Last updated
Santa Maria
Map of Gaua
Womtelo Map-Banks-Vanuatu 1000.png
Location Pacific Ocean
Coordinates 14°15′54″S167°31′12″E / 14.26500°S 167.52000°E / -14.26500; 167.52000 Coordinates: 14°15′54″S167°31′12″E / 14.26500°S 167.52000°E / -14.26500; 167.52000
Archipelago Vanuatu, Banks Islands
Area330 km2 (130 sq mi)
Highest elevation767 m (2516 ft)
Highest point Mount Gharat
Province Torba Province
Largest settlementJolap
Population2,491 (2009)
Pop. density7.5/km2 (19.4/sq mi)

Gaua (formerly known as Santa Maria Island) is the largest and second most populous of the Banks Islands in Torba Province in northern Vanuatu. It covers 342 km².



Gaua was first sighted by Europeans during the Spanish expedition of Pedro Fernández de Quirós, from 25 to 29 April 1606. The island’s name was then charted as Santa María. [1]


Location of the Banks Islands in the north of Vanuatu Nh-map.png
Location of the Banks Islands in the north of Vanuatu

Gaua is subject to frequent earthquakes and cyclones. The climate is humid tropical; the average annual rainfall exceeds 3500 mm. It has rugged terrain, reaching up to Mount Gharat (797 m), the peak of the active stratovolcano which lies at the center of the island. Its most recent eruption was in 2013. The volcano has a 6 × 9 km caldera, within which lies a crater lake, known as Lake Letas, which is the largest lake in Vanuatu. To the east of the lake is Siri Waterfall (120 m drop).

Natural history

The upper slopes of the island have been recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International, because they support populations of Vanuatu megapodes, Vanuatu imperial pigeons, Tanna fruit doves, red-bellied fruit doves, palm lorikeets, cardinal myzomelas, fan-tailed gerygones, long-tailed trillers, streaked fantails, Melanesian flycatchers, southern shrikebills, Vanuatu white-eyes and red-headed parrotfinches. Other animals found there include long-tailed fruit bats, Vanuatu flying foxes and coconut crabs. [2]

Population and languages

In 2009, the island had a population of 2,491, and an annual growth rate of 2.0 percent. [3] The inhabitants are scattered among various coastal villages on the western, southern and northeastern sides of the island. The eastern side has a few hamlets with an immigrant community, the members of which have come from the two smaller islands Merig and Merelava, that lie southeast of Gaua. The largest village in Gaia is Jolap, on the west coast. [4]

In addition to Mwerlap (the language of the immigrant population), there are five languages traditionally spoken on Gaua: Lakon (also called Vuré), Olrat, Koro, Dorig, and Nume.


The livelihood of the people of Gaua is based on the agricultural economy that is traditional throughout of Melanesia: a combination of fishing and horticulture. Their principal exports are copra and cacao.


The island is served by Gaua Airport, which is located in the northeast corner of the island.

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  1. Kelly, Celsus, O.F.M. La Austrialia del Espíritu Santo. The Journal of Fray Martín de Munilla O.F.M. and other documents relating to the Voyage of Pedro Fernández de Quirós to the South Sea (1605-1606) and the Franciscan Missionary Plan (1617-1627) Cambridge, 1966, p.39, 62.
  2. "Gaua". BirdLife Data Zone. BirdLife International. 2021. Retrieved 10 February 2021.
  3. "2009 National Census of Population and Housing: Summary Release" (PDF). Vanuatu National Statistics Office. 2009. Retrieved November 21, 2010.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. Satellite photo of Jolap village Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine .