The crown jewel of this little kingdom, Vava'u lies approximately 260km (162 miles) north of Tongatapu. It's one of the South Pacific's great yachting centers and one of this region's most unusual destinations.

Often mispronounced Va-vow (it's Va-va-oo), the group consists of one large, hilly island shaped like a jellyfish, its tentacles trailing off in a myriad of waterways and small, sand-ringed islets. In the middle, the fjordlike harbor known as Port of Refuge ranks as one of the finest anchorages in the South Pacific. From its picturesque perch above the harbor, the village of Neiafu (pop. 5,000) evokes scenes from the South Seas of yesteryear.

To the south of Neiafu, the reef is speckled with 33 small islands, 21 of them inhabited. The others are beautiful dots of land upon which Robinson Crusoe would fit right in. The white beaches and emerald lagoon are unsurpassed in their beauty.

When you see these protected waterways, you'll know why cruising sailors love Vava'u. But this is heaven not just to sailors but to any watersports enthusiast. Getting out on the water for a day is easy. If you like walking on unspoiled white beaches on uninhabited islands, swimming in crystal-clear water, and taking boat rides into mysterious caves cut into cliffs, you'll like Vava'u, too.

Vava'u is the most seasonal destination in the South Pacific. Virtually asleep for 6 months of the year, it comes alive during the whale-watching and yachting season from May to October, when more than 500 boats can be in port at any one time. Humpback whales migrate from the Antarctic to frolic in Tongan waters this time of year, and Vava'u is the best place in the region to see them up close and personal.

As with Savai'i in Samoa, you will wish you had stayed longer in this most beautiful and enchanting part of Tonga.