Best visited during from April to November, Vanuatu is an archipelago of more than 80 islands, dotted in a vertical chain through the South Pacific Ocean, at approximately the latitude of Cairns and the longitude of New Zealand. With erupting volcanos, sumptuous natural scenery, traditional ni-Van culture, spectacular sea life and a wealth of WWII relics (both above and below the water), there is no shortage of activities to experience here.
And when not adventuring, Vanuatu has an increasing number of luxury resorts in which to chill. Here, in idyllic beachside coves or jungle enclaves, modern Pacific-chic villas are bestowed with indulgent amenities, such as plunge pools and indoor-outdoor bathrooms, while well-stocked bars are manned by uber-friendly bar-staff, and open-air restaurants make the most of the sea’s bounty with delicious Vanuatu cuisine.
Vanuatu is also considered a safe and simple destination to visit – English is widely spoken, there is a reasonable amount of tourist infrastructure on the main islands, and while there are political issues, these rarely intrude into tourism. And the ni-Van people are considered one of the friendliest and happiest people in the South Pacific, proud and keen to extend a warm welcome to all visitors to their country. Add in balmy weather, at its best during the Australian winter, and Vanuatu makes an ideal short holiday destination.
Vanuatu is just a three hour flight from Australia’s east coast, with daily flights by Air Vanuatu, code-shared with Qantas. The main island of Efate is the geographical and political hub of Vanuatu, home to the capital Port Vila, and the main international airport, which receives flights from Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland (as well as Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands). Port Vila is a pleasant town, with leafy streets and gentle hills looking out over Vila Bay and its harbour. There are a number of lovely accommodation options and some excellent restaurants. But it is beyond the boundaries of this well-touristed town that the best of Vanuatu is to be found.
It is possible to circumnavigate Efate along its ring road, an easy 122km drive. Hire cars are readily available from the airport, and we can highly recommend World Car Rentals, a local company who met us at the door of the airport with a brand new SUV parked right outside (with the airconditioning cranked up!). The ring road is paved throughout (although a little pot-holed), and as the only main road, it is impossible to get lost. Attractions are well signposted, although often there are hardly any visitors other than yourself.
Elsewhere on Efate, the Havannah Harbour has beautiful beaches, stunning snorkelling and trips to offshore islands, including Moso Island and its turtle sanctuary. It also has one of Vanuatu’s most impressive resorts – the “couples only” Havannah (see our upcoming post & images below), as well as several excellent beachside restaurants.
Just beyond Havannah Harbour, there is an entertaining WWII Museum, a small shack of impressive memorabilia hosted by the 84 year old Ernest, who will show you around with pride (particularly when it comes to his extensive collection of WWII-era coke and beer bottles).
A short drive further, a different World War II Relics Museum at Matanawora has a small visual display, but most excitingly can include a boat trip through the mangroves to snorkel with an intact sunken Corsair fighter plane from WWII.
Other points of interest on the ring road include the beautiful snorkelling and viewpoint at Samma, the Blue Lagoon, and a multitude of picture-perfect beaches and bays.
Beyond Efate, a number of Vanuatu’s other islands are well worth a visit. The easiest and most accessible are the islands of Tanna and Santo.
We spent our time on Tanna, to visit the Mount Yasur Volcano (see our first of a series of posts about the volcano, with links to more, here).
Santo, the largest island of Vanuatu, has two flights daily from Port Vila, as well as direct flights to Brisbane. It has fabulous snorkelling and diving, postcard-esque beaches, and caves and hikes to explore, and a couple of well regarded private island resorts.
Further afield, a number of smaller islands have specific attractions, such as the naghol (land-diving) of Pentecost, the volcanos of Ambryn and the amazing tribal history of Malekula.
There is no shortage of amazing experiences to be had in Vanuatu, in one of the most welcoming but under-visited countries in the world.
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Snorkel on a genuine World War II plane wreck (Post still to come)