The Yasawa volcanic group consists of six main islands and numerous smaller islets. The archipelago, which stretches in a north-easterly direction for more than 80 kilometers from a point 40 kilometers north-west of Lautoka, is volcanic in origin and very mountainous, with peaks ranging from 250 to 600 meters in height. The only safe passage for shipping is between Yasawa Island (the largest in the archipelago, about 22 kilometers long and less than a kilometer wide) and Round Island, 22 kilometers to the north-east.
The British navigator William Bligh was the first European to sight the Yasawas in 1789, following the mutiny on the Bounty. Captain Barber in the HMS Arthur visited the islands in 1794, but they were not charted until 1840, when they were surveyed and charted by a United States expedition commanded by Charles Wilkes.
Throughout the 1800s, Tongan raiders bartered for, and sometimes stole, the sail mats for which the Yasawa was famous for. The islands were largely ignored by the wider world until World War II, when the United States military used them as communications outposts.
Until 1987, it was the policy of the Fiji government that the Yasawa Group was closed to land-based tourism. There were limited cruise operations since the 1950s, but passengers had to stay aboard their ships. Local residents benefited little from the passengers presence. Since the Fijian government lifted the restrictions on land-based tourism in the Yasawa Group, a number of resorts have been established there. Due to its freehold real-estate status, three budget resorts were operating on Tavewa island since the early 1980s.
Areas of the Yasawas were the locales for both the 1949, and 1980 filming of the romance adventure film The Blue Lagoon, including the Sawa-i-lau caves, and the island Nanuya Levu (now called Turtle Island)
Tourism is growing in importance. Permission is required to visit all islands in the group except Tavewa. The home of the Tui Yasawa, the Paramount Chief of the Yasawa Islands, is at Yasawa-i-Rara, on Yasawa Island, but the largest village is Nabukeru.
As one of the outer island chains, options to get to the Yasawa Islands are a bit more limited than some of the closer islands to Nadi and Denarau. Sea planes from local airlines (like Turtle Airways) make multiple flights to the Yasawa resorts per day, and charters are also available. Helicopter charters are also available or you can take the Yasawa Flyer, a catamaran.