Vanua Lava

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Vanua Lava
Native name:
Vanua lava.jpg
Map of Vanua Lava
Womtelo Map-Banks-Vanuatu 1000.png
Location Pacific Ocean
Coordinates 13°48′S167°28′E / 13.800°S 167.467°E / -13.800; 167.467 Coordinates: 13°48′S167°28′E / 13.800°S 167.467°E / -13.800; 167.467
Archipelago Vanuatu, Banks Islands
Area314 km2 (121 sq mi)
Highest elevation921 m (3022 ft)
Highest point Mount Suretamate
Province Torba Province
Largest settlement Sola
Population2,623 (2009)
Pop. density8.35/km2 (21.63/sq mi)

Vanua Lava is the second largest of the Banks Islands in Torba Province, Vanuatu, after slightly larger Gaua.


It is located about 120 km north-northeast of Espiritu Santo and north of Gaua.


Vanua Lava 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 Portal de Belén (“Nativity scene” in Spanish). [1]

Vanua Lava was first explored by a New Zealand bishop, George Augustus Selwyn, in 1859. The sulfur deposits of Mt. Suretamate were at one time worked by a French company. Copra is the chief export.


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

The island measures about 25 km north-to-south and 20 km east-to-west. It has a land area of 314 km². The capital of Torba province, Sola, is located on the east side of the island, on Port Patteson.

The highest altitude on the island is 946 metres (3,104 feet). Mount Seretimiat (also spelled Sere’ama, 921 metres (3,022 feet)) high, is an active volcano: Its last major eruption was in 1965. The island has two natural harbors, Port Patteson in the east and Vureas Bay (Vurës) in the southwest. To the east of the island are the islets of Kwakea and Ravenga. Waterfall Bay lies on the west side of the island.

Natural history

A 14,850 ha tract, encompassing the upper slopes of Mount Sereama and much of the northeastern coastline of the island, has been recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports populations of Vanuatu megapodes, Vanuatu imperial pigeons, Tanna fruit doves, red-bellied fruit doves, palm lorikeets, cardinal myzomelas, Vanuatu honeyeaters, fan-tailed gerygones, long-tailed trillers, streaked fantails, Melanesian flycatchers, buff-bellied monarchs, southern shrikebills, Melanesian thicketbirds and Vanuatu white-eyes. It is also home to seabird breeding colonies of collared and white-necked petrels. Other animals found on the island include coconut crabs and Banks flying foxes. [2]

Population and languages

The population of Vanua Lava was 2,623 in the 2009 census. [3]

Vanua Lava is home to four indigenous languages: [4] [5] Vurës, with about 2000 speakers; Vera'a, with 500; and two dying languages, Mwesen, with 10 speakers, and Lemerig, with only 2 living speakers. Other languages on the island, spoken by migrant communities, include Mwotlap (on the northeastern coast) and Mota (in the east). The language most commonly spoken in Sola, the administrative capital, where people from different language backgrounds meet, is Bislama.

Vanua Lava evidently used to harbour more languages in the past, several of which have disappeared since the mid 19th century. [6]


There is an airport on the island (IATA code SLH), to which Air Vanuatu flies three times a week. There is a single road on the island, but few vehicles.

Related Research Articles

Torba Province

Torba is the northernmost province of Vanuatu. It consists of the Banks Islands and the Torres Islands.

Banks Islands

The Banks Islands are a group of islands in northern Vanuatu. Together with the Torres Islands to their northwest, they make up the northernmost province of Torba. The island group lies about 40 km (25 mi) north of Maewo, and includes Gaua and Vanua Lava, two of the 13 largest islands in Vanuatu. In 2009, the islands had a population of 8,533. The island group’s combined land area is 780 km².

Ambae Island

Ambae Island, also known as Aoba or Oba and formerly Leper's Island, is an island in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, located near 15°30′S167°30′E, approximately 165 miles (266 km) NNW of Vanuatu's capital city, Port Vila.


Gaua is the largest and second most populous of the Banks Islands in Torba Province in northern Vanuatu. It covers 342 km².

Mwotlap is an Oceanic language spoken by about 2,100 people in Vanuatu. The majority of speakers are found on the island of Motalava in the Banks Islands, with smaller communities in the islands of Ra and Vanua Lava, as well as migrant groups in the two main cities of the country, Santo and Port Vila.

Mota Lava

Mota Lava or Motalava is an island of the Banks group, in the north of Vanuatu. It forms a single coral system with the small island of Ra.

Mota Island

Mota is an extinct volcanic island in the Banks group of Torba Province in northern Vanuatu.

Vanua Lava Airport

Vanua Lava Airport, also known as Sola Airport, is an airport near Sola on the island of Vanua Lava, one of the Banks Islands in the Torba province in Vanuatu.


Ureparapara is the third largest island in the Banks group of northern Vanuatu, after Gaua and Vanua Lava.

The North Vanuatu languages form a linkage of Southern Oceanic languages spoken in northern Vanuatu.

Vanuatu, officially known as the Republic of Vanuatu, is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is some 1,750 kilometres (1,090 mi) east of northern Australia, 500 kilometres (310 mi) north-east of New Caledonia, west of Fiji, and southeast of the Solomon Islands, near New Guinea. The nation's largest town and the capital Port Vila is situated on Efate Island.

Kwakéa Island in Torba Province, Vanuatu

Kwakéa is an islet located east of Vanua Lava in the Banks Islands, Vanuatu. According to the 2009 census, it has a population of only 29.


Merelava is an island in the Banks Islands of the Torba Province of northern Vanuatu.

Merig Island in Torba Province, Vanuatu

Merig is a small island located 20 kilometres east of Gaua, in the Banks Islands of northern Vanuatu.

Sola, Vanuatu Village in Torba Province, Vanuatu

Sola is the capital village of Torba Province in Vanuatu. It is on the island of Vanua Lava.

Mwesen(formerly known by its Mota name Mosina) is an Oceanic language spoken in the southeastern area of Vanua Lava Island, in the Banks Islands of northern Vanuatu, by about 10 speakers.

Vurës language Austronesian language spoken in Vanuatu

Vurës is an Oceanic language spoken in the southern area of Vanua Lava Island, in the Banks Islands of northern Vanuatu, by about 2000 speakers.

Port Patteson

Port Patteson is a harbour and settlement on the island of Vanua Lava in Vanuatu. It was named after John Patteson, the first Bishop of Melanesia.

Leneu is a small uninhabited island in Torba Province of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean. Leneu lies close to Sola on Vanua Lava and is a part of Banks Islands archipelago.



  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. "Vanua Lava, Mount Sereama". BirdLife Data Zone. BirdLife International. 2021. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  3. 2623 = sum of Vanua Lava + Kwakea figures in 2009 census: "2009 National Census of Population and Housing: Summary Release" (PDF). Vanuatu National Statistics Office. 2009. Retrieved Nov 23, 2010.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. Cf. François (2012).
  5. Detailed list and map of the Banks and Torres languages.
  6. François (2012):89-90).