Visitors Guide D
Like ‘Antarctic’ and ‘high-rise’, you wouldn’t expect dentistry and third world to sit comfortably in the same sentence, but Vanuatu has a few very good dentists. Expatriates who have even had root canal treatment say Dr Herve Collard is as good, if not better, than those they have been to in Australia or New Zealand so, if you need emergency treatment – don’t worry!
Phone 22306 for Dr Herve Collard or Ken Hutton on 22604. There is also the popular “South Pacific Smiles” on 24995 or the new dental surgery “Novo Dental” impressing patients with its state-of-the-art dental equipment and facilities. The two fulltime resident Dental Surgeons at Novo Dental are Dr. Felipe Lemos and Dr. Marcel Cruz. Phone 26696.
There is an Airport Departure Tax of VT200 per person (except children under 12 years old), payable in local currency for domestic flights. International flights have the 3,000vt tax included as part of a return air ticket.
Devils Point can be found by going straight ahead at the roundabout between the Hideaway Island turnoff and Mele Cascades. It’s a pretty spot with black sand beaches and home to Benjor Beach Club, Island Magic and many residential and holiday homes. There’s horse riding at l’Hippocampus (Sea Horse Ranch) and picnic spots as well as good swimming and snorkeling.
Unfortunately the disabled facilities in Vanuatu are not up with many parts of the world although wheelchair access is fine in the major resorts. For personal advice on the best places to stay and attractions to visit, feel free to email for a chat as different disabilities have different needs (kayaking may be fine for some people, specific tours may suit others).
The Vanuatu Society for the Disabled may also be able to assist. Contact PO Box 373 Port Vila, Ph: 22321, Fax: 27633.
Poppy’s on the Lagoon has rooms with facilities for disabled guests.
Scuba diving in Vanuatu is usually excellent, in the dive sites themselves, accessibility, water temperature and visibility. There are a number of professional dive operators – Big Blue, Tranquility, Nautilus and resident operators on Hideaway Island.
Guests who stay at Le Lagon, Holiday Inn or Iririki will probably choose Nautilus as they offer free pool dives to guests in the Nautilus pool. Big Blue also offer free introductory pool dives. Some people choose to get their dive accreditation while on holidays because the compulsory dives (five) are in exotic locations in warm waters. You will however have to study the theory but better doing that poolside with a cocktail than in a cklassroom.
There are reef and wreck dives for the novice and experienced divers. Vanuatu is, of course, home to one of the worlds most sought after dives, The President Coolidge. The ‘Coolidge’ is off the island of Espiritu Santo and, as it is recommended only for the experienced (Advanced) divers who have several days to explore and then wait a day before flying out (due to potential decompression sickness at altitude).
There are many dive sights within half an hour of Port Vila. Dive costs vary depending on whether you have your own gear and how many dives you take – but as a guide… around VT7000 for an introductory dive and VT5000 for certified divers hiring all gear.
Ask the chemist in the Drug Store for advice (both on the doctors and ailments – he knows his stuff). There are good doctors who are well-versed in tropical ailments as well as general practice. These doctors are also available after hours and will visit patients in the resorts. Pro-Medical is a good service that also will come to you. Phone 25566.
Dress should be light and casual, but not too brief in public places. Sunbaking around the resort pool or on a beach is fine, but bathers shouldn’t be worn in town. A sarong is a useful accessory for covering up over a swimming costume as well as wrapping wet things in or using to lie on. Culturally, bare breasts are fine within a village but the ni-Vanuatu women generally ensure their legs (the thighs are considered the sexiest area on a woman) are covered, whether it be with a grass skirt or a ‘Mother Hubbard’ dress. Some tribal cultures dictate that women aren’t to wear shorts or slacks, although Port Vila is more liberal than the outer islands. Again, tropical clothes are fine for evening wear – ties are rare, even for people going to court or funerals. Ladies – the roads and footpaths are unkind to heels – better to wear a comfortable pair of flat soled shoes than make a fashion statement. A pair of reef shoes will come in handy, as will your own mask and snorkel.
The legal age for drinking is 18 but is rarely policed (a warning to those travelling with teenagers!). Alcohol can’t be purchased after midday Saturday through to Monday morning. Liquor outlets hours vary – 7:30am to 7:30pm in supermarkets and to 9:00pm elsewhere. Some shops close from 11:30 to 1:30. Drink driving is also illegal but rarely policed (a blood test may be taken after an accident). Visitors (especially those from Australia and New Zealand who are not used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road) should refrain from drinking and driving. Arrange for a bus or taxi to pick you up at a designated time. There is a taxi number to ring or you could ring your resort and ask for a taxi to be sent (the meter or fee will start at the point of hiring however). Kava is the local drink and the Vanuatu variety is considered the strongest in the South Pacific.
Driving is on the right hand side of the road, as it is in the USA and Europe but it takes little getting used to – just keep remembering ‘passenger footpath side’ or ‘steering wheel in the middle of the road’. Roundabouts can be a bit tricky and, if in doubt, give way. Seat belts are not compulsory and most locals don’t wear them. It’s recommended for visitors – not so much for your driving skills but for others on the road who may be in unroadworthy cars or in a state of kava relaxation. There are no roadworthiness tests for registration of vehicles although sometimes spot checks are held to see that cars have a handbrake and a horn that works. The rest of the car might be riddled with rust and blowing blue smoke but as long as the horn works – ‘i gud’. Go figure… Don’t be put off driving though – it really is safe and the other drivers are extremely polite (road rage hasn’t hit here yet!) – it’s customary to let other cars entering from side streets or car parks to cut in front of you – just wave or flash your lights. It’s also customary to stop and let pedestrians cross the road. There are also speed limits that aren’t policed but strangely, speeding doesn’t happen much. It probably has a lot to do with the number of people who walk on the side of the road, especially at night (Sorry, there we go scaring you again!).
The importation, possession and use of drugs such as marijuana, hashish, cocaine, heroin, LSD, amphetamines and all their derivatives is illegal and carries heavy penalties. There are only a few hard drugs in Vanuatu but occasionally you get a waft of marijuana (from tourists stupid enough to travel with it or from locals clever enough to grow a few plants for their own personal use). It would be fair to say that there is no local drug ‘problem’ in Vanuatu as such because kava is cheap, accessible and has a desired relaxing effect. Expats and cocaine/ecstacy/methamphetamines? Who knows – it would be an easy airport to bring substance through undetected.
Dugongs are rare, wonderful and friendly sea cows. Ancient, majestic and curious, swimming with one is a special treat. While it is taking a few years for some brochures to catch up with this, sadly the famous Port Resolution (Tanna) dugong died in 2000. People kayaking around the Blue Water area have spotted them. Sometimes one or two find their way into Erakor Lagoon. There is also a large, friendly one in Lamen Bay on Epi Island. It’s not widely advertised to those on visiting cruise ships because, as they say, two’s company and three hundred’s a crowd but small groups are welcome to meet and play with him/her. If arriving by small plane, the pilot will ‘buzz’ the dugong’s habitat to announce that some playmates have arrived. In Bislama a dugong is a kowfis (cowfish) and it is hard to explain to villagers that they are endangered.
The following duty free allowances apply:
- Inbound: Passengers over 15 years may bring in 200 cigarettes or 250g of tobacco or 50 cigars or 100 cigarillos, 1.5 litres alcohol and 2L wine, and 25cl litre eau de toilette and 10 centilitres perfume plus a total of VT20,000 in unused goods. Visitors’ personal effects are entered duty free. A duty free shop will be open for passengers on arrival for those who didn’t stock up on the way out.
- Local: There are a number of duty-free outlets in Port Vila, selling electrical goods, jewellery, alcohol, computer games and the like. Check out Fung Kwei, the Sound Centre, Laho Limited, Paris Shopping, Shiraz Duty Free and Prouds.
- Outbound: There is a duty free shop at the airport selling alcohol, tobacco products and perfume. However, a better range will usually be waiting airside when visitors return home (and it helps to kill a bit of time while the baggage is being unloaded from the plane). While there is a better selection, the prices in Vila are actually cheaper for cigarettes and alcohol. And it’s common for Duty Free shops that sell perfume in Vila to have a 20% to 30% sale on items already free of duty. Goods bought in Vila will be delivered to the airport for collection once you have gone through Customs.