MI OLA ambassador Ellen visited Vanuatu recently. Vanuatu is an archipelago made of more than 80 islands, on which 250,000 people live. It’s located to the East of Northeast Australia and the west of Fiji and features great scuba-diving and wrecks, waterfalls, volcanos and extraordinary cultural diversity – with over 1000 languages being spoke in the archipelago. Now that it’s become a new destination on our bucket list, we had to get the inside scoop on this pristine group of islands to #GetOutThere!
Originally from the tiny island of Jersey, UK, Ellen now lives in one of the most beautiful parts of Australia, the Northern Rivers, home to the world famous Byron Bay. Ellen’s passion is being in or under the water. Fins, mask and underwater camera in hand, exploring the reefs and wrecks around Byron Bay is this adventurer’s game.
#Getoutthere Guide to Vanuatu
You could be forgiven for not having heard of the Pacific island archipelago that is Vanuatu. Until the nation gained independence in 1980, the group of islands went by the name of the New Hebrides, reflective of its colonial history that at various times were claimed by Portugal, Spain, France and England. Only 1750 km (about 1000 miles) northeast of Australia, it makes a great place to escape the southern hemisphere winter, and that’s exactly what my partner and I did recently.
What to see/do:
As you may know from my past #GetOutThere Guides, I like to spend my time in the water! In Vanuatu we deliberately chose to stay in places with great snorkelling and based many of our other activities around the water. Honestly, it would be criminal to go to Vanuatu without snorkelling or diving!!! The corals really are pristine, and there are some famed dive sites. In Efate, you must visit the Hideaway Island marine sanctuary, and the island of Santo is famed for the SS President Coolidge, the largest and most accessible wreck dive in the world, jammed with the machinery of war and personal effects.
Vanuatu is also littered with stunning waterfalls, many of which you can swim in. In Efate, the Mele Cascades (located in lush rainforest) are worth a visit, as are the Cascade Waterfalls and the Blue Lagoon on the east coast.
This may come as a surprise to some, but Vanuatu is famed for its surfing. Pango Point on Efate is a reef break that has fairly consistent surf. To cater to the surf tourism market, a number of great hotels have recently popped up on Pango peninsula. Vanuatu represents a much cheaper, less crowded alternative to other Pacific Island surf destinations such as Fiji or Samoa.
On the island of Tanna you can stand on the rim of the live volcano (Mount Yasur) and witness the shooting lava bombs and volcanic ash clouds. Plus, the Ambrym volcano (on the island of the same name) is in the top ten for earth’s most active volcanoes.
Experience the culture
Finally, a few words on culture. Most people in Vanuatu live in villages that, and despite hundreds of years of European rule they have retained much of their traditions. Visiting or staying in a traditional village can provide a rare glimpse into a very different way of life.
When to visit:
Like most tropical destinations in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s advisable to visit in winter (April to October) when the air and sea temperature is still consistently warm. Tropical summers (November – March) are hot, humid and wet, so if you visit during these months expect an almost daily storm, though you’re still likely to get plenty of sunshine and beach time. Tropical cyclones (or hurricanes to our US readers) occur every few years, usually between December and April. Year round the sea temp doesn’t deviate much from 25°C, so whether you’re surfing, snorkelling or kayaking, all you need to wear is your MI OLA bikini!!!
Cyclone Pam: In March 2015, Vanuatu was devastated by Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm. The cyclone crippled Vanuatu’s infrastructure: an estimated 90 percent of the nation’s buildings were impacted by the storm’s effects, telecommunications were paralyzed, and water shortages plagued the small nation. The impacts are still visible in Port Vila, one of the worst hit areas, but an incredible amount of work has been done to rebuild and restore key infrastructure, particularly that related to tourism, which is a key part of Vanuatu’s economy. So don’t be put off by Pam’s legacy – visit these beautiful islands, spend your money, and help them rebuild!
Where to stay:
With only a 7 days for our trip, we decided to focus our visit on the island of Efate and its associated smaller islands. In doing so, we stayed in and visited a number of resorts and accommodation options, and I can safely say that Vanuatu has something for every budget, family situation, and activity level. Here are my (brief!) thoughts on a few different types of places that we saw:
Hideaway Island – great on a budget, great for diving
A short boat ride from the mainland sits the coral-fringed Hideaway Island resort and marine sanctuary. Home to the only underwater post office in the world (yes, you can actually mail waterproof postcards!), it is a snorkelers paradise, with shallow bommies, and deep walls alike. The diversity of fish and coral species is incredible. There are accommodation options to suit your budget, from a backpacker style dorm room right up to private villas. The food is simple but delicious, and the bar does some great deals at happy hour. There are a number of free, water-based activities such as boat tours, paddleboarding and kayaking. The island is also home to a PADI dive school, and runs regular tours to a number of great dive sites, including two wrecks. Be aware that because of the great snorkelling/diving, Hideaway Island is a haven for day trippers, and can feel crowded at times.
Erakor Island – great for relaxation
A great place for couples to escape for a relaxing time, Erakor Island is a small resort located in the middle of a turquoise lagoon. On one side, the island is fringed by seagrass beds and on the other by soft corals so while snorkelling or kayaking expect to encounter lots of starfish and juvenile tropical fish. Rumour has it that a family of dugongs (similar to a manatee or sea cow) live in the lagoon and can often be seen around sunset. The rooms are individual villas, with a balcony overlooking the lagoon. There is a spa on the island, and the overall vibe is one of relaxation and spoiling yourself. If you’re on a tight budget or have children to entertain, this isn’t the place for you.
Iririki Island – great for families
Nestled inside the Port Vila port, Iririki is the type of resort designed to cater to everyone. For families, there’s a large pool complex with a snack bar serving all the kid’s favourites, plus tennis courts and playgrounds. For the grown-ups there’s a spa, an adults only infinity pool, and great cocktail bar. There’s some great snorkelling from the island’s one beach area, but you’re fairly limited as to how far you can go exploring before you reach the boating channels. On this island you’re a mere stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Port Vila, making this a great location from which to catch a bus or an organised tour to venture out and see other parts of the island. Probably not the best location for those looking for peace, quiet and tranquillity.
The Warwick Le Lagon – great for teenagers/active people
On the edge of the Erakor lagoon, The Warwick is what I consider to be a ‘typical’ big resort hotel. Firstly, it’s enormous, so you’ll be sharing your holiday with 500 of your new best friends. This is great if you’re looking for people to join you in paddleboarding, sailing, golfing, kayaking, or any of the other activities that are on offer. It’d be hard to be bored at this place! However if you’re looking to lounge on a beach all day, and enjoy some peace and quiet, this probably isn’t the resort for you.
Vanuatu is made up of 65 inhabited islands and a handful of uninhabited islands, stretching across 1300 km (about 800 miles) of the south Pacific Ocean. The larger islands (Espiritu Santo, Malakula, Efate, Tanna & Pentecost) are the most popular with visitors, and there are a number of cruise ships that allow you to visit multiple islands as part of your itinerary.
International flights arrive at Port Vila, the nation’s capital and the main city on the island of Efate. Flights from New Zealand or the east coast of Australia take around 3 hours. As one of the central islands in the chain, and the most populous, Efate makes a great base from which to explore the other islands. Air Vanuatu offers flights between about 20 of the larger islands, so you can island hop to your heart’s content!
What to eat:
Unsurprisingly for an island nation, the seafood is not to be missed! Tropical fruit is also in abundance, as are coconuts, and thanks to the fertile volcanic soils a range of vegetables grow well, and root vegetables feature frequently in local cuisine. The local beef is also well worth a try.
Vanuatu’s multicultural past is reflected in the variety of restaurants represented in the larger towns and resorts. French, Mediterranean, Thai, Chinese, Italian and Spanish cuisines are all represented in Port Vila, and many of them are excellent, thanks to the high quality chef training at the country’s Hospitality School.
A trip to Port Vila would not be complete without a trip to the Mumma’s Market, where the matriarchs of each village on the island come to sell their wares. As well as local fruit, vegetables, fish and meat, the Mummas cook up incredible local delicacies that you can try for bargain prices, like the national dish lap lap, which is a baked pudding made up of grated yam, banana, or taro that is mixed with coconut milk and salt, then baked under hot stones.
Interested in joining the MI OLA Ambassador Program?
Know of anyone who should #GetOutThere with us?
Then shoot us an email at info@MI-OLA.com