Bareboat chartering: Vava’u – Tonga

If you picture yourself sailing among palm tree fringed islands surrounded by wildlife, blue seas and the sound of lapping water, then Vava’u is for you. Quiet, simple and serene, all activities In Vava’u are focused around water.

Diving, snorkelling, sailing and whale watching are specialities here. It’s a chilled relaxed vibe if something doesn’t happen today, there’s always tomorrow. There’s nothing better than starting the day with a swim off the back of the boat and enjoying the sunset over a drink in the evening after a day sailing, snorkelling, paddle boarding or kayaking.

If you are bareboat chartering it is likely your charter will encompass the islands of Vava’u, which are the north of the Kingdom of Tonga. Aptly described by Lonely Planet as an island group “shaped like a giant jellyfish with its tentacles dangling south.” These tentacles are 61 islands surrounds by reefs and turquoise waters. The islands and anchorages are a all very comfortable sailing distance away, with many not being more than an hour or two away from one another. This gives you plenty of time to relax and enjoy the anchorages. There are a number of recommended day and overnight anchorages to choose from.

The most popular time of year in the summer months of June to October when the hump back whales migrate here to mate and to raise their calves. The heat run of males grouped to chase and win the in-season female is, by all accounts, spectacular. You can see a heat run here. Even though it was early in the season, we were lucky enough to swim with a calf and its mother, which was a special and magical experience.

The Practicalities 

Yacht charter: Chose from Sunsail or Moorings, who are essentially the same company under the umbrella of the Tui Marine Group. And you can choose either a monohull or a catamaran. We chose a catamaran which from a holiday live aboard perspective in the tropics is a brilliant choice. The yachts are based in Neiafu. Please check the age of your yacht or catamaran before finalising your plans, as they tend to vary in age. We had a much older yacht which wasn’t very well maintained, so it pays to check at the time of booking.

Flights: Plan to fly to Neiafu in Vava’u group. Fiji Airlines flys direct from Nadi twice a week during the whale season, which is preferable to overnighting in Nuku’alofa.

Whale swimming/watching: This industry is regulated and swimming with whales is only permitted with licensed operators. In a yacht, you have to stay 300 meters away from the whales and you cannot get in the water with them unless you’re with the licenced operators.  It pays to book ahead especially in the high season as trips can get booked out. We went with Tongan Expeditions, which we great. Other operators include Beluga Diving, Endangered Encounters and Dolphin Pacific Diving, however, I don’t have any personal experience of these companies.

Provisioning for sailing: We chose not to spend precious charter time shopping and so opted for provisioning through Moorings. There are markets and small supermarkets in Neiafu if you prefer to do your owning shopping.

Resources: A great cruising resource in the area, is the daily Cruisers Net on VHF Channel 26 at 8.30 am Monday-Sunday which provides useful information on weather, tides, contacts, services offered or needed and local advertising. It makes for entertaining listening too.

Things to do: We spent most of our time sailing, relaxing, swimming and snorkelling.

Have you been to Tonga and would you recommend any islands to see or activities to enjoy there?


6 thoughts on “Bareboat chartering: Vava’u – Tonga

  1. Wonderful to return here through your lens. We sailed Amandla here in 2014 and your gorgeous video brings those wonderful memories rushing back, Port Neiafu, island hopping, snorkeling with whales (we used Beluga Divers – also very good ). Honestly, I got goosebumps watching that underwater ballet. Makes me long to go around again!


  2. Maybe we’ll get lucky and share an anchorage in Vava’u someday. I adore underwater photography but my images are limited as I cling to the surface with my snorkel. Would love to go on a ‘Photography Dive’ #someday.

    Liked by 1 person

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