Visitors Guide B
Resorts can arrange babysitting (as can word of mouth). The ni-Vanuatu women are traditionally shy with adults but terrific with children and cost around VT350 an hour ($4).
There are excellent pastries and bread products to be found in Vanuatu, thanks to the French and the Chinese. La Parisienne and Ah Pow Bakeries are the two largest bakeries.
La Parisienne has wonderful meat pies and opens while they are baking in the wee hours, which is handy for a snack on the way home after a big night. Curiously, they close from 12 noon to 3:00pm.
For petite délice and other tempting goodies try Au Péché Mignon. Bâtards and rolls are fresh and tasty but the sliced bread does not have the freshness or staying power some would expect because they don’t use preservatives. Best eaten on the day of baking.
Bali Ha’i was the name James A. Michener gave to Ambae in his Pulitzer Prize winning ‘Tales of the South Pacific’.
He wrote the book while stationed on Santo as a lieutenant during World War II, looking out to Ambae Island, his personal Bali H’ai…
Coconut palms nodding gracefully toward the ocean.
Reefs upon which waves broke into spray and inner lagoons, lovely beyond description.
I wish I could tell you about the sweating jungle, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes.
Of course, this was made into the Rogers & Hammerstein musical, ‘South Pacific’:
If you try, you’ll find me
Where the sky meets the sea,
Here am I,
Your Special Island!
Come to me, come to me,
Bali H’ai… Bali Ha’I… Bali H’ai
Ahhh, they don’t write them like that anymore, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Between White Sands and Eton Beach, Banana Bay is a nice spot for a picnic, a sheltered swim and a snorkel. You’ll need a local’s help to find the public access to some parts. There are expatriates who have weekenders in a couple of sections and they like their privacy. There is a public sheltered cove with basic picnic facilities (no toilets) – it’s a pretty place to stop for a swim.
The Banks Islands are in the north of Vanuatu and, well, there’s not much there in the way of civilisation, which is the primary attraction for those who really want to get away from it all.
All local banks operate under the supervision of the Reserve Bank Of vanuatu
The local Westpac and ANZ banks are wholly owned subsidiaries of their Australian parent companies an offer a full range of retail and commercial banking services. They both have branches in Vila and Santo. Banking hours are Mon-Fri 8:00am to 3:00pm (ANZ) and Mon – Fri 8:30am to 4:00pm (Westpac). The ANZ has ATMs outside both bank branches and outside Au Bon Marche supermarket and Westpac recently installed one in their branch.
The Bred Bank is French and offers a full range of banking services. The Port Vila branch is on the main road on the airport end of town and the Santo branch on Boulevard Higginson.
The National Bank of Vanuatu is fully owned by The Government of Vanuatu and offers retail and commercial services through its 19 offices and branches throughout the Vanuatu Archipelago. The National Bank of Vanuatu’s airport branch is open for all flight arrivals.
European Bank Limited is a privately owned bank that does not offer services to the general public, rather acting as a private bank dealing with high net worth individuals and companies. The introduction of the International Companies Act has made Vanuatu one of the most attractive and competitive financial centres in the world. (see Taxes)
Technically a ‘pest’, these huge trees with their magnificent root system provide excellent shelter for locals caught without cover in a cyclone as well as photo opportunities. They belong to the fig family and while they can only grow to a height of 30 metres, their girth continues to grow.
All resorts and hotels have bars. The Waterfront Bar & Grill has a bar in a lovely dockside setting and offers a free drink to travellers who present their boarding pass within a day of arrival in Vanuatu. The Port Vila Pub (again known as the Office Pub and Flaming Bull Steakhouse) is an English style pub at the airport end of town.
The Anchor Inn is casual with a decked ‘beer garden’ and is big with locals on Friday nights. l’Houstalet has French atmosphere and Rumours Nightclub and the Voodoo Bar can also be lively. Club Vanuatu is an ‘RSL’ style club with reasonably priced drinks, food, snooker and gaming machines. There are pool tables at the Port Vila Pub & Flaming Bull Steakhouse (the Office Pub), and l’Houstalet.
The War Horse Saloon Bar has heaps of atmosphere and is a bit of a “what the…” with all of its Wild West memorabilia in the middle of the tropics – but WTF in a good way! It has great BBQ Ribs, is a micro brewery with a good tasting “Texican” beer, pool tables, Karaoke, a pet pig and a famous bell ringing cat!
Apart from picture postcard Champagne Beach on Santo (photo), many of Vanuatu’s beaches aren’t a patch on those in Australia and New Zealand. Some are coral, others have coarse black sand and some do have white sand. However, they do have their own beauty and, those that are coral, usually lead to excellent snorkelling.
For a nice sandy beach near town, that is safe for children, catch the ferry to Erakor Island. Parents can grab a drink and sit in the shade while the kids play safely on the sand and in the lagoon (the large starfish won’t hurt you – just toss them out of the way). A cruise on the Coongoola takes you to a nice sand beach called Hapi Tok (Happy Talk) and Eton Beach is a lovely spot for a picnic and swim.
You forgot to rid your self of your winter down before you came over and now you’re going to the beach looking like you have ZZ Top in a headlock and a bikini line at boardie length? There need never be such a scene. For all your beautician needs head to Salon-Isabelle (since 1982), Frangipani Spa on Iririki Island, Paris Beauté in Rue de Picardie (down from Parliament House) or our favourite, Lotus Health & Beauty (towards the top of the hill from Mega Mall, opposite the large Catholic church).
The cattle industry in Vanuatu is famous. The steaks are succulent, coming from superior grass fed beef and it is excellent value in the butchers and supermarkets. Most of the restaurants have steak on the menu. The only thing to remember in French restaurants is that the French ‘medium-rare’ is almost mooing, so stress ‘English medium-rare’ or ‘pink’. In Vanuatu they let their beef grow large before that last long walk to the abattoir so a t-bone usually covers the plate.
If you really fall in love with the beef, you can take some home (depending where home is). There is a small fee for the ‘export licence’ and allowances are 20kg to New Zealand and Australia, 5kg to French Polynesia, 25kg to Fiji, 25kg to Solomon Islands and 25kg to Papua New Guinea. Available from Vanuatu Abattoirs Limited Phone: (678) 22961. You can now pick up your meat from the café at the airport.
The local beer is Tusker and it is an excellent drop, brewed locally by Swedish brewery Pripps.The brewery is near the roundabout where you go left to Mele or right to the airport. Many Australian and New Zealand beers are also available in bottle shops, supermarkets and bars as well as boutique imports like Heineken. There are also a couple of micro breweries including “Texican” at the War Horse Saloon and “Nambawan” opposite the Grand.
BENJOR BEACH CLUB
Benjor is a nice resort and home to the Officer’s Club restaurant (it’s set where the Americans had their Officer’s Club in World War Two) with a couple of plunge pools in the adjacent creek courtesy of some targeted grenades.
Benjor is about 20 minutes from town (on Devil’s Point Road). The setting, food and value are excellent. Also good for kids to swim or play petanque while adults dine. For accommodation they have 5 bedroom villas as well as one-bedroom and two-bedroom units.
Have a game of backgammon, wander down for a game of petanque and large board chess or just sit and enjoy. Take a towel for a swim in the pool or off the beach. You could hire a car, or take a taxi or bus. The driver will probably offer to come back and pick you up at a designated time – or make your own way there and they will arrange one for your return (they have several local drivers with mobile phones).
Contact us regarding Benjor Beach Club
The Big Nambas (‘Big Numbers’) come from the culturally diverse island of Malekula and they are one of two tribes that maintain their complex traditional culture.
The Big Nambas are from the northern hills and are so called because of the size of the penis sheathes worn by the men. The Small Nambas come from the south and are adorned appropriately. The sheathes are made from banana or pandanus leaves.
I have no personal evidence to suggest that the filling fits the sandwich. Incidentally, the last recorded act of cannibalism was between these traditional foes, in 1969.
Vanuatu has approximately 121 recorded bird species including 32 seabirds, 15 shorebirds and 74 land and freshwater birds, of which 9 species are endemic and a further 6 are endangered. A week of birdwatching should yield sitings of about 60 species. The endemic species all occur on Santo and it will be necessary to organise a guide for the trek into the interior mountains to see the complete set of endemics which include Baker’s Imperial-Pigeon, Buff-bellied Monarch, Chestnut-bellied Kingfisher, Mountain Starling (photo), New Hebrides Honeyeater, Royal Parrotfinch, Tanna Fruit Dove, Vanuata Scrubfowl, and Yellow-fronted White-eye. Visit Vanuatu Birds Online for more information. You won’t find too many birds in Port Vila itself – I guess birds prefer the bush but some species are also considered ‘gudfala kae-kae’ (see Bislama below).
With more than 100 local languages along with English and French, Bislama (Pidgin English) is used as a vital communications tool. It allows the 40% who were educated in French to talk with the 60% who were educated in English. The colourful language reflects the friendliness of the people as well as the fact that it has to exist with only 2500 words (English and French each have more than 35,000 words). It’s pretty much a phonetic language, so try saying the words out loud to get the feel of it.
And so, to a few words in Bislama – (Smol tok tok long Bislama)
- Hello – Alo
- Goodbye – Tata
- Please – Plis
- Good morning – Gud morning
- Good night – Gud naet
- Excuse me – Skiusmi
- Thank you very much – Tank yu tumas
- And – Mo
- How much? – Hamas?
- Do you have…? – Yu gat…?
- I don’t understand – Mi no savee
- Child – Pikinini
- Drunk – Fuldrong
- Fish – Fis
- See you – Lukim yu
- I am very sorry – Sori tumas
- What is your name? – Wanem nem blong yu?
- My name is… – Nem blong mi…
- Big – Bigfala
- Food – Kae-kae
- This food is delicious – Kae-kae emi gud
- Drinking water – Kolwata
- Seawater – Solwata
- Seagull – Pigeon blong solwata
- Excellent – Nambawan
- I am hungry/thirsty – Mi wantem samting long kakae/dring
- Call a doctor/police! – Singaot doctor/polis!
- You must do good work every day – Yu mas makem gud work evri dai
As well as being excellent, nambawan may be first place, followed by nambatu and numbatri. These are also areas of Port Vila. All in all a pretty simple language, but it’s simplicity is also what gives it its eccentricity… for example:
- His Royal Highness, Prince Charles is known as nambawan pikinini blong Missus Kwin…
- A super supreme pizza will come with evri samting…
- A bra is – basket blong titi…
- A piano is black fala box we igat black teeth, hemi gat white teeth you faetem hard i singout…
- A violin – wan smol box blong white man, oli scratchem beli i singout gudfala…
- A saw – Pulem i kam, pushem i go, wood i fall down
- A helicopter – mixmaster blong Jesus Christ
As you can see, it’s fun and pretty easy to pick up. The locals will be happy to teach you a few words!
Blackbirding is a part of Australian history that is often swept under the carpet. It’s a name given to the ‘slave trade’ in the 19th century when Queensland farmers would recruit cheap ni-Vanuatu labour for the sugarcane fields with promises for great returns that never eventuated. It began in 1863 when landowner, Robert Towns (Townsville is named after him), fired his German workers because they were eating too much and went to the Pacific to source cheaper labour.
Towns ‘recruited’ 65 kanakas and his program proved such a success, the Queensland government supported the program, which led to tens of thousands of young men taken from their culture. The 12 month term of labour (10 hours a day, 6 days a week) was soon extended to 3 years and many ni-Vanuatu never returned home.
Black Magic is a part of ni-Vanuatu culture and the power of village chiefs and medicine men (‘klevers’) is still strong. Does it work? Definitely. Like the Australian Aboriginal ‘pointing of the bone’ there are too many documented cases of magic working for it to be ignored. However, it will only work on those who believe, so that may well come down to the power of the mind.
Rare and beautiful black pearls can be found in the jewellery shops in the main street. Check out Prouds, Sound Centre and Shiraz Duty Free.
Black sand covers a lot of volcanic beaches in Vanuatu and Black Sands is a village just out of Vila on the road to Mele.
BOKISSA PRIVATE ISLAND RESORT
Bokissa Island Resort is on Santo and is a great spot for couples looking for romance and relaxation. The resort doesn’t take children and the snorkelling off the white sand beaches is sensational. There’s excellent diving and game fishing or just lazing in a hammock by the pool or beach. Bokissa has an all-inclusive meal plan included in the tariff.
The resort offers communal dining so couples can mix but, of course, if couples choose, they can have a romantic dinner for two under the stars or a gourmet picnic on their own beach. Seafood and island dishes are the chef’s specialty.
The private bungalows are air-conditioned with ceiling fans and covered verandahs. There’s tea/coffee making facilities and a mini-bar as well as large en-suite with toilet, vanity, shower and hairdryer.
Contact us regarding Bokissa Island Resort
To some, the main street of Port Vila can look a bit grotty but, if you scratch the surface, you’ll find that you have to scratch a bit harder. It’s then you discover many air-conditioned shops that sell everything you could want. You can even buy Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald on Monday afternoons. Two shops that have a range of novels, travel books, magazines, cards and stationery are Stop Press in the large Au Bon Marche supermarket complex and Snoopys in town.
The Secret Garden is one of those rare gems. It’s not a Botanical Garden on a grand city scale, but it’s a garden with a heart. It has a touch of Ripley’s Believe It or Not (custom stories like “The Devil With Fire in His Bottom”, The Boy Who Ate His Brother” and “How the Hermit Crab Protects Its Testicles”). Owned and managed by Trading Post editor Marc Neil-Jones and his partner Jenny they have an array of fauna and flora (snakes, lizards, turtles, kava) and areas devoted to the history and culture of Vanuatu including the Cannibal House, Chief’s area and the country’s largest WW2 photo and artifact collection. They have magic shows and Melanesian feasts and are warm in their welcome. They supply guides who take visitors on a quick guided tour and then allow people to return to the areas they found most interesting to explore themselves, perhaps while the kids have a Coke and a play with a snake or iguana. Quaint, informative and excellent value. Be sure to use the can of Aeorgard in the admission booth as the mossies in this area can be irritating. Ph 26222.
While the tropics are lush, there are not many spectacular gardens as such if you like lots of flowers. Yes, hibiscus bushes abound, but the flowers only last a day or so.
Best to visit somewhere like “The Summit” where they have many examples of local flora. “The Summit” is a new and beautiful destination with fabulous tropical gardens and magnificent views overlooking Mele Bay and beyond. Drive along Devils Point Road and enter opposite Benjor Resort. It is rather a steep access so warn your driver – but well worth it. Gardens traverse the hill, plus there is a distillery and lovely little gift store and café. All giftware and menu items are pure and organic – products of the orchards and plantations.
There are seven major liquor outlets in the main part of Vila. Au Bon Marche downtown and Man Ples (Man Place), Dockside Wine and Spirits is opposite Café du Village, the General Store sells a limited range of liquor, La Cave du Gourmet is in the heart of town, as is Centrepoint which sells wine, beer and spirits and Vanuatu Wine and Spirits is at the other end of town, near the Anchor Inn.
BREAKA’S BEACH RESORT
Breaka’s is a boutique resort, on its own beach, set in beautifully landscaped grounds. There are beach and garden bungalows, a 22 metre infinity pool with swim up bar and poolside restaurant. It’s ‘adult themed’, with no kids under 15yrs and about ten minutes from the centre of Port Vila.
The fares (bungalows) are spacious, both Garden and Beachfront. They are modern but still capture the atmosphere of the tropics, nestled in lush, landscaped gardens and surrounded by palm trees and the sound of the surf breaking out on the reef.
The fares have queen-sized beds, ceiling fans and large bathrooms with coral walls. There’s a fully licensed a la carte restaurant, extensive wine cellar and poolside bar and a state of the art sound system. Families can stay just down the beach at Surfside on Breaka’s.
Contact us regarding Breaka’s Beach Resort
Buses abound in Vila and despite the presence of bus stops in town, they will pick up anywhere at the wave of a hand. They will take you door to door (although sometimes you may get the scenic route depending on where the other passengers wish to go). Fares cost VT150 adults and VT75 children anywhere within Port Vila. To go outside town to places like Cascade Waterfalls or Hideaway Island the fare doubles. If you take this option, the driver will often ask if you’d like to be picked up at a designated time. It can be worthwhile accepting the offer as the driver and van will be there and sometimes it can take a while waiting for another bus to appear. Some bus drivers will also make themselves available for ‘tours’ as in trips around the island or day trips to beaches etc. Drivers are usually friendly and helpful and the letter ‘B’ before the number plate designates a licensed bus (T designates taxis and H is on hire cars).
There is also a new bus service called “The Mele Express”. It is the first of its kind in Vanuatu, running on a timetable. It works on a hop on hop off basis and starts at the Anchor Inn, visiting Hideaway & Beach Bar, Tanna, Benjor, The Summit, Cascades and the Golf Club. Operates 9 – 5 and costs $10.
Many visitors wonder about the smoke they sometimes see and/or smell. Vegetation in the tropics is lush and grows quickly which requires a slash and burn from time to time.
Bush knives (machetes) are incredibly useful implements and you will be hard pressed to find a group of local men walking without one (or six). Some visitors lock their cars or turn to walk the other way. These knives are never used for anything more than trimming hedges or lawns – however, you may see someone shimmy up a coconut tree and, in a few deft chops, prepare a refreshing drink. They are not expensive at the hardware stores and make a handy addition to the garden shed back home (do not try to take home as hand luggage though!)
A pretty name for a hole in the ground. You can make your own or use the village’s community bush toilets, which are segregated. Left of the coconut tree for the women and right of the coconut tree for the men. New holes are dug for special occasions and public events and we recommend you bring your own toilet paper, banana leaves can be a little harsh. Real sit down toilets as we know and love them are common in Port Vila. You’ll only ever have to use a bush toilet if you are in the bush!
There are many great bushwalking opportunities in Vanuatu, but unlike other parts of the world there are few designated areas for self-guided walking. Even if you leave a track for someone to follow, because of the climate, tracks grow over very quickly. Unless you have a guide, best to stick to the touristy bits like the walk up Cascades or explore the area close to the beaches or bays you find yourself on.
Vanuatu Ecotours is an excellent operation for walking, biking or rive safaris. Ecotours began in November 2004 when Pascal Guillet left the French Embassy to follow his dream. A keen walker, mountain biker, tennis player and horse rider, he wanted to share his country of 12 years with people who have similar interests – so now, with a bus, a business licence, some bikes, great guides and a lot of enthusiasm (and insurance!) Vanuatu now has ecotours with a difference.
Offices are generally open from 7:30am to 11:30am and from 1:30pm to 5:00pm, Monday to Friday. Shops from 8:00am to 11:30am and from 1:30pm to 5:30pm, Monday to Friday and 8:00 to Noon on Saturday. Banks open from 8:00 to 3:00pm Monday to Friday (8:30 – 4:00pm Westpac) and the Post Office from 7:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday, 7:30 to noon Saturday. Supermarkets, cafes and the Port Vila markets stay open all day.
As mentioned, local beef is terrific. Lamb is fairly scarce (some local, most from New Zealand and expensive). The supermarkets have butchers and there are a few others like Traverso Freres and South Pacific Meats. If you’re in a resort that has BBQ facilities, it is worth grabbing some steak, sausages, salad and crusty bread rolls.
BYO (Bring Your Own Bottle) is okay with some restaurants, although they will charge corkage of VT300 – VT400. A couple of restaurants are only BYO. An example of the advantages of BYO – a bottle of Shingle Peak Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) or Rawsons Retreat (Australia) will cost around VT1500 in a bottle shop but around VT3000 in a restaurant, so you will be better off taking your own wine and paying the corkage. Ask when you make a booking if it’s okay.