THE FRIENDLY FACE OF THE PACIFIC
Formerly called the New Hebrides, Vanuatu is a mecca for those who love diving. The waters surrounding these beautiful islands provide some of the most spectacular and varied underwater exploration in the South Pacific and experienced divers come from all over the world to swim amongst the WW2 wrecks which lie scattered over the seabed.
A tropical paradise, only three and a half hours from Sydney, Australia, Vanuatu means 'the land that has always existed'. It is made up of 83 islands formed in a Y-shaped archipelago which stretches over some 800 kilometres of the Pacific Ocean, half way between Australia and Hawaii.
CAPITAL AND MAJOR CENTRES
Although Captain James Cook explored and chartered the Vanuatu archipelago in 1774, which he named the New Hebrides, he ignored the island of Efate and thus missed discovering one of the world's most beautiful deep water harbours.
Click on the above map for a more detailed map
Today Efate offers safe anchorage to those who visit the capital, Port Vila, by boat and there is Bauerfield, the international plane terminal, which is ten minutes from the capital. Thus Port Vila is the gateway to Vanuatu and offers visitors a wealth of tourists activities.
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Free of skyscrapers, the town is set within a magnificent natural harbour where hibiscus dot the surrounding hills and the air is redolent with the scent of frangipani.
A boat trip around Efate and the other island retreats, reveals a place untouched by modern civilisation.
Tanna Island has almost 16,000 people who inhabit 92 villages in a 56,199 square kilometre area. The islanders have remained relatively unchanged by a century and a half of explorers, missionaries and traders.
Pentecost Island is a beautiful unspoilt place, home to a spectacular ritual, the Pentecost Jump.
Espiritu Santo is the largest and oldest island with the largest population and the greatest number of natural sights.
The movie South Pacific was inspired by this island and Bali Hai is named after Ambae located to the east of Espiritu Santo.
Predominantly Melanesian, the people speak English, French and Bislama, a form of pidgin. The Ni Vanuatu have populated these islands for centuries and with more than 105 distinctly different cultures and languages still thriving, Vanuatu is recognised as one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.
The first European to visit these shores was Spanish navigator Fernandes de Quiros who landed at Big Bay on Espiritu Santo in 1606. The French explorer, Bougainville, arrived almost 160 years later and in 1774 Captain James Cook charted all the islands and named the archipelago the New Hebrides.
In 1839, missionary John Williams attempted to impose western ways and Christianity on the Ni Vanuatu and was clubbed to death and eaten. The locals had no defences however, against the slave traders, known as blackbirders who shanghaied more than 40,000 people to work on the sugar plantations in Australia.
In the 1860s, British and French interests purchased huge tracts of land for cotton plantations and the Ni Vanuatu retaliated by killing a number of Europeans, only to suffer extensive naval bombardment of their villages. The French and British jointly colonised the islands in 1906.
During WW2 the 250,000 American stationed in Vanuatu brought in enormous amounts of cargo which led the Ni Vanuatu to believe that such vast wealth could only have come from the gods. The New Hebrides gained independence in July, 1980 and was renamed Vanuatu.
Vanuatu has rich lush tropical rainforests, volcanoes, sparkling blue lagoons, cascading waterfalls and beaches that range from silky white to volcanic black.
Surrounding the land is a magic sea of aqua and dark blues with a fascinating underwater world of colourful tropical fish that live amongst magnificent coral and reel formation.
Port Villa offers a range of resorts and scenic bus tours, island cruises and flights around the archipelago. Away from the capital you have the opportunity to visit villages, bathe in hot mineral springs and shower beneath sparkling waterfalls.
To familiarise yourself with the town, take a half day bus tour, or if you are feeling adventurous catch a local bus. Visit the Vila Cultural Centre and Museum where you'll see a wonderful display of artefacts and photographs.
Outside the town hire a car or four-wheel-drive and explore the old manganese mine, the magnificent tropical rainforest and friendly village like Erikor Village.
Siviri village's famous cave is where the children magically beat the earth to light the inside, and Havannah Harbour once played host to the US 7th Fleet during WW2.
Eton beach is a favourite, and so too are the Cascades Waterfalls, a series of small waterfalls and pools some of which you can swim in. Mount Eskine, 25 kilometres from Port Vila is accessible only by 4WD. From the summit, on a clear day, it is possible to see other islands of the archipelago.
The Wreck of the President Coolidge
On Espritu Santo, visit major plantations growing cocoa, coffee and coconuts and explore the world's most accessible line, the President Coolidge wrecked in Santo Harbour.
The Wreck of the Coolidge.
On Tanna Island, the active Yasur volcano provides spectacular displays and it is possible to venture to the crater edge. Pentecost Island is renowned for the antics of its young men who hurl themselves off 30 metre high towers with forest vines attached to their ankles in a celebration of the yam harvest.
WHERE TO STAY
Vanuatu has a wide variety of hotels, popular resort, guest houses and thatched bungalows for the budget conscious.
Organized tours are easily joined in Port Vila. Car rental is an option, and as the roads are rough outside the city, 4WD vehicles are recommended. In Port Vila, a mini bus service covers three routes from sunrise to sunset and taxis operate until 3 a.m.
FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT
Post Vila offers outdoor cafes, a casino, discos and bars. A favourite is a barbeque at one of the resorts every Friday night where succulent local steaks, fresh fish, kebabs and a wide selection of fresh vegetables, salads and pastries are served. All major hotels have regular entertainment.
International cuisine features strongly with French, Polynesian, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, English and Japanese to choose from, as well as local specialties like coconut crabs, wild pigeons and flying fox cooked island style in ground ovens. The men of Vanuatu drink kava at local kava bars and there are regular Melanesian cultural shows.
There is an abundance of water sports with excellent reef and wreck diving in Efate and Santo (living aboard the dive boats). Other activities include golf in Port Vila, tennis, big game fishing, river and ocean kayaking, horse riding and cycling.
Every island in Vanuatu has its own special patterns, designed and techniques for producing handicrafts and custom artefacts. "Handicraft blong Vanuatu" provides the widest selection and is the cheapest, as it is run on a non-profit basis for the purpose of promoting handicraft made by the outer island people.
Facts at a Glance
|Climate||Average temperatures 28 degrees C Winter average 23 C. Hottest months November-March. Occasional heavy rain January-April.|
|Clothing||Casual. Nude sunbathing is taboo and swimming costumes must be covered away from the beach.|
|Time Zone||GMT plus 11 hours, or AEST plus one hour.|
|Electricity||220-240 volts, AC/50 cycles - mainly 3 point plugs in hotels.|
|Tipping||No tipping or gardening.|
|Currency||Local currency is the Vatu (VT). A tax haven foreign currency is readily transacted.|
|Visas and Health||A 30 day permit issued on arrival. Departure tax VT 2,500 per person (except children under 12), payable in local currency. No vaccination required, but anti malarial precautions recommended to visits to outer islands.|
|Getting There||International-Air Vanuatu, Air Caledonie, Solomon Airlines. Domestic-Vanair services all major islands in the country.|