Visitors Guide A
In Vanuatu you will find accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets from backpacker style to quality resorts. It is wise (and usually much better value) to book accommodation before arriving in Vanuatu as part of an overall package, especially for travellers from Australia and New Zealand.
Tropical Holiday Deals travel to Vanuatu and negotiate the best possible rates with accommodation properties so it won’t be less expensive booking directly with the hotel or resort.
The main resorts are on the island of Efate and are handy to Port Vila. Many of the outer islands also offer accommodation and, generally speaking, it will be comfortable and clean but fairly basic – but that’s what outer island eco-tourism is all about!
Here’s a thumbnail guide to accommodation in and around Port Vila (also see listings for individual properties):
- Erakor Island Resort & Spa: This resort is five minutes by bus/car from Port Vila and another 5 minutes on the 24-hour ferry across the lagoon. There are family loft villas, spa villas for couples, garden rooms for those on a budget and the Aqua Blue Beach House. There is a very good restaurant & bar, the Essence of Erakor Day Spa and watersports from Calypso Beach. The resort welcomes families but the ambience is also great for couples, especially with new spa bungalows. There are lagoon beaches, but no pool. Aqua on Erakor Restaurant has a delightful lagoon setting and there is a weekly Melanesian Feast and fire dancing night. Tropical weddings are popular on Erakor with the ceremonies held either on a beach or in the historic open-air chapel. It is very rare to find such an accessible tropical island resort.
- Cocomo Resort: Cocomo has waterview rooms, spa suites, deluxe lagoon villas and two-bedroom apartments only a few minutes from Vila and represent excellent value. The apartments have two air-conditioned bedrooms upstairs (with King Beds that unzip to make two singles) and a pull-out sofa bed in the living area downstairs. Self-contained with washing machine and dryer there’s also a poolside café that opens for three meals and snacks. There are also four deluxe spa villas for couples (beachview and waterfront) and spacious studio style rooms. The upstairs ones have balconies with waterviews and the downstairs ones have a spa and patio. Cocomo offers the best value destination weddings in Vanuatu. The resort is located opposite Kormon Stadium, a walk from the University of South Pacific near the new Au Bon Marche supermarket.
- The Havannah: A delightful adults only property on Hanannah Harbour with villas that have their own private plunge pools and a range of other quality options with a large pool. The restaurant is excellent.
- Eratap Beach Resort: Another excellent upmarket option for couples with private plunge pool villas, beach and pool plus fine dining.
- Holiday Inn Vanuatu: A family/couples resort. Mostly motel style accommodation apart from the exclusive ‘Lagoon Villas’. There are 2 pools (one with poolside bar and snacks), restaurant, golf course, tennis, watersports, Kids Club and Casino. In previous lives it has been the Radisson, Le Meridien and Palm Resort & Casino.
- Le Lagon Resort & Spa: A quality family/couple resort on Erakor Lagoon with bungalow style rooms, restaurant, snack bar, pools (new one with swim-up bar), watersports, golf, tennis, activities, Day Spa and a Kids Club. The Resort offers an all-inclusive food and beverage package but this is only recommended if you enjoy a drink and don’t plan on getting outside the resort much. For lovers of cocktails in all resorts, look for Happy Hour as they are cool, colourful but can be very expensive. The Wild Ginger restaurant offers Asian Fusion.
- Sunset Bungalows: Sunset Bungalows overlooks No 2 Lagoon and it is a boutique ‘Adults Only’ resort (no guests under 18). The atmosphere is Balinese in the furnishings and the restaurant (Bungalow:Ate) is very good. As well as the Superior Bungalows there are eight studio apartments and one Honeymoon Spa Bungalow.
- Iririki Island Resort: Another quality resort located in Port Vila harbour. One part of the resort has bungalow accommodation, swimming pool, Spa Frangipani health centre, watersports and Michener’s Restaurant. There are three other dining and bar options. Snorkellers Cove, on the other side of the island has 62 Deluxe Rooms and Penthouses with spas on the balconies and facilities include a gymnasium, tennis courts and huge pool with swim-up bar. There is a free ferry (3 minutes across the harbour) 24 hours to Vila.
- Chantilly’s on the Bay: Stylish but casual hotel style accommodation, in a delightful harbour setting a few minutes walk from Vila town. There is a kitchenette in the studio and one-bedroom apartments and all have balconies facing the harbour (and sunset). The restaurant, Tilly’s, has a bar and an innovative menu that pleases locals and guests.
- Mangoes: This is strictly Adults Only bungalow style accommodation (not kinky, just no kids!). Boutique style with bungalows looking down to the lagoon (there’s a path leading down) with very good restaurant, swimming pools and a fifteen-minute walk from town.
- Poppys On The Lagoon: Self contained, very comfortable, up market 1, 2 and 3 bedroom townhouse style accommodation on the lagoon (plus studio apartments). There’s an adults only pool as well as family pool, a good snack bar and convenience store.
- Hideaway Island Resort: Accommodation is comfortable, but it’s 15 minutes out of town and five minutes on the ferry. It is, however, perfect for those who want to get away from it all – snorkelling in the Marine Sanctuary is good and there is a resident dive operation. There is a bar and restaurant/snack bar. A day trip for snorkelling is rewarding and it is home to the world’s only underwater post office.
- The Melanesian: Just a walk up the hill from the town centre, this is ideal for people on business or wanting to be close to town and budget family holidays. The motel style rooms are well-appointed (some are self-contained), there’s a pool, pool bar and nightly entertainment, Club 21 (gaming machines) and Thai restaurant.
- Tamanu On The Beach: 20 minutes from Vila this resort is in a lovely beach setting with quality bungalows and a fine restaurant. From November 2016 there are 15 bungalows, an infinity pool and a wedding chapel. For non-staying guests it is perfect for a leisurely lunch but be sure to book on weekends.
- Breaka’s Beach Resort: A boutique resort less than 10 minutes from Vila on its own beach. The bungalows are spacious and romantic, the ‘infinity’ pool with swim-up bar is terrific and it’s ‘adult themed’ (no children) . There’s a poolside bar and restaurant.
- Benjor Beach Club: This resort is about 20 minutes the other side of Vila at Devil’s Point. The Officer’s Club restaurant gets good feedback and there are duplex villas, some with spa and there’s one Honeymoon Retreat with hot tub. There are also 2 large 5 bedroom villas with staff for short-term and long-term rental that may suit large families or two groups travelling together.
- Paradise Cove Resort: One and two bedroom bungalows with kitchenettes, Paradise Cove appeals to both families and couples. There’s a small harbour beach, a pool and an excellent Italian restaurant. About 20 minutes from town it is another great place to simply explore a book or six in a hammock.
- Fatumaru Lodge: There are eight comfortable studio apartments right on the water and two seaview apartments a little up the hill. It’s a walk from town (or a very short bus ride), the apartments are air-conditioned and self-contained and there’s a pool with Jacuzzi and poolside BBQ. They represent excellent value and apartments have adjoining doors for families or couples travelling together. Fatumaru hasa the most memorable phine number in Port Vila – 23456!
- Tradewinds: There are six self-contained, very comfortable units at Tradewinds as well as a pool and BBQ area. Situated above Poppy’s on the Lagoon (with lagoon access) it’s in walking distance to Port Vila town. There are also two-bedroom units and a four-bedroom townhouse.
- Pacific Lagoon Apartments: Self-contained accommodation for the budget minded on Erakor Lagoon – 11 comfortable units, recently refurbished with 2 bedrooms and separate lounge room with access to watersports facilities. There is a swimming pool and PLA guests are welcome at both Le Lagon and Erakor Island Resorts as long as they purchase a drink/snack.
- Kaiviti Village Motel: Also a good option for the business traveller or the budget conscious a short walk from town – clean, spacious comfortable motel-style rooms (self-contained), swimming pool and the ‘best hamburgers in town’ at the poolside snack bar.
- Vanuatu Holiday Hotel: French owned and managed (English speaking) this is a budget option offering well-appointed rooms (most air-conditioned) close to town (one house up from the Kaiviti and backs on to the Melanesian). Has a nice communal breakfast area and small swimming pool.
- Vila Chaumieres: Boutique bungalow and motel-style accommodation on the outskirts of town. Slightly rustic, but in a lovely lagoon setting with a first class restaurant. No pool or activities as such though. The restaurant is recommended to couples wanting romantic ambience (ask for Table 4).
- Moorings: On the harbour and a short walk to town it offers quality accommodation at a good price and has a pool, restaurant, bar and nightclub nearby.
- Terraces: A lovely new upmarket option located next to Mangoes Resort. lovely self-contained accommodation with Mangoes restaurant on hand for room service.
- The Grand Hotel: Overlooking Port Vila Harbor, this is our only true high rise. Stay here if you would like more of a “hotel” style holiday, and less of the true “Vanuatu”! It has a gymnasium, café, casino, several bars and a la carte restaurant right in the heart of town.
- Island Magic Resort: Two bedroom self contained apartments are bungalow style, roomy and well appointed with a fresh tropical feel. Each villa has its own fully equipped kitchen & dining, living room, laundry and each bedroom has its own ensuite. The setting is tranquil with swimming pool, poolside barbeque and a lovely jetty and deck over the water (there is great snorkeling). There is no restaurant but the Officer’s Club at Benjor Beach Club is only a short stroll down Devil’s Point Road.
- Surfside on Breakas Beach is a stunning group of family friendly absolute beach front villas and only a short stroll along the beach (5 mins) from the Adults Only Breakas Beach Resort. The Three Bedroom Ocean Villas have a large outdoor entertaining area with private pool and bbq area, the bedrooms are air conditioned and villas are fully self contained. Surfside also have hotel rooms and studio rooms with private pool options for couples.
- Mariner Apartments consist of eleven serviced apartments all with modern conveniences and facilities. They are “motel style” and only a short walk up the hill from the town centre. They are fully serviced and air conditioned, equipped with linen and cooking utensils. All apartments have a small balcony overlooking Iririki Island and Port Villa harbour.
On Espiritu Santo there’s also a range of accommodation to suit needs and budget including Bokissa Private Island Resort, Aore Island Resort, Mooyan:House by the Sea for couples and Deco-Stop for divers and those on a budget. On Tanna Island White Grass Ocean Resort is the most upmarket option.
Because Vanuatu is a tax haven there are more than your usual complement of accountants per capita. Companies can be set up in 24 hours.
It goes on all the time, but it’s not the same, as we know it. In ni-Vanuatu culture, if you’ve have too many kids it’s not uncommon for a relative or friend to take a few off your hands. They just become another part of the extended family (wan tok or ‘one talk’ in Bislama).
There’s plenty in Vanuatu for those looking for soft (and occasionally hard) adventure. The scuba diving is rewarding with wrecks and reefs (including the world’s most famous wreck dive, the President Coolidge on Santo). Game fishing, snorkelling, kayaking, parasailing, abseiling and horse riding are also accessible and affordable. For the range of tours and activities available, check out www.GoVanuatu.com
ADVENTURE QUAD TOURS
Adventure Quad Tours came on the scene in 2016. Guests can ride their own quad bike on a guided tour – have a jungle experience with their Jungle Fever tour that takes you off road through mud track (when raining) and past unspoilt scenic coastline to exclusive secluded beaches. You start by going through a traditional village and follow your guide past the always smiling pikininis (local kids), then ride through a maze of jungle tracks to discover the beautiful Erakor Cove Beach for a quick swim and brunch. Alternatively, be a crusader and discover the amazing natural beauty of a cascade wonderland where you can swim, wade and relax to the sound of this lost cascading rainforest. It’s a fun, rewarding experience! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 774 2442.
ADVENTURES IN PARADISE
There are a number of tour operators in Port Vila. Adventures in Paradise run a slick, professional operation covering the major ‘to see and dos’ as well as airport transfers. They are in the main street or can be booked from resort tour desks.
A delightful Italian dessert – take an espresso in a glass and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, enjoy. However, in Port Vila don’t ask for an Affagato – no one will know what you’re talking about. Instead ask for an espresso and one small ice cream on the side. You can spoon on the coffee at your leisure. Cafes include Au Peche Mignon, La Tentation, Jill’s Café, Café Deli and Nambawan.
There have been a couple of isolated reports of AIDS. That needn’t worry the faithful or chaste, but the occasionally ‘player’ should know that a thin layer of rubber can prevent serious complications. Prophylactics designed to minimise these risks aren’t readily available from vending machines but are stocked in the pharmacies.
Vanuatu is serviced from Australia and New Zealand by Air Vanuatu’s 737 with flights to/from Brisbane, Sydney and Auckland. Visitors from the United States can arrive via Nadi in Fiji. There are flights connecting New Caledonia as well as internal flights between the islands of Vanuatu. The Air Vanuatu 737 has a full service from Qantas each Tuesday in Brisbane. It’s a little less than three hours to Brisbane, a little longer to Sydney and Auckland.
Virgin Australia flies direct from Brisbane Wednesdays, Saturdays and Mondays. While at a glance Virgin can look less expensive, Air Vanuatu is a full-service airline where luggage, meals and drinks are included while Virgin is very much pay as you go.
Air Vanuatu code shares with Qantas (and accepts frequent flier points!). Conditions usually apply for heavily discounted airfares and purchasing connections before arrival as part of a package should still work out as better value and seats will be guaranteed.
Bauerfield International Airport sounds a bit more sophisticated than it is because of the word ‘international’ (but by definition, it does have flights in and out of other countries). There’s no McDonalds or carpeted lounge but there is limited duty free, two bars (one in the departure lounge), currency exchange and a café. There’s also an ATM. Port Vila is just ten minutes away. Most visitors are met by air-conditioned tour buses for transfers but taxis are also on hand (around VT1000 – 1500 to town/resorts).
White Grass International Airport on Tanna Island gets ‘international’ in its name because it is capable of landing a large plane but small planes usually service the island, as with Santo and other outer islands. Santo Airport has been upgraded and now has a direct weekly flight from/to Brisbane.
For people departing Vanuatu – if you have any vatu in coins in your pocket, there are charity bins in the departure lounge airside and the money goes to helping ni-Vanuatu children.
Air Calédonie has connections between New Caledonia and Vanuatu and has an office in Port Vila.
Air Vanuatu code shares with Qantas and Air New Zealand) has only one plane, a Boeing 737, which services Australia and New Zealand. It is always kept clean and mechanically maintained and the pilots and service cannot be faulted. Beware the drinks trolley as the flight attendants seem to always be on hand to top up your drink.
You can confirm your flights 72 hours prior to departure on 37670.
Some ni-Vanuatu have sandy, curly hair, Melanesian features and white skin. Most albinos decide not to marry as having a partner who carries a recessive gene can result in offspring with albinism. Lack of skin pigment is not a great thing to have in the tropics.
People with a drinking problem in Vanuatu have a real problem because alcohol is expensive. Local beer in supermarkets costs around VT215 per bottle (AUD$2.50), imported beers around VT280. In resorts you will pay up to VT600 for local and VT800 for imported. Wine (Australian, New Zealand and French) costs upwards of VT1100 per bottle. Restaurants double the price you will find in bottle shops so paying corkage to Bring Your Own is worth it. Expect to pay VT600 by the glass. Colourful resort cocktails cost upwards of VT800. Luckily all resorts have ‘Happy Hours’. There are 7 liquor outlets in Port Vila. It’s illegal to purchase alcohol from midday Saturday till Monday morning although bars and restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol. The local beer, Tusker, is very good and the words in Bislama partly obscured in the photo are, “Mi Wantem Tusker” and “Bia Blong Yumi” – say it out loud and it will translate.
Alliance Française has an office in Port Vila for those wanting to brush up on their French. They also have a book and video library and provide lessons for school groups visiting from Australia and New Zealand.
Author James Michener (‘Tales of the South Pacific’ – inspiration for the movie South Pacific) was stationed on Santo as a Lieutenant during World War II and he thought Ambae was the most beautiful island in the South Pacific. Interestingly, he never went there, he just watched it from afar – he didn’t want anything to destroy the image he had of the island. It’s a volcanic island with a high rainfall and is often shrouded in cloud. In the 1500m high volcano there are three craters, each containing a freshwater thermal lake and a ready supply of prawns.
Also known as the Black Island, the centre of Ambrym is a 12km ancient ash plain that leads to two active volcanoes (Mt Barum and Mt Benbow), both of which have large lava lakes. The island is a centre of sorcery and black magic (linked to volcanoes) and the home of tam-tams (vertical, slit gongs), which are seen throughout Vanuatu as well as tree fern sculptures. There is no written history among the ni-Vanuatu apart from sand drawings. Ambrym has 180 different sand drawings, each with a mythical or spiritual message. (more info about the volcanoes on Ambryn Island).
This is a fine little bar frequented by locals hanging off the Vanuatu Yacht Club at the airport end of town (across from Evergreen Tours on the water side). Friday night is arguably the liveliest, especially if there is a free wine tasting (which is more like a ‘wine guzzle’).
Aneityum (also known as Anatom and ‘Mystery Island’ for cruise ships) is the most southern island in the archipelago. It’s mountainous and ringed by white, sandy beaches and a coral reef for excellent snorkelling/diving. Once the island supported a thriving sandalwood and kauri logging industry and had the largest missionary church in the southern hemisphere, seating 500 people. It’s now in ruins. There are also many species of orchids. There are some photos on Moon guide author David Stanley’s site.
‘Anglophone’ refers to English speaking people, including ni-Vanuatu, who have been educated in English schools.
Australian and New Zealand visitors in Vanuatu should consider attending the Dawn Service at the war memorial (high on the hill above the harbour). It is alternately hosted by either the Australian or New Zealand High Commissions and is attended by both as well as British, French and Canadian representatives and the Vanuatu Prime Minister and President.
For the hardy, rum and coffee is on offer and the service itself is particularly moving, possibly because it’s rare that the ‘A’ and the ‘NZ’ parts of the Army Corps join together in remembrance. The Vanuatu army and band also participate and the last post is haunting as the light swells over the harbour. The host nation also throws on a Big Breakfast for those who attend the Dawn Service.
They shall not grow old
As we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them
Lest We Forget
AORE ISLAND RESORT
Aore Island Resort is on Santo and is a great spot for couples, divers and families. Just 10 minutes across the channel from Luganville, the bungalows are comfortable and the ambience relaxed and welcoming. The restaurant is also excellent. The hardest thing about Aore is the pronunciation – ‘ow-ree’.
There are 16 bungalows (3 garden and 13 beachfront) and all have private bathrooms, hot showers, refrigerators, tea/coffee making facilities and fans.
The friendly staff will make you feel welcome and look after your every need and while there’s excellent snorkelling, handy world-famous diving, kayaking and caves to explore, perhaps the most memorable thrill will be of sitting on your balcony, looking across to Santo to the sounds of waves lapping and fish skimming.
Contact us regarding Aore Island Resort
AQUA ON ERAKOR
Erakor Island Resort’s restaurant is a great spot for lunch or dinner for non-staying guests as well as in-house and it is reasonably priced. The specialty is seafood and the outlook is very pretty. For bookings phone (678) 25983.
Day visitors can take the 24-hour ferry just five minutes across the lagoon from the jetty near the Warwick Le Lagon (the cost of the ferry comes off your bill). Take a wander around the island – there are some lovely little lagoon beaches, the historic outdoor chapel and the missionary graves belonging to Amanda Bruce (1893), the wife of the Rev JW Mackenzie and their three children, Joseph, Arthur and Walter, none of whom made their second birthday. Four other children survived and JW remarried, staying in Vanuatu until 1912. He returned to Australia an died in 1914.
This pretty little spot on the way to Eratap Resort has become a bit of a favourite for the local winers and diners. Haven’t checked out the accommodation side yet but from the outside it looks clean and comfortable albeit a tad basic (and the price reflects that). Your scribe has only had one delightful leisurely lunch there with entree and main both excellent. You can dine in the restaurant or linger under a shady tree down by the water’s edge. Both the menu and service is of a consistently high standard.
ART & ARTEFACTS
There are many fine artisans in Vanuatu producing jewellery, weaving, carvings, pottery and paintings. Pigs are a major source of inspiration. Wood carvings are permitted back into Australia and New Zealand but they should be declared so Customs can inspect them. Some places to check out include Vila Handicrafts, Handicraft Blong Vanuatu, Goodies and, for painting, drop into Diana Tam’s studio in Ellouk (on Erakor Lagoon, off Pango Road). The late Nicolai Michoutouchkine and long-time partner Aloi Pilioko (photo) also painted and produced amazing original screen-printed clothes and fabric – go to the pink building in the main street. The Michoutouchkine-Pilioko Foundation is on Pango road and well worth a visit. The last time I dropped in, Aloi showed me around his studio, untroduced me to the cats and all-in-all made me feel kind of special. For excellent wooden pigs, ask around for Zilo. Zilo is well-known in hospitality circles as he is also an excellent waiter, barman and maitre ‘d. There’s a photo of Zilo under ‘Z’.
AU PECHE MIGNON
It is an ‘institution’ in Vila and across from the Mama Markets near Prouds Duty Free.
The house specialties are cakes, pastries, and chocolates to die for – Wednesday morning crepes are good value – cooked fresh and around AUD$2 (citron et sucre… mmmm). They also make good chicken and salad rolls for lunch on the run and home-made meat pies.
It’s a busy little spot in the heart of town and a great place watch the passing parade, dining outside on the covered deck. In French this ‘peche’ means the ‘sin’ (temptation), not ‘peach’ and the chocolates are certainly tempting.
AUTOMATIC TELLER MACHINES
The ANZ Bank has Automatic Teller Machines outside its branches, at the airport and in Au Bon Marche Supermarkets. Westpac has an ATM outside the bank in the main street.
The old persea Americana thrives in Vanuatu and it’s one of the few fruits rich in fat, unsaturated and cholesterol free. Like mangoes, bananas, papaya and kiwi fruit, avocados continue to ripen after they’re picked. They’re at their best when the skin ‘gives’ a little. Once cut, the flesh can brown quickly and this can be slowed with a squeeze of lemon juice.