enticing with their sheltered waters for whale swimming, scuba diving, sailing… But we all know that they aren’t the cheapest activities for a budget getaway. Yes, Vava’u has a bit of a reputation for being one of the more expensive island groups to visit in Tonga. But for the determined backpacker, there are certainly ways to make the most of the islands without blowing your budget. We’ll show you the way with this travel guide to Vava’u on a budget!

10 Tips for Visiting Vava’u on a Budget

Luckily, there are ways to cut the costs when visiting Vava’u through your choices of accommodation, transport, payment method, food and more. Here are our best money-saving tips for visiting Vava’u:

  1. Take the ferry from Tongatapu for the cheapest way to get to Vava’u!
  2. Stay in one of the budget accommodations
  3. Compare accommodation inclusions, as some accommodations offer free use of kayaks, free breakfast, whale swim & stay packages, etc.
  4. Spend some of your days doing the free and cheap things to do in Vava’u
  5. Consider self-catering to save money on food
  6. Buy produce from ‘Utukalongalu Market rather than from grocery stores
  7. Travel outside of the whale season for reduced accommodation prices, low-season activity deals and the occasional cheaper flight
  8. Pay with cash; not only because many accommodations and activities only accept cash but you’ll avoid the fees and unfavourable exchange rates
  9. Travel in groups of four or eight not only are there many holiday homes across Vava’u sleeping four to eight people, but four is a good number for fishing, while eight is a good number for whale swimming, giving you group rates at the best possible rate per person
  10. Hire a car or bicycle to explore the land sights, which are cheaper than doing a guided land tour.

See more tips like these in the 10 Ways to Save Money When Travelling in Tonga.

The Guide to Vava’u on a Budget(c)

How to Get to Vava’u

Vava’u is the second-most northern island group in Tonga. Most travellers get the best deals on international flights to Tongatapu in the south and travelling to Vava’u via ferry or plane from there. Otherwise, international flights are available directly from Fiji, Samoa and American Samoa. Here are some of your best options for getting to Vava’u, as well as around, when you’re on a budget.

Vava’u by Ferry

The most affordable way to get to Vava’u is to take the ferry from Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu. A ferry ticket between Tongatapu and Vava’u is less than a third of the cost of a plane ticket. However, the journey takes between 16 and 23 hours. Find out more about taking the ferry in The Guide to Travelling in Tonga by Ferry.

How to Get Around Vava’u

Vava’u’s main island, ‘Utu Vava’u and some surrounding islands, such as Pangaimotu, ‘Utungake, Koloa and Okoa, are well-connected by roads and causeways. Taxis, car rentals and even bicycle rentals are available to get around these islands, while accommodations also provide airport transfers.

For those staying on the outer islands, boat transfers are mainly provided by your chosen resort or arranged with a local boat operator. We dive much more into detail about transport in Vava’u in the 10 Ways to Get to (& Around) Vava’u.

The Guide to Vava’u on a Budget(c)

Free Activities in Vava’u

You don’t have to jump on a whale swimming tour every day or spend all of your savings scuba diving when there are so many free things to do in Vava’u. Around Neiafu, the main island ‘Utu Vava’u, and its surrounding causeway-connected islands, you’ll find plenty of attractions to admire for free. Alternatively, if you’re staying in a resort, guests usually have access to free kayaks, snorkelling spots and more. Here are a few ideas…

Mt Talau

A great place to start with your exploration of Vava’u is from the top of Mt Talau! Located in the Mt Talau National Park, just a 20-minute walk from Neiafu town (or a TOP$10 taxi ride if you’re feeling lazy), the Mt Talau walk is a 10-20-minute climb through rugged forest and up a set of steep steps. Your reward at the top is awesome views of Neiafu, the Port of Refuge and, well, a phone tower directly behind you. There are two viewing decks, so make sure to explore to find them. We recommend walking back into town through the villages for a quintessential look into village life including the sights of churches, pigs and roosters.

To get to Mt Talau 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.

Veimumuni Cave

An interesting natural feature hidden in the village of Toula, the Veimumuni Cave is a sea-facing cave filled with a freshwater pool. The cave is free to visit and well-signposted from the main road when travelling south from Neiafu. Follow a super-short walkway down to a coastal lookout platform and the cave entrance where you can peer into the cave or take the step down into the pool for a swim – the pool is about 2 m (7 ft) at its deepest point. Find the cave signposted from the main road in Toula village, ‘Utu Vava’u.

‘Utula’aina Lookout

In the north of Vava’u’s main islands, ‘Utu Vava’u, the ‘Utula’aina Lookout provides a stunning photo stop and whale-watching lookout. After a drive down a long but well-maintained gravel road, and looking out for the tomb hidden in the bushes as you drive, you’ll reach the ‘Utula’aina Lookout with breathtaking views over Vava’u’s rugged cliffs, turquoise waters and white-sand beaches. The interpretation sign also 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.

The lookout is 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.

‘Utula’aina is just one of around four official lookouts around the islands of Vava’u, so check out the rest (which are also free to visit) in our guide to Sightseeing in Vava’u: Top 10 Sights & Natural Attractions.

Sunday Church Services

Sundays are a time to slow down in the islands of Tonga, especially in Neiafu and the surrounding villages. Harmonious singing floats through the towns throughout the morning and the afternoon, and visitors can immerse themselves a little further into the cultural experience by attending a Sunday church service. While most of the churches in Neiafu welcome visitors, one of the most popular churches for travellers to attend is the grand St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Sunday services start at 10 am. For more recommendations, check out the 10 Best Churches in Tonga for Tourists.

The Travel Guide to Vava'u on a Budget©

Cheap Activities in Vava’u

Where there are free activities, there are a few very affordable experiences that follow. The following tours and activities certainly won’t set you back too far!

Neiafu Market

Located on the waterfront next to Halaevalu Wharf, the Neiafu Market is a must-visit with its array of produce and handicrafts. Head down to the Neiafu Market, also known as the ‘Utukalongalu Market, to admire beautiful tapa paintings, woven items, carved pendants and more. You can also pick up some healthy snacks from the fruit and vegetable stalls, which are sold by the bunch or the pile.


Almost all beachfront accommodations in Vava’u offer complimentary kayak hire to guests. So if you’re staying in one of the resorts, be sure to spend some time out on the water, exploring the coast and checking out the marine life swimming under your kayak! Alternatively, kayaks are available to hire from Cafe Tropicana, should you want to explore the Neiafu Harbour. Check out some of the resorts with kayaks in the 10 Best Resorts in Vava’u and The Guide to Kayaking in Tonga.

Vanilla Plantation Tour

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, affordable yet 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.

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.

More Things to Do in Vava’u

For more inspiration, such as snorkelling and the best beaches, head over to the 10 Free & Cheap Things To Do in Vava’u. Alternatively, for experiences that don’t necessarily fall into the “budget” category but may just be worth adding to your bucket list, take a look at the 50 Best Things to Do in Vava’u.

The Travel Guide to Vava'u on a Budget©

Dining on a Budget in Vava’u

The main hub of Vava’u, Neiafu, is where you’ll find the most dining options on the islands. Food in Neiafu can be affordable, but it’s notably the most expensive out of all of Tonga’s island groups. Check out some of our top recommended restaurants in the 15 Best Cafes & Restaurants in Vava’u.

Note that many of the budget accommodations listed beside this article, even the resorts, have self-catering facilities. Groceries can be picked up from the Neiafu Market, as well as various shops and supermarkets in town, as listed in the Information, Shops & Services in Vava’u.

Cheap Eats in Vava’u

The cheapest meal you’ll find in Neiafu is at the one-stop Chinese-shop, Panda. Located on the waterfront at the small boat marina, Panda’s highest food price is TOP$15! That’s right, for under TOP$15 you can enjoy all your favourite Chinese dishes to eat in or takeaway.

Also to find cheap eats in Vava’u, think local! For instance, MJ Seafood tucked away at the back of the main ferry wharf has a range of Tongan seafood dishes, such as kelevi ika which is a type of gravy and fish with rice, all for around TOP$15.

For lighter bites, Falaleu Deli & Takeaway (Fatafehi Road, Neiafu) has very reasonably priced nachos and wraps. Otherwise, keep an eye out for the occasional roadside barbecue, especially on a Saturday morning, for home-cooked Tongan meals.

Check out more cheap eats across the Kingdom in The Top Cheap Eats in Tonga. Otherwise, just stick to Vava’u with The Food Guide to Vava’u: Places to Eat & Food Tours.

More About Vava’u on a Budget

That’s it for our complete travel guide to Vava’u on a budget. For more budget travel tips, however, take a look at the following:

Finally, get more budgeting advice from The Travel Guide to Tonga on a Budget and Tonga Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to Tonga Cost?


Robin (Lopini) C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of Tonga Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before settling in the South Pacific, so he knows a thing or two about planning the perfect trip in this corner of the world. Robin works and consults regularly with the Ministry of Tourism of Tonga. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides and is a regular host of webinars with the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

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