Visitors Guide C
Port Vila is very much a ‘café society’. Locals meet each day, ritually, to do business, kick start the day or just catch up for a chat or a game of mahjong. It is part of the rhythm of the town.
Café’s include Cafe Deli (air-conditioned and fine snacks), Jill’s Café (American breakfasts), La Terrasse (al fresco with the French), La Tentation (a little more upmarket), Nambawan Café (rustic with a harbour view), Tilly’s (overlooking the harbour at Chantilly’s on the Bay), Cafe du Village (a bit more tucked away) and Au Péché Mignon (Wednesday mornings for freshly cooked crepes).
La Terrasse, Cafe du Village and Au Peche Mignon’s coffee is slightly on the bitter side to appeal to the French so we usually head to Nambawan, La Tentation or Tilly’s for our caffeine hit.
CAFÉ DU VILLAGE
Café du Village serves coffee and snacks by day but is a fine al a carte French restaurant by night. Some say it’s hit and miss with excellent meals for some and only adequate for others, but it’s in a wonderful setting on the harbour looking out to Iririki Island. Even if you don’t eat there, drop in for a reflective coffee and liqueur on the way home from eating out.
Camping is not encouraged anywhere in Vanuatu.
A tribe of cannibals invited a stand-up comedian over for dinner and after the meal someone remarked, ‘Gee, he tasted funny’. Yes, cannibalism was part of the tribal culture, both inter-tribe and with the white missionaries. Only the islands of Banks and Torres never practiced it. In fact the last recorded act of cannibalism was in 1969 among the Big Nambas tribe on Malekula – supposedly the last tribe to convert to Christianity. That was the year man walked on the moon, which illustrates how culturally and socially different parts of the planet can be. There are also unconfirmed reports of cannibalism in Efate as late as 1987. The government has pretty much made cannibalism a ‘tabu’ subject – it’s a sensitive issue as people are still alive who have eaten human flesh. The photo is from a painting showing cannibalism on Tanna, which can be seen on the cultural centre opposite Parliament House.
For those who are a bit queasy, may be best to skip on to Canoeing now.
Contrary to popular cartooning, people weren’t put in huge pots surrounded by vegetables but were cooked in underground ovens. The origins of cannibalism are twofold. One was some tribes believed consuming human flesh would give them magical powers. Others sacrificed people if pigs weren’t available, and the flesh then eaten. Apparently the meal was tastier and more tender than pork and pigs were then sometimes even swapped for humans. The vast majority of main courses were slain (only on Tanna did they eat someone who had died of natural causes). Most cannibalism was a result of tribal warfare, though missionaries also made it to the table. White folk, apparently, weren’t considered a delicacy, being too salty. And, in case you’re ever stranded on an island or in the Andes after a plane crash and the decision is eat the others or perish – according to research undertaken in Vanuatu in the 1920’s, the best bits were the buttocks, inner upper arms and thighs, the palms of the hand and women’s breasts were a real delicacy.
Canoes are a great mode of transport. They are relaxing to paddle and there are many sheltered lagoons, rivers and waterways to explore in Vanuatu. The western style canoe is the easiest to use. While the local outrigger canoes look romantic and rustic, they aren’t the easiest to negotiate – have a go by all means but chances are you’ll go around in circles before you learn to predict where it’s heading (the secret is to row in a ‘J’ curve).
There are a number of car rental options – Avis, Europcar, Laho, Budget, Discount Rentals and World Car Rentals. We recommend Hertz (top road above Parliament House). Thanks to Hertz for help with the guide to driving around the island (below).
If paying in cash, a cash deposit will be required. American Express, Visa and Mastercard are accepted. Expect to pay around VT1500 per day for Collision Damage Waiver. If shopping around for the best price be sure to ask if VAT is included.
While it only takes a couple of hours to drive around the island from Port Vila now there is a new sealed road, at least a full day should be set aside to make the most of it – swim, snorkel, stop for lunch, visit villages etc.
Here are a few things to look for on your way (anti-clockwise) around the island.
- Leaving the Hertz office, turn right and go past Parliament House (on the left) and the Museum on the right…
- You will arrive at the Dumbea roundabout with the service station on your right and the ‘British’ Prison across the road also on the right..
- Head straight on up the hill and over the top to another large roundabout – veer right and you will pass the University of South Pacific…
- The next roundabout takes you to Port Vila International School on the right… continue straight ahead past Lagoon Beach Resort on the right, Korman Stadium on the left and Vila Chaumieres on the right. This is a nice dinner option – ask for Table 4 if just two of you looking for a romantic dinner!
- Continue on past Sunset Bungalows and Starfish Cove and you will pass a sign for CHAP (Club Hippique Adventure Park) where they have horse riding and water skiing.
- You will pass signs for Eratap Beach Resort – lovely spot for lunch – bookings essential – take it easy on the road. Also Aquana Resort & Restaurant…
- Cross over Teouma Bridge…
- Turn off to the right to take the dirt road circle loop, past the Vanuatu Football Headquarters, Tamanu on the Beach (fine dining), White Sands Golf & Country Club, Turtle Bay Conservation (entrance fee 2000vt per person), Blue Water ‘Resort’ (shark and turtle feeding)…
- Turn back onto the bitumen road and head along to the Banana Bay area – good beaches for swimming and snorkelling…
- Road crossing with no bridge… to Cafelery Bay for swimming/snorkelling (fee payable)…
- Blue Lagoon swimming hole on the right (fee payable)…
- Eton Village and Eton Bridge – nice beach and swimming area – fee of 300vt per person…
- Bridge – small waterfalls near La Cressionaire…
- Past Manuro Shores to the Forari Mine ruins on your right – buildings and mine equipment – former French manganese mine… BTW, the wild vines covering things isn’t ‘local’ – it was introduced as camouflage by the US during WW2…
- Timber bridge, Pang Pang Village, Forari Stream…
- Bridge – Epau Village…
- Bethel Village…
- Bridge – wooden planks – Epule…
- Epule Jungle River Tour…
- Sarah Beach Restaurant…
- Onesua Village – Bamboo Beach Restaurant…
- Takara Village…
- Beachcomber turnoff – 600m round trip…look for the Beachcomber sign going through Takara Village – Beach coimber has rustic accommodation, a restaurant, swimming pool and thermal pool…
- World War 2 Museum (take the boat to see the crashed plane)…
- Paunganisu Village…
- Manua Primary School – Emau Wharf & Village…
- Undine Bay Plantation… nice spot for a swim…
- Siviri Village – there are caves here – you will need a torch…
- Very steep descent for 1km – take it VERY slow…
- Moso Landing…
- Former WW2 water reservoir, near bridge with wooden planks…
- The Havannah Resort & Restaurant – upmarket but very nice spot for lunch (adults only)…
- Havannah Harbour – market stalls, shells, baskets WW2 Coke bottles (they are year-dated – and still keep turning up!)
- Gideon’s Landing – small cafe style restaurant with great snorkelling off the beach… Ecolodge accommodation and the departure point for the Coongoola Cruise…
- Wahoo Bar & Restaurant – fresh fish caught daily in a lovely waterside position – a favourite with the locals…
- Lelepa Landing and bridge…
- Hilltop views of Port Vila and surrounds…
- Klem’s Hill – views over Mele Bay taking in Hideaway Island, Mele, Vila and Pango Point…
- Very steep descent – SLOW!
- At the bottom of Klem’s Hill, entrance to Mele Cascades (entrance fee), the quirky Secrfet Gardens for flora, snakes and history (fee) and right turn to Devil’s Point (dirt road, take it easy) – l’Hippocampus (Sea Horse Riding School), Island Magic, Benjor Beach Resort & Officer’s Club restaurant, Tara Beach, The Summit, wind turbines…
- Heading back to Port Vila – Hideaway Island turn off on the right – marine sanctuary, snorkelling, cafe, accommodation, world’s only underwater post office… on the mainland beach the Beach Bar has good food/snacks…
- Mele Golf & Country Club…
- Warhorse Saloon & Microbrewery (Mexican & Ribs a specialty)…
- Singing bridge…
- Airport roundabout – turn right to town – if returning the car, there are service stations on the way.
Mele Cascades is one of those ‘must-do’ attractions. Guess I would have done it well over ten times and have never tired of it.
About 15 minutes out of Port Vila, the climb to the waterfall is not a difficult one and, once there, it’s a rewarding experience. It’s not just one to witness from afar – you can hop into the pool at the base and swim under the cascade itself. It’s the outpouring of an underground spring so the water is cool, clear and refreshing. There are five pools at the top to jump into and it’s your choice to return via the track or the stream.
If you take the track up and back it’s a one-hour to ninety minutes experience. If you take the stream back down, allow a couple of hours.
The highlight is at the waterfall itself, so the track is probably the best option as there’s a great waterhole for cooling off back at the bottom.
Beware tours that offer Cascades without a value-added (like lunch). The actual cost for entry is VT1500 for adults (tickets from Evergreen Tours at the Chantilly’s end of town or from the guides at the gate). It costs VT300 on a bus for adults each way and VT150 for children. The money collected goes to the local Mele village people who maintain the facilities – clean toilets, barbecue hut etc. A guide usually comes with the entry fee but you can’t get lost if you follow the track.
You can abseil the falls with The Edge.
There are a number of online casinos with their base in Vanuatu, because of the low tax system. There’s no personal or company tax and a low 2.5% is imposed on gaming revenue. Offline there are a few ‘real’ casinos – Palms Casino at the Holiday Inn, the casino at The Grand Hotel in town and the most recent as part of Iririki Island Resort. There are gaming machines, roulette and blackjack. There are gaming machines upstairs at Club 21 (the Melanesian Hotel) and at Club Vanuatu.
The only land-dwellers in Vanuatu that can give you a nasty peck. It’s fairly rare, but if you see one of these large crawlies, leave well alone. The swelling looks awful and the pain must be excruciating.
There are many kastom ceremonies that have passed from generation to generation. They include the Pentecost land dive (naghol) and the Toka. On the island of Maewo they have a curious ritual between April and August. Called ‘the mid-year hurters’, every fortnight men wearing sacks and banana leaves chase people with thorny sticks. They do inflict physical damage, so if you find a group coming at you – run and hide!
The sexual Toka is only part of the three day Nekowiar Ceremony on Tanna. Basically, there’s lots of singing, dancing and feasting with neighbouring villages trying to out do each other. It’s a way of deepening the gene pool as the ceremony will often result in marriage between different clans.
Tourists are welcome at this ceremony but there’s no exact date. Sometime between August and September word will get out that the ceremony will happen, preparations will begin and the actual date may only have a few days notice. Women should be wary and it’s best not to travel alone. Also best to watch from a reasonable distance. Tourists have been swept up into being part of the celebrations, which can include being tossed high and carried by a group of excited men intent on some serious genital fondling (see Toka).
The rare Neil ceremony (also on Tanna) these days is about the sharing of surplus food. It evolved from a tradition of men getting together and rejuvenating themselves with a meal of dead enemies. There is a painting in the cultural centre by adventurous British artist, Charles Fraser, titled Cannibal Feast on the Island of Tanna, which is pretty much self-explanatory.
Some say Champagne Beach (on Santo) is the world’s prettiest beach. That would depend very much on the weather when you visit I guess. When the sun, the sky and the sea are right, the colours in the tropics are second to none. If it’s grey and overcast, water is just water. It’s probably not worth going all the way to Santo just to enjoy the beach but, if you’re in Santo, it would be a shame to leave without doing so (just check that the local land owners are allowing tourists to visit!). The name comes from the tiny bubbles that come from the ocean floor. Cruise ships occasionally drop anchor here and transfer passengers by tender.
CHANTILLY’S ON THE BAY
Chantilly’s is right on the harbour, boutique in style with 20 rooms, a fine restaurant, a hairdressing salon and a boutique clothing store. It has undergone extensive renovations (and strata title) in the last year or so. Ideal for those in town on business or those who want to be close to town for sightseeing, shopping and restaurants but who also want a bit of space and a self-contained option.
There are three chemists (pharmacies) in the main street, two English, one French. They are knowledgeable, especially in tropical ailments and it can be worth dropping in for a ‘free’ consultation before heading to the doctor. Healthwise Pharmacy is opposite Goodies, the French pharmacie is near Adventures in Paradise and The Drug Store opposite Westpac. The Drug Store also has outlets at Le Lagon, Holiday Inn and the airport (both sides of the departure lounge). While they stock everything you would expect a chemist to stock (and more – how about a home-brewing kit?) things are expensive as they have to be imported. It’s recommended that a simple first aid kit be a travelling companion – Bandaids, a bandage, analgesics, antiseptic cream, anti-itch powder, insect repellent and a tummy settler like Imodium. While the water is safe to drink, sometimes a change of time zone and diet can upset the system. The chemists may accept foreign currency (especially when the cruise ships are in) and, when they do, they give a great exchange rate (for purchases only, not straight exchange).
CHILDREN – ACTIVITIES
There’s no McDonalds (the Island Time cafe near Goodies substitutes), there’s no KFC (Island Chicken opposite the markets) and no Pizza Hut (lots of places make great pizza!) – and we hope it stays that way! Nothing against the Golden Arches etc, but the idea of a tropical holiday in a place with another culture is about exploring that. Plan on an outdoor holiday – sailing, swimming, fishing, snorkelling, paddling, horse riding and so on. Some resorts have wet weather activities like table tennis, pool, amusement machines and board games but there’s not much in the way of indoor wet weather entertainment in town. One good thing about the tropics is that, even if it’s raining, the water remains warm. The two big resorts have good Kids Clubs. On the waterfront in town, down from the markets, there’s a children’s play area with swings, climbing equipment etc.
CHILDREN – TRAVELLING WITH
Travelling with kids is something that can make parents say that getting there is anything but half the fun. While most flights to Vanuatu are around three hours, that is the same time as two feature movies (not that they have in-flight movies on Air Vanuatu)… and then there’s the 2 hours prior with check-in etc and the half hour on arrival to get through customs and collect baggage – so…
The first thing to do is plan and prepare. Packing a couple of favourite games and toys is a good idea and perhaps a few little wrapped presents to open when they get bored – every hour or so there’ll be something else to open up and amuse them. Or you can invent little games like find out how many passengers are on board or how many windows there are on the plane. The Air Vanuatu and Virgin Australia crews are friendly and fun.
Some people choose night flights thinking their children will go to sleep at their usual bedtime. The reality is, the excitement of the trip will mean they’ll probably nod off just before you land and you’ll have to carry the little darlings through customs at midnight. While there’s limited choice for flight times, if possible go for a day flight with plenty of activities in the hand luggage.
Remember to order children’s meals ahead of departure – they don’t automatically appear and it can upset some children to see other kids getting a burger and a chocolate when they’ve been given the curried chicken and rice.
It’s also worth getting to the airport early so you don’t have to queue and panic and ask for seats close to either the rear or front heading to Vanuatu (they disembark rear and front) and near the front to Australia and New Zealand (front exit only). This will give you a head start to the customs queue. Fill in the documentation before heading to a queue. If travelling by car, say around the island, you’ll spend at least 4 hours in the car so get a list ready of things to look out for on the road, like names of places, bridges and other things they’re likely to spot. This means that rather than just sitting with nothing to do, the kids are waiting and watching for something. (See car rental for a thumbnail of what to expect around the island)
Chillies grow pretty much wild in Vanuatu and they can be a great addition to Pacific island cuisine (or indeed an Osso Bucco). The heat in the chilli comes from the alkaloid (capsaicin), which is throughout the fruit but more concentrated in the white membrane around the seeds.
To ‘mild’ up the chilli, take out all seeds and membrane. To combat a real hot one, yoghurt gives the best relief. The chemical reaction of runny nose, sweat and tears caused by hot chillies is actually good for you. It speeds up your metabolism and triggers your endorphins, which results in a state of euphoria (normally only achieved after vigorous exercise or sex). No pain, no gain – and what a great way to work out!
The street that runs parallel to the main street (the other ‘main street’ since they changed the road system to have two one-way streets through town) is home to Chinatown. Here (and in the side streets) you will find an array of bargains, especially in clothing, and lots of interesting shops that may have a diverse range of products all on the one counter – kerosene lamps, soap, rice, spring rolls, boiled eggs, shoes and perfume for example. If there’s something you want and can’t see it, ask – it could be under the counter.
There are a number of cheap Chinese takeaway food outlets here, but for the best Chinese food in town head to the Harbourview Restaurant, the new Golden Port or Tsang restaurant.
At the time of writing, chiropractors weren’t plentiful in Port Vila. In fact, Gerard Sariani was the only one. Fortunately he is an excellent chiropractor/osteopath/physiotherapist (opposite Bred Bank carpark). If he is on holidays he flies in a locum.
There are many local churches and visitors are welcome to join the congregation on Sundays. Basically Sunday is a day of rest, except for the Seventh Day Adventists whose holy day is Saturday. The Catholic Church, Sacre Cœur, is up the hill from Mega Mall. There are also Presbyterian, Cristadelphian and Apostolic churches.
Circumcision is a local custom but surprisingly has nothing to do with religion or traditions brought by visiting missionaries. It goes back to a tribal legend and a woman who had two brothers as husbands. One of them, while hunting in the jungle, performed an accidental auto-circumcision when passing a stick of low-lying bamboo. When he healed up, his wife discovered that making love with him was more pleasurable than with his hooded brother. The brothers compared notes and, apart from the missing foreskin, both were identical, so the other brother had himself circumcised, the family was happy and it became custom. Some islands, like Santo, do not follow the custom whereas all men on Tanna are circumcised in a ritual ceremony before they reach their teens as a sign of manliness. Following the ‘operation’ the youth spends a month in confinement while the penis heals. It is spent in silence and with a diet of no meat. The meals are prepared by a virgin girl and served by virgin youths. At the risk of producing a groan, it is customary in Vanuatu restaurants not to have tips either.
A citizen of Vanuatu has the right to vote, stand for election to Parliament, work in state services, and to make Vanuatu their permanent home. Citizenship is granted to:
- Persons of ni-Vanuatu ancestry
- A person with at least one parent who is a citizen of Vanuatu.
- A person who has lived in Vanuatu for 10 years or more and applies to become a citizen by naturalisation.
The Vanuatu Constitution does not recognize dual nationality. Any person applying for citizenship who is a citizen of another country cannot become a citizen of Vanuatu unless the citizenship of that other country is first renounced. (see also Immigration)
Summer is from November to March, the average temperature is 28°C (up to 32°C) and it can be hot, wet and humid. Winter is from April to October with the temperature averaging 23°C. Sea temperature varies from 22 to 28 degrees making swimming enjoyable all year round. As they say, whatever the weather, have a nice day! Current weather and short term forecasts are available online for Port Vila and the islands of Santo, Malakula, Banks and Anatom.
Vanuatu is a casual place and visitors should pack for the sun – shorts, t-shirts, swimwear, open footwear (sandals). A light, wet weather jacket may come in handy and maybe a long-sleeved shirt in case it gets cool at night. On the local scene there are a number of second-hand clothing stores and shops that sell reasonable quality, inexpensive ‘copy’ brand t-shirts and footwear. There are also fashionable boutiques for women’s clothing.
Club Vanuatu sits above the town (behind the Drug Store) and is basically an RSL Club that has reasonably priced food, beverage as well as TV sport, bingo, snooker tables and gaming machines. The sunsets over the harbour viewed from the outside deck of the Bayview Bar & Bistro can be spectacular. Dress in the upstairs bar should be neat and casual (as in no swimwear or thongs/jandals/flip-flops).
COAT OF ARMS
Have a quick glance at the Vanuatu coat of arms and what do you see? A native with a spear and a motto in Bislama? Correct. But a lot of thought went into the coat of arms. A committee designed it for independence in 1980. The brief was to come up with something that would unite 83 islands, more than 100 cultures and languages, various political parties, 10 Christian denominations and other faiths and the bizarre colonial, condominium past. The detailed aspects are:
- The Man: He is ni-Vanuatu, Melanesian and a chief.
- The Spear: This represents the man’s role as defender and protector of his people
- Armbands: These are ‘shell money’ denoting his role as a dealer in economic exchanges and distributor of services, goods and resources.
- Headdress: Along with the loincloth these represent the many modes of dress found throughout the country.
- The Land: The man stands with both feet firmly on the soil of his land.
- The Mele: The crossed cyclad leaves signify peace.
- The Tusk: The circular pig tusk symbolizes unity, wealth, prosperity and authority.
- The Mat: The mat in front of the man symbolises the importance of agriculture as well as the importance of women’s labour and their role in managing the agricultural economy.
- The Motto: “Long God Yumi Stanap” is deeper than “we believe in God”. It is a reminder to give back to God, in sacrifice, all that he has bestowed upon the people.
Could there be any more versatile tree than the coconut palm? If it had been manmade rather than natural it would surely have one of those zingy TV commercials – “it chops, it shreds, it dices, it slices…” Think about it – not a part of the tree is wasted. It provides natural shade and shelter, the trunk can be fashioned into bowls or part of an outrigger canoe, the leaves woven into baskets, the husk turned into fibre and the leaves matted together for roofing. When a hut is made from coconut palms a fire is lit inside and the smoke kills any resident insects before the new owners move in and the roofing lasts for around 12 months. And, of course, the flesh of the coconut is nutritious, the juice is a great thirst quencher and, once you know how, the trees are easy to climb. There are actually two liquids in a coconut – the fresh coconut juice from the green coconut (which is so pure you can use it as a saline drip in an emergency!) and coconut milk, which is extracted from the flesh of mature coconuts. This is often sold in tins labeled ‘coconut cream’. Best to avoid buying the small tins of solid coconut cream (mainly Asian brands) as they can be rancid. For a recipe using coconut cream, see ‘kokoda’. The jewel of the coconut tree is the heart of the palm. This is a delicacy and ‘heart of palm salad’ is known as millionaire’s salad because you have to kill the tree to get to the heart.
Coconut crab is a famous Vanuatu delicacy but is not so-called because it’s cooked in coconut cream. They get their name because they climb palm trees to feed on coconut flesh (which explains why they have such strength in the nippers). Like most crab meals it calls for a bib, crackers and some patience but crab lovers rave about it. Beware of sauces that sound as if they may detract from the crab’s delicate taste (garlic and light chilli enhances). Personally, I find crab too much effort for the reward and do worry about the future for the coconut crab. The numbers have certainly dwindled on Efate because of restaurant trade. They have to survive until they are between 4 and 8 years old before they can reproduce and can have a life expectancy of 30 years. If not a moratorium for some years, there should be a ban on the crabs during breeding season and a size restriction on the catch. Incidentally, while they are land crabs and will die if left submerged in water, they do make their way to the water to top up their salt levels.
Cocomo Resort has accommodation for couples and families including spa suites and villas as well as two-bedroom apartments. The resort is only a few minutes from Vila and represents excellent value. They have one bedroom/studio style rooms with balconies, waterviews, spas & pations and two-bedroom apartments with 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. They are self-contained with full kitchen downstairs and washing machine and dryer in the upstairs bathroom.
There’s also a poolside café that opens for three meals and snacks. There’s a BBQ, volleyball court, children’s playground and picnic hampers can be arranged.
The four deluxe villas with spas for couples (beachview and waterfront) offer both value and luxury.
Contact us regarding Cocomo Resort Apartments
There are worldwide satellite communications, 24 hours telephone, fax, email and web access. Phone, telex, fax facilities are
available at the post office and resorts and there’s an Internet café in the main street and wireless internet in many of the cafes (La Tentation, Nambawan Cafe). Phonecalls are time charged (which makes Internet access a tad expensive but checking email doesn’t take long). Since 2002, digital mobile telephony has been a reality. You can take your own mobile phone and pop into TVL or Digicell for a pre-paid SIM card and number or simply purchase a local phone; they come as cheap as 5,000 vatu and come with 500vt of credit. Now that we have two mobile phone companies, the price to make a mobile phone call has plummeted – plus of course it means that it is now affordable for almost all locals. – contact us for more details.
Before 1980, when Vanuatu became independent, the New Hebrides (as the country was known then) was jointly ruled by the British and the French. This ‘condominium’ was sometimes referred to as the ‘pandemonium’. The French and British have historically had an ‘oil and water’ relationship because of language and cultural differences (even though they are only 22 miles apart, across the English Channel – and I bet the French hate that name!). Anyway, in those days it was a rule of co-existence. Gendarmes patrolled one side of the street and ‘Bobbies’ patrolled the other.
There was a French prison and an English prison (the French were strict but served great cuisine, the English were lenient but served ‘stodge’). Even today, Rue Charles de Gaulle runs into Winston Churchill Avenue and there are French and English schools (which, naturally, have different hours, terms and holidays).
One dilemma that faced the authorities was which side of the road traffic was to drive on and, for the early part of the century they drove on both! In the 1930’s the government decided to solve the problem by decreeing that the next vehicle imported would dictate left or right hand drive, depending on which country it came from. A missionary’s dray arrived from New Caledonia and so Vanuatu became European and drives on the right hand side of the road.
These days, most expatriates are resident by choice and the French and English have no barriers, apart from the odd language hurdle. Television news is in the three main languages, ten minutes each, rotated each night so no language gets priority. And, when you board your flight, your in-flight instructions may be in French, English and Bislama as is your welcome in the in-flight magazine:
We thank you for choosing Air Vanuatu
Nous vous remercions d’avoir choisi Air Vanuatu
Mifala I talem tankyiu long yu blong jusum Air Vanuatu blong flae
Facilities are available for large conferences/events at major resorts (e.g. Le Lagon, Holiday Inn, Iririki Island Resort) and some of the boutique resorts can cater for small groups.
The British High Commission closed in 2005 but the French still has diplomatic representation. Australia, New Zealand and other countries are also represented.
- Australian High Commission Ph 22 777
- British High Commission Ph 23 100
- European Union EC Delegation for the Pacific Ph 22 501
- Ambassade de France Chancellerie Ph 22 353
- New Zealand High Commission Ph 22 933
- Papua New Guinea Honorary Consulate Ph 23 930
- People’s Republic of China Embassy Ph 23 598
- Swedish Honorary Consulate Ph 22 944
The South African High Commission in Australia has responsibility for Vanuatu.
COOK (CAPTAIN JAMES)
Captain James Cook navigated his way around the islands in the 1770’s, naming places like Port Resolution on Tanna. He actually named Efate ‘Sandwich Island’, after his main benefactor, the Earl of Sandwich. He later named the islands of Hawaii the Sandwich Islands, where he was to meet his fate at the end of a spear. Or did he choke on a sandwich in the Spear Islands? … History sometimes confuses… Anyway, on that fateful voyage, his third expedition, his navigator was one William Bligh, of Bounty fame.
The Cook Islands is another tropical paradise – 15 islands and 18,000 people scattered over 2 million square kilometres of the crystal blue Pacific Ocean in the middle of the triangle formed by Tonga, Samoa and Tahiti. Visit Cook Islands A To Z to find out more.
The President Coolidge is arguably the most sought after dive wreck in the world. It’s an accessible and spectacular dive. Sunk in 1942 off Santo, the 200m luxury liner turned troop carrier still contains jeeps, guns, gas masks, tools, crockery, toiletries and other bits and pieces. It’s also home to millions of fish including ‘Boris’ a 200kg groper that has lived on the wreck for nearly a quarter of a century. Recently divers have undertaken a restoration program to give the grand ship a much-needed clean, scraping and cleaning areas in the engine room, dining rooms, toilets, the galley and one of the swimming pools. The centerpiece is ‘The Lady’ – a beautiful porcelain statue of a woman and a unicorn, which is in what was once the ‘Smoking Room’. Most divers give her a kiss for luck before heading back to the surface and reality. The dive is so accessible because the Captain of the ship, after it hit a mine, purposely ran it aground to save the crew, which was pretty much the case. Only two men died. The death toll could have been higher because the ship was on such a tilt the lifeboats were out of reach.
This is an excellent day out. The atmosphere and food is terrific (barbecue beach picnic – vegetarians should pack their own – also take your own wine if you don’t like beer or soft drinks). The only complaint I’ve heard about this tour is that it was ‘a bit long on the boat’. Sorry, it IS a boat cruise.
The 23m wooden sailing ketch sails the calm waters of Havannah Harbour and takes you to Happy Tok Beach at Sun & Moon Bay, Moso Island (turtle conservation area and caves). A beach BBQ lunch is included as is morning and afternoon tea – snorkel, sunbathe, swim and maybe get to sail with dolphins. Pick up time from Vila is 8:15am, return around 5:30pm. The Coongoola is Vila’s most famous day cruise – she’s a stately old girl, looking slick with a recent re-varnish and she cuts through the calm waters as if she owns the place. The last three times I did the cruise we had dolphins off the bow. You can also sponsor and name a tagged turtle and release it back to the ocean from the turtle sanctuary for 5000 vatu (AUD$60) – you get naming rights and a certificate.
For more info on this and other cruises and activities – www.GoVanuatu.com.
There are no copyright laws in Vanuatu so video and computer games/software piracy is rife. The quality of some of the videos may not be the best, but they will be recent! Likewise, playwrights who have their work performed by the theatrical society won’t get any royalties. There have been moves to introduce copyright laws but in some ways this would hurt the ni-Vanuatu people. Prices for goods would have to rise which would make it difficult for the local people to afford entertainment. At Mega Mall or Sky Computer you will find computer software that would normally retail for several hundred dollars for around $20. Not that I would ever buy from such a place, Mr Gates! You will also find copy brand polo shirts and handbags.
CORAL (SOFT & HARD)
The coral, colourful fish and excellent visibility in the waters around Vanuatu mean great snorkelling and diving. The difference between hard and soft coral is that soft coral (more delicate and pretty) requires currents to keep it alive, so the best soft coral is found on the off-shore reefs.
The harbour dives (and close to Hideaway) take you to hard coral (the bommies that look like huge brains and the hard, tree type corals). Both attract lots of fish and other marine life.
Apart from looking you can also explore with your ears. If you listen hard, you will hear soft, crunching sounds – the noise of fish chewing on coral.
Coral cuts can be irritating and occasionally nasty. They can turn into tropical ulcers, although this is more likely to happen to someone who lives in the tropics because of the constant heat and humidity. If you get a scratch or graze (and it can happen without you knowing while snorkelling – it’s only when the air hits do you realise), nature’s cure is to squeeze lemon or lime onto the wound. The best stuff to cleanse the wound is Hydrogen Peroxide (if it doesn’t fizz, it’s not infected), followed by an anti-bacterial cream and cover with a dressing. In Australia or New Zealand you would leave it uncovered and let the air heal – in the tropics it’s the reverse. Having said that, cuts are rare if you wear reef shoes when walking on coral and if you watch where you snorkel.
Resorts, shops and restaurants accept most major credit cards. Up until the introduction of debit cards and ATMs in 2001, most residents used cheque books as cash, very much on an honour basis. Of course, the honour boundary can be pushed and, if you are in Au Bon Marche or Centrepoint supermarkets, at the cash register, you will see a list of people who have had their cheques ‘bounce’. Supermarkets don’t take credit cards. If, for some reason, your card is spat out by the ATM, you can always get a cash advance over the counter at the bank.
Independence Park sometimes has a ‘village green’ feel to it, particularly on weekends with men in whites and the whack of leather on willow. Expatriate Australians, New Zealanders and ni-Vanuatu players make up teams for a friendly but seriously competitive competition. Games are played at an oval near Korman Stadium and Independence Park on Saturday mornings and afternoons during the ‘winter’ months and there’s a bar at both venues for spectators and players alike. Go along to see some lively sledging, overweight men clutching onto their youth, young local athletes learning the game and have a chat with some of the locals.
Crime is in Port Vila but luckily most of it is petty and preventable for visitors. It’s a commonsense thing – you lock your house and car at home, why be trusting on holidays? Most ‘crime’ is in the form of things ‘going missing’. Most ni-Vanuatu people are extremely honest, but sometimes temptation can prove too much. One custom is for people to leave their shoes outside their house on entering. Let’s say you leave two pairs of shoes out overnight. In the morning you may find one pair ‘missing’ – usually the pair that was worse for wear. Someone who rationalised that ‘you have two pairs, I have none, you don’t need both pairs’ would have picked these up. This can be prevented by removing the temptation and opportunity. Having said that, in three years living in Vanuatu, nothing of ours ‘went missing’ and on our first visit, my wife left a small bag with money, passports and a camera in the taxi we took from the airport. The driver dropped the bag back to the hotel and refused to accept a ‘reward’ for his trouble.
There are two categories of cruises in Vanuatu. There are local cruises that offer day trips or sunset sailing cruises (Coongoola, Sailaway, Meridien Charters) and the visiting large cruise ships (like the Pacific Dawn, Pacific Pearl and Pacific Jewel). The large liners sometimes offer a fly-cruise option so you can have half a cruise and a land-based holiday. When the big cruise ships dock the town becomes busy with day-trippers shopping for duty-free, touring, riding scooters and generally partying. Weddings from the cruise ship are popular and are easily organised For more details on local cruising visit www.GoVanuatu.com, while information about large cruise liners visiting Vanuatu (including weddings for passengers) can be found at www.CruiseVanuatu.com.
The local currency unit is the Vatu. Traveller’s cheques or cash are easily converted into the local currency and can be exchanged when leaving at the airport. The banks will accept most major credit and debit cards and Goodies has the best rate for cash. The vatu is tied to the US, Japanese, Australia, British and French currencies, so it doesn’t fluctuate too much. Australian currency is widely accepted in Port Vila. For an approximate exchange rate, move the decimal point – 100 vatu = $1, 1000 vatu = $10 etc. (Currency Conversion)
The ni-Vanuatu are among the friendliest people in the world – however, for some reason ‘surly’ must be part of the job description for customs officials – not that they’re antagonistic – they just don’t smile. Maybe it’s got something to do with the responsibility of wearing a uniform… Anyway, on arrival you will be faced with two channels – one for residents and one for visitors. The residents queue is usually much shorter, so keep an eye on it if you’re in the other queue – when the residents pass through, the officer will signal for visitors to come to him. Any fruit or foodstuffs should be dumped in the bins on arrival. After collecting your baggage you will push your trolley past other customs officers who will probably take a peek in your duty free bags to see you are within the limit but rarely do they open any bags for inspection. (See Duty Free for allowances)
Customs officers also meet yachts that pull into the harbour and set up a mobile office for cruise ship passengers.
When it comes to traditional ni-Vanuati customs, sometimes the more you know leaves you with the feeling that you know even less. On the island Malekula, for example, over 30 different languages are spoken and there are many ancient rituals that may seem quite perplexing and bizarre to us. The kastom of the Naghol (land dive) on Pentecost is a far cry from the Nekowiar three-day ceremony on Tanna (features the Toka dance) but both are very much part of the traditional fabric. Many tourists only see some kastom dancing and a string band or three but those who want to delve into local culture will find it complex and rewarding.
There are a couple of Internet Cafés in the main street (the Naviti) in the complex opposite the markets, just down from the post office and another opposite Snoopy’s. Charges are by the minute and it’s not expensive to check or send email. The post office, goodies and some cafes also offer Internet facilities.
Cyclones do happen, usually in the summer months between November and March. There were no cyclones in 1999, 2000 or 2002 but two in early 2001 (March and April). Cyclones Paula and Tina did minimal damage although there is always mopping up to do, especially in the villages. Cyclone Pam in 2015, of course, was a doozy that did a lot of damage. You usually get a couple of days warning and can track the cyclone on the map to see its direction and ferocity. You get plenty of time before the cyclone shutters have to go up. Planes take off and land right up until it is about to hit so tourists can choose to leave (the plane will spend the duration of the cyclone offshore).
Those who stay in larger resorts will probably bed down on the floor of the ballroom or somewhere central and safe. Smaller resorts will ask guests to stay inside until the worst passes.
Most injuries come from people being hit with flying debris. A cyclone sounds as though a jet engine is revving outside. The actual cyclone may only last a few hours but sometimes rain and wind can hang around for a few days. You may hear the odd expatriate say something like ‘might as well drink our way out of it’ – which is not a bad suggestion. Even if you don’t drink, get together with some friends or new acquaintances and share the experience.
Surprisingly, children seem to be able to sleep through cyclones and collective fear can bring out the best in adults, in humour and camaraderie.
Cyclones have been a part of life in Vanuatu forever and are a reminder of the power of nature and the endurance of people. If you do get to experience one at least you’ll go home with a few stories! And spare a thought for some of the local people who had to go through it without substantial bricks and mortar, perhaps huddled in the roots of a Banyan tree.