The Yasawa 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 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 Islands (the largest in the archipelago, about 22 kilometers long and less than a kilometer wide) and Round Island 22 kilometers to the north-east.
Until 1987, it was the policy of the Fiji government that the Yasawa Group was closed to land-based tourism. There has been limited cruise operations since the 1950s, but passengers had to stay aboard their ships. Local residents benefited little from the passengers presence.
Due to its freehold real-estate status, three budget resorts were operating on Tavewa island since the early 1980s.
Nanuya Levu, also known as Turtle Island, is one of Fiji's most famous resorts. Areas of the Yasawas were the locales for the 1980 filming of the romance adventure film The Blue Lagoon.
Richard Evanson purchased Nanuya Levu island in the 1970 and moved there in 1972. After the filming of The Blue Lagoon on Nanuya Levu, Mr. Evanson converted the bure's established for the film crew into the Turtle Island resort.
Since the Fijian government lifted the restrictions on land-based tourism in the Yasawa Group, a number of resorts have been established there.
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
The British navigator William Bligh was the first European to sight the Yasawas in 1789, following the mutiny on the HMS 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 Islanders were famous. The islands were largely ignored by the wider world, however, until World War II, when the United States Military used them as communications outposts.