Vaitupu is the largest of the nine Tuvalu islands in land area, about five km long. Small boats can enter the southernmost of the two lagoons at high tide but larger vessels must anchor offshore.
Vaitupu has some of Tuvalu's best soil, and after Funafuti, it's the most Europeanized atoll. The house of Herr Nitz, representative on Vaitupu of the German trading company J.C. Godeffroy for a quarter century in the late 19th century, still stands. In 1946, the matai (chiefs) of overpopulated Vaitupu purchased Kioa Island in Fiji, where some 300 Vaitupu people now live.
The London Missionary Society opened a primary school at Motufoua on Vaitupu in 1905 to prepare young men for entry into the seminary in Samoa. Over the years this has developed into the large church/government Motufoua Secondary School, the only one in Tuvalu. A number of expatriate teachers are employed at the 600-student high school, which operates under a regime of strict authoritarian discipline. In early 2000, 18 girls aged 14-17 and an adult matron burned to death during a fire in a school dormitory. The girls were unable to escape because they had been locked in. The school has serious garbage disposal problems.
The main village between ocean and lagoon on the southwest side of Vaitupu is divided into Tumaseu and Asau quarters with the church in the center.
The Island Council Guesthouse in a wooden ex-missionary building behind the church provides a kitchen for guests but no cooking utensils.
The two-story Aliki Guest House on Vaitupu has six rooms with meals provided by the staff. A local schoolteacher named Faleefa occasionally accepts paying guests in her own home.