Niuafo'ou (50 square km) is a collapsed volcanic cone once 1,300 meters high. Today the north rim of the caldera reaches 210 meters. The center of the island is occupied by a crater lake, Vai Lahi, nearly five km wide and 84 meters deep, lying 21 meters above sea level. From this lake rise small islands with crater lakes of their own—lakes within islands within a lake within an island. Grayish lapila fish live in these sulfurous waters.
Presently Niuafo'ou is dormant, but the southern and western sides of the island are covered by bare black lava fields from the many eruptions earlier this century. Lava flows emanating from fissures on the outer slopes of the caldera destroyed the villages of 'Ahau in 1853 and Futu in 1929.
After Angaha disappeared under lava in 1946, the government evacuated the 1,300 inhabitants to 'Eua Island, where many live today. In 1958, some 200 refugees returned to Niuafo'ou, and by 1976 there were 678 people on the island once more (in 1996 735 people were present). Signs of the 1946 eruption are apparent in the vicinity of the airstrip. Apart from the lava fields, the island is well forested.
Incubator or megapode birds (malau in Tongan) lay eggs one-fifth the size of a grown bird in burrows two meters deep in the warm sands of the hot springs by the lake.
Natural heating from magma close to the surface incubates the eggs, and after 50 days the megapode chicks emerge fully feathered and ready to fend for themselves.
Unfortunately, those malau eggs that aren't collected by the islanders for food are dug up by free-ranging pigs, and the birds are facing extinction.
Many tracks lead to the lake from all directions.
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