Tag Archives: Vanuatu

Vila Bliss

A place where nothing but treasured memories are made.  The capital and largest city of Vanuatu is situated on the south coast of the island of Efate. Our fourth visit to this small but flourishing city was once again, nothing short of spectacular and what we’d come to expect from Port Vila with it’s warm hospitality and friendly locals.

It’s been nearly six years since our last visit to this port so we expected a fair bit of change especially after the devastating Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015. Some of the cruise passengers headed off on tours of the island and others caught a taxi to the famous Cascade Waterfalls. We decided we’d walk into town and then head over to the pristine waters of Erakor Island Resort, about a five-minute taxi ride from town. Once we had disembarked the ship, we began our long walk into town. We could see new buildings in the distance and construction all over the place…though not on the same scale as we’re used to back home.

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Iririki Island, a short ferry ride from town, looked as beautiful as ever but we noticed a few boats and a rather large ferry that had been swept up onto shore during the cyclone. We asked a local if these would ever be removed and he, in true laid-back island style, commented that it would be too expensive, so for now, that’s where they’ll stay. The main road into town is getting an upgrade, though don’t be fooled, this road will only ever just, be wide enough for two vehicles. Pedestrians walk on the side of the road wherever they can find their footing. There seemed to be more taxis than people in this town so it’s never hard to find a ride.  There will be 20 ships docking in Port Vila this month, great for the locals, especially since only 2 will dock in Santo. 

On arrival in town we found that the local market hadn’t changed at all. A feast for the senses.  A crowded and vibrant atmosphere where the locals come together to eat and buy their fresh fruit and vegetables for a fraction of the nearby supermarket’s prices. A mandarin will cost you a mere 6 cents. Beautiful flowers and fruit adorn the tables, live crabs tied together, spread out on the floor, the unique bags of potatoes, each individually hand-woven for you to carry home.  We meandered through the souvenir market before catching a taxi to another secret little hideway, Erakor Island. Our taxi drive cost us $10 but when we got there we realised we didn’t have any small notes. Our taxi driver suggested giving him the $20 note we had and vowed to return to pick us up later. He was there, 6 hours later, to take us back to the ship.  His kindness and honesty really impressed me.

The taxi will drop you off at the wooden ferry terminal, at the end of it you’ll find the little boat that takes you to and from the island. The daily entrance fee of $15 for adults and $10 for children is paid at the rather delightful bamboo hut on the right. The daily rate can be used as a credit in the restaurant or towards water activities at the resort. We were the only cruise passengers there all day so we’d successfully managed to escape the crowds and at times had the entire beach to ourselves. Three steps in to the crystal-clear water and you’re spoilt with different coloured starfish and sea cucumbers. As my daughter and I entered the water to snorkel, a black and white striped sea snake swam past, narrowly missing our legs. Some squealing and much laughter ensued for some time after that. We spent the day building sandcastles, watching the locals sailing by and enjoying some spectacular snorkelling. The marine life is fantastic here with a fair bit of reef located about 20 metres offshore. I was spoilt by the ocean again, lucky enough to spot a Moray Eel, almost in the same spot as last time. My husband missed it on our last visit so he headed back into the water for one last look before we had back to the ship. He saw 2! Having dived a fair bit in my past life I do get a bit excited when I see interesting and ‘not so easy to spot’ marine life.

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Whatever you do, don’t leave Port Vila until you’ve a spent a day at this astoundingly beautiful and family friendly island resort. If you do decide to stay longer, they’ve got magnificent villas spread out over the island with the waves lapping right outside your window. Henry and the other locals working on the island do an amazing job looking after you and the restaurant has a glorious view of the lagoon, perfect for a memorable family sunset dinner.

Our next stop will be Port Denarau, Fiji.  The last time I was here I was pregnant with my son and my daughter was nearly 2.  I feel so lucky to be going back to this part of the world with my family and making new memories.

“The greatest legacy we can leave our children is happy memories”  Og Mandino

Breathtaking Espiritu Santo

Halo from Vanuatu!

I got a bit excited on the first day of the cruise when they said you could buy unlimited premium internet access on the ship for just $99, little did I know they meant limited unlimited access. I’d love to have given you an update of our adventures before now but internet reception has been dismal. We’ve also been catching up on some much-needed sleep, I don’t think we’ve ever been so tired…The last week in our house was like a scene out of The Block. We were packing for the cruise, packing and organising the van and preparing the house for our much loved friends who are renting it for the next five months (you really don’t realise how many things need repairing until someone else is about to come and live in your house!).  Going from a 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom house to a 17 sqm cabin with just one bathroom has been interesting to say the least. I don’t know about your family but I always notice how out of sync we are the first few days of a trip.  It has been wonderful to reconnect with each other again though.

After two and a half days at sea we woke up to the beautiful shores of Luganville, a major export centre on the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. I was really sea sick the day before and therefore SO ready to get off the ship.  Unlike other times we’d cruised, I had no idea what we’d be seeing on Santo. We are not ‘follow the crowd’, ‘shore excursion’ travellers so hadn’t booked anything. I cannot think of anything worse than queuing to get on a bus with heaps of other tourists only to take us somewhere that we can visit on our own, for half the price. We decided to take our chances, catch a taxi from the port and see what the day brings. We negotiated a flat rate for the day and probably paid more than we should have, but we figured $140 for the whole day was pretty good value as there were four of us and could take our time exploring. Our awesome driver John did not disappoint us. The people on the island were incredibly inviting, kind and just loved the tourists. The island’s inhabitants are very poor (in the money sense) but evidently rich in other ways. We passed three schools which were all extremely basic, some of the classrooms didn’t have windows. According to our driver, basic education isn’t subsidised after year 7 and parents need to pay for high school education which is very expensive, resulting in many kids not finishing their educational journey. This made me incredibly sad and I wondered how they could improve their future outcomes without this opportunity.

There are potholes in the roads, dogs roaming the streets, the sweet smell of smoke coming from fires in the little houses and the washing lines are simply ropes strung out from a roof to a nearby tree.  Coconut plantations abound and cattle in the fields inland, Santo is world famous for its beef.

The Riri Blue Hole

We’d never visited one of these before so didn’t really know what to expect. When we got to the end of the dirt road we found a few of the locals sitting in a little thatched hut, we paid our $5 per person entry fee and made our way down the man-made path through the forest. The first sight of the water almost took our breathe away. It was almost transparent and very inviting with water warmer than I had expected. There also weren’t swarms of tourists around so it made the whole experience so much more enjoyable. A giant rope swing hung in the distance and we couldn’t resist. This thing is so big you needed a 6m wooden pole to grab the rope from its resting place. My husband went first and made it look easy with his upper body strength! Our son was next but got the jitters. I decided to be a good role model and ‘have a go’, it was AWESOME! I felt like a child again. And…it worked! Our son went next and then five times more! We were late for our driver but it was totally worth it!

Lope Lope Lodge

Our next stop for lunch was recommended to us by our driver and we were so glad he did. As we drove through the gates of Lope Lope Lodge we caught a glimpse of the turquoise waters that lay ahead and we knew we were about to experience something wonderful. A rare little hideaway tucked away behind a high wall. A nearly 180 degree view of crystal clear blue water with the reef lying about 100m offshore.  The open-air restaurant sits right on the water’s edge and the live music and warm hospitality made us wish we could stay here longer. We vowed we would return one day and even checked out the accommodation while we were there (they have but four cosy little villas that sit on the water’s edge). A tiny little piece of heaven. After a snorkel and a bite to eat we headed off to the next stop.

The cultural village

Having visited many cultural villages around the world before, I found this one to be truly authentic and definitely worth a visit with only a $10 per adult and $5 per child entry fee. We got to step into the men’s hut where they make the famous drink, Kava. They pound the root of the Kava plant (which looks a bit like ginger) and mix it with a little bit of water. It’s pretty potent so they only give you a bit at a time to try. My husband agreed to be the dummy and have a taste, he said it tasted ‘earthy’ and made his tongue tingle and go numb. After some dancing and singing we headed over to the pool for a water music show with a difference. This involved the local women stepping into a half-filled pool and making the most amazing music using drums and the sound of the water as they hit it with their hands. A couple of the little kids from the village climbed in too and I couldn’t help but notice how happy they were. They seemed very connected to their families and their traditions.

Million Dollar Point

Our final stop in Santo was ‘Million Dollar Point’ which had a $5 per person entry fee. If you’re interested in history then this is a definite point of interest. During World War 2 the Island was used by Allied Forces as a military supply and support base. At the end of the war the American forces dumped most of their equipment here. Wrecks are strewn across the ocean floor from 1m to 15m below water level. The wind had picked up and the water was a bit choppy but we decided to snorkel it and see if we could spot anything. There was tons to see here and the marine life was abundant. The boys swam through what felt like a bait ball of fish and I was lucky enough to spot a Lion Fish.

We loved Santo and would really like to return to explore more of this unique island. It’s one of those places that transports you back to a time when life was a little simpler and more carefree.

Our next stop is Port Vila. It will be our fourth time there and we are keen to see how it’s all changed, it’s been nearly six years since our last visit.