A world away from the beach resorts of the Mamanucas and Yasawa Islands, the historically fascinating Lomaiviti and Lau groups radiate from the east coast of Viti Levu, eventually dissipating before a massively deep ocean trench separating Fiji from Tonga. Those who visit these enchanting islands step into the Fiji of old, where islanders fish the lagoons as a matter of necessity and travel the open seas in small boats.
As a tourist destination, the inner islands of the Lomaiviti Group are relatively developed, particularly Ovalau, home to Fiji’s charming former capital, Levuka. In comparison, the Outer Lomaiviti and the entire expanse of the Lau Group offer few facilities but will captivate the minds of the most curious of travellers. The area has a rich Tongan heritage and is popular with visiting yachts drawn to its spectacular limestone islands and bays. With over sixty islands to visit across a wide expanse of ocean, virtually no accommodation and limited transport, time and patience are the main requisites for successfully exploring this region.
The Lomaiviti and Lau islands played a key role in the struggle for supremacy over the Fijian archipelago. By the mid-nineteenth century the ruthless Ratu Seru Cakobau, high chief of Bau, had brought much of Fiji under his control. However, the Tongans held a long association with the Lau Group, which in most parts are closer to their islands than Viti Levu. In 1848, Enele Ma’afu, a Tongan prince, was sent to Lakeba in Lau under the guise of protecting the missionaries established there. By supporting Cakobau’s enemies and plying his own brand of fierce warfare, Ma’afu soon began to dominate the region, even gaining control of Vanua Levu and Taveuni. By the 1870s, Cakobau concluded that Ma’afu had the upper hand. Fearful of a direct confrontation he decided to cede Fiji to Britain, which he believed would halt the Tongan’s conquest. The British were reluctant to accept Cakobau’s terms as he didn’t represent the united people of Fiji. So, in 1871, Cakobau rallied a few white settlers in Levuka, and, with the backing of his allied chiefs, announced himself King of Fiji. After much debate and tension, cession to Britain was completed on October 10, 1874 and Levuka became the administrative capital of the new colony. Ma’afu, his aspirations of control of Fiji halted, reluctantly accepted administration over the Lau Group.