Vava’u is believed to have been settled for around 2000 years. The capital, Neiafu, looks out onto Port of Refuge, christened by Spaniard Don Francisco Antonio Mourelle, who sighted Vava’u on 4 March 1781 en route from Manila to Mexico. Mourelle claimed the new-found paradise, one of the last South Pacific island groups to be contacted by Europeans, for mother Spain. Captain Cook missed it a decade earlier when the Ha’apai islanders convinced him that there were no safe anchorages north of Ha’apai (ha-ha, Ha'apai).

William Mariner spent time here during Finau ‘Ulukala I of Ha’apai’s conquest of Vava’u in 1808. Later, on the death of ‘Ulukala III, King George Tupou I added Vava’u to his realm when he formed a united Tonga in 1845.