Visitors Guide E
Vanuatu has active volcanoes and lots of activity down below. In fact, tremors happen daily but are so small they go unnoticed. Every couple of weeks you get a little one that some people notice. In Bislama it’s called a ‘kraon i shekshek (ground he shake-shake). In January 2002 there was a beauty – 7.5 on the Richter – which resulted in a couple of buildings being condemned and a lot of insurance claims. We lost plates, glasses and a television and the lagoon in front of our house totally drained and filled again in minutes. This is not a reason not to come to Vanuatu. Even the big one had no loss of life or major injury and remember, New Zealand has even more shakes and even Australia can be hit (Newcastle 1991).
‘Entrée of pan-seared scallops and black sausage served with pickled roast capsicum’ followed by a main course of ‘New Zealand salmon cooked in parchment with sautéed vegetables, petite salad and aioli’? Tempting? Absolutely!
This isn’t off a posh menu in Double Bay, Toorak, Milton or Parnell but from the menu at Tilly’s. Port Vila (affectionately known as ‘Vila’) has a smorgasbord of fine restaurants with chefs competing to give diners the best of imported and local produce with creative flair and laid back but efficient service. French cuisine, Thai, Chinese, Mediterranean, Asian Fusion, Tapas, crepes or a burger with the works – Vila has it all.
The restaurants in Vila are arguably as good if not better than Australian dining and, as you will discover below, there are plenty to choose from!
Local Poulet fish, a kind of red snapper with very white meat without many bones, is delicious, the organic Vanuatu Beef is the best we’ve ever tasted, and local fresh fruits and vegetables, (which you can buy from the market along with the restaurateurs) contribute to the many and varied culinary experiences to be had in Vila.
For good quality restaurants you’ll pay about the same as good Australian restaurants (think around $15 to $20 for entrée and $25 to $35 for mains). There’s no tipping and there are many good value options…
The lobster and poulet dishes in the top two photos are from Tamanu on the Beach…
Just a word on Coconut Crab – this is one of Vanuatu’s most famous and tastiest of dishes but the poor crabs are endangered due to restaurant demand leading to young crabs being supplied – coconut crabs have to reach an age of four years before they can reproduce and not many of them were reaching this age. Most restaurants have taken the crab off the menu for now but if you find one, please resist the temptation and go for the local lobster or Teouma prawns…
The following are subjective comments (and did we enjoy doing the research!)…
Aqua on Erakor
Erakor Island Resort’s restaurant is a great spot for lunch or dinner and reasonably priced. The specialty is seafood, the chef is excellent and the outlook is very pretty. Just five minutes from town on a bus and five minutes across the lagoon on the ferry.
Aquana (Eratap – on the way to Eratap Resort)
This pretty little spot has become a bit of a favourite for the local winers and diners. Especially lovely to linger over lunch under a shady tree down by the water’s edge. Both the menu and service is of a consistently high standard.
Au Pèche Mignon (opposite the markets near Prouds Duty free)
Cakes, pastries, and chocolates to die for – Wednesday morning crepes are good value – cooked fresh and inexpensive (citron et sucre… mmmm). Also makes 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 but a great place watch the passing parade. In French it means the ‘little sin’ (temptation), not the ‘little peach’ and the chocolates are certainly tempting.
Used to be called La Bodé Vila. Has a nice relaxed harbour ambience (near Moorings)with well-priced lunches. It is a popular spot with the local Expats and a nice little spot to wrap up the day (Happy Hour 5pm-6pm to lead into sunset).
On the beach opposite Hideaway Island this busy little bar serves up excellent wood-fired pizzas and burgers (also good curry) – inexpensive and relaxed. If you have kids, go on the Friday night for the fire twirling show. It’s a great family night and a good way to meet the local expats!
Benjor Officer’s Club
A good lunch spot, about 15 minutes out of town on Devils Point Road. Think Mediterranean with an Asian influence.
Breaka’s Beach Resort (Pango Road, past Le Lagon)
There is both a bar and restaurant menu with a good variety. The setting is great by the pool and ocean. If it is a fine evening they will set you a table on the beach under the stars – just beautiful!
Chill Restaurant & Bar
Above Sea View to the left of the markets (take the stairs to the right). Chic, classy and value, especially their lunch specials – 1200 vatu (AUD$12.80) for a choice of main courses including a beer/wine/soft drink in an air-conditioned setting with harbour views.
A fine dining option at the Grand with an extensive wine list (or head to the Hemisphere Bar for High Tea or pre/post dinner drinks). One of the more expensive options.
A new contemporary restaurant with a beautiful outlook. Well worth a visit for quiet lunch or dinner. Head on out past the Ships Port.
Eratap Beach Resort (30 minutes from Port Vila)
While it is a distance from town, it could be just the thing for a lazy afternoon but you must book ahead. Take swimmers, towel and snorkel gear but bookings are essential.
Flaming Bull Steakhouse (before Chantilly’s/Moorings on other side of the road)
Part of the Office Pub, this is a steakhouse in a beer garden atmosphere. We get good reviews from travellers, especially for the steaks. Family friendly.
Golden Port Chinese Restaurant
In former lives this has been The Galley, cartoonist Larry Pickering’s home, Kan Pai Japanese and Le Rendezvous which, despite the French name, was famous for the Hungarian goulash. The reataurant has great views over the harbour and Iririki Island Resort, with ample parking, opposite the Melanesian Hotel. Nice location – according to the locals, still settling in.
Harbourview Chinese (just out of town airport end)
Yes, views of harbour and excellent Chinese menu – Not really cheap but feels like value because of the standard of cuisine… it will set the benchmark for Chinese back home!
Hideaway Island (15 mins from town, five mins on the ferry)
Snacks for snorkelers – not ideal for dinner for non-staying guests because of the ferry/bus ride to get there, but for lunch it’s fine if you are there for a snorkel.
Jill’s Café (near the ANZ bank, main street)
Jill is American and she does fine American brekkies with hash browns or pancakes with bacon and lashings of maple syrup. Jill’s has a great name for well-priced, good sized lunches like burgers and milk shakes – but leave your diet at the door. Port Vilas answer to McDonalds – but far better!
Kan Pai (Wharf Road)
You will not be disappointed if you like Japanese cuisine. Another favourite with the locals. A different harbour view perspective.
A friendly good value spot for Italian/French – turn left heading out of town at the Kaiviti Motel – on the next corner.
At Starfish Cove (about 10 mins from town). Stylish with contemporary décor (feels like you are on the deck of a ship looking out at the water).
Previously where the famous Rossi restaurant was located on the harbour. It is a good spot to stop for a morning coffee, lunch or dinner.
Le Lagon’s main restaurant. It is a good ‘resort’ restaurant and has themed nights (Melanesian feasts etc).
Le Café du Village (opposite Iririki)
Lovely setting, French, sashimi etc – can be excellent, can be ‘okay’ depending. You can also just drop in for coffee and look across the harbour to Iririki.
This is the Holiday Inn’s restaurant – another resort restaurant with a good chef… but it feels like a ‘resort’ restaurant. The resort’s Melanesian Feast is on Thursday nights and you can get burgers and snacks by the pool.
(just past Au Bon Marche supermarket on the other side of the road on the way to Pango/Erakor Island) An institution in Vila – the menu hasn’t changed for over 30 years and maitre d’ Clement Martinez will look after you. He sometimes has a small value blackboard menu and is well priced on a la carte – no view, but atmosphere is good and they make a great pizza – also has the French stuff like snails on the menu and, for those willing to sample something different – wild pigeon or flying fox. Steaks are always reliably good.
(Seaside, up the road from Poppy’s on the Lagoon) It gets good reviews for both the food and service (again, good steaks).
Part of Iririki Island Resort – delightful harbour location – perhaps a little ‘formal’ in atmosphere but the service is relaxed – more an ‘occasion’ place unless you’re staying there – the adjacent bar snacks are good value.
Moorings (just past Chantilly’s from town)
A nice little restaurant and good value for hearty steaks and has Rumours nightclub adjacent. There is a Sunday Roast from 5:30pm that is a hit with the locals and guests.
Nambawan Café (harbour front near the new markets)
Great spot for a coffee/snack/juice and well-priced – owner Ivan shows free moonlight movies a few nights a week.
Paradise Cove Italian Restaurant and Bar (Pango Road)
They serve a varied international cuisine with mixed reviews. The restaurant is part of Paradise Cove Resort and is about 15 minutes from town (or 20, depending on the potholes). Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a pick up and return transfer to your hotel can be arranged. Go in time to watch the sunset and ask for one of the two tables next to the water.
Up the hill past Government House. If you like Korean you are on to a winner.
Spice (opposite Au Bon Marché Numbatu)
An authentic and popular Indian Restaurant. Perhaps not a good choice for location and ambiance, but excellent for authentic Indian food. Butter Chicken has never tasted better!
Sunset Bungalows (Bungalow: Ate)
Just past Vila Chaumières right on the lagoon, this is a pretty spot with a deck over the water. They have weekly chef specials and sensational eye fillet steaks.
Tamanu on the Beach (20 mins out of town)
Lovely setting on the beach for lunch – gets pricey with lots of wine but the blackboard specials are very good value. If lobster tail salad is on the menu it came from the waters you are looking out at that morning.
Thai (up the hill from town)
This is the Melanesian’s restaurant –the Thai dishes are fine and well-priced but the service can be patchy.
One of the most up market Restaurants and Resorts on Efate, you are best going for lunch because of the drive. Plus of course, you can then make the most of the stunning views and ambience. Serving Pacific Rim Cuisine, the menu and service will not disappoint. Don’t take your children – this is strictly an Adults Only Resort!
Tilly’s (airport end of town – a walk from town)
A good restaurant because of the original chef’s vision – tapas, NZ lamb etc… ask for a table outside overlooking the harbour and if it is for dinner, consider an early one because the sunsets can be spectacular… While part of a resort it doesn’t feel like it.
Another good Chinese and favoured by many locals – just up from La Parisienne bakery before heading on to the Holiday Inn roundabout (or up the hill and straight ahead past the roundabout on the right if coming from the Holiday Inn). For visitors, there are more attractive options for ambience and views.
Romantic location with the lagoon lit at night. Good French food (the Beef Wellington is the signature dish but only for those who really like paté). The service can seem a little starched on occasions but the location is great… it’s a little out of town (5 minutes by taxi/bus). Table 4, out over the water is the best in the house to enjoy the floodlit lagoon and fish skimming across the surface.
Best visited by day, take a pretty half hour drive out of town past Cascade Falls and over the hills to the Havannah Harbour. You won’t get fish any fresher than here, in fact the chances are you will see some come in and weighed. The Smoked Sail Fish Sashimi is to die for and the Deep Fried Whole Poulet is a real treat.
Warhorse Saloon Bar (on your left driving out towards Mele Village)
Complete with singing moose heads, covered chuck wagons and other obscure memorabilia from the Wild West. A great wet weather hangout with karaoke and pool tables. A great place to take the family for a fun night out. Good for ribs and pizza.
Waterfront Bar & Grill (opposite Iririki, next to Anchor House)
Good for a snack and the T-Bones are huge – also specialises in Mexican. Great setting for evening drinks and if you present your boarding pass or plane ticket within 24 hours of arriving you get a free glass of wine, beer or soft drink. There is live entertainment some nights and it is a good place for visitors to get a ‘feel’ for the town.
Iririki’s ‘second’ restaurant – a little more casual, still with good service – have only tried it twice but had a very nice Asian chicken noodle dish and great fillet steak (and well-priced as well).
Le Lagon’s other restaurant, adjacent to the Lagoon Terrace offers excellent Asian Fusion cuisine including Teppanyaki with 5-star décor. Not cheap, but recommended.
For the best pies in town – La Parisienne bakery – also from the Chew Store in town (up the hill from Mega Mall). For the best BBQ chickens for that picnic on weekends – Traverso Frère (near La Parisienne).
Or, drop into the supermarkets, grab a bâtarde (French loaf) and some meat/salad and make up a sandwich. Most supermarkets and shops sell nems (spring rolls) and, for the adventurous there’s always lap-lap at the markets…
Of course, you won’t have time to sample all the restaurants in town so to pick our favourites at the moment – for breakfast Au Peche Mignon or Nambawan Café… for lunch: Chill Restaurant, Tamanu on the Beach, Eratap or The Wahoo Bar… for dinner, Elan, Harborview Chinese or Breakas.
And for our pick of the best traditional Melanesian Feast – Thursday nights at Erakor Island Resort (with fire dancing) and Friday nights at Ekasup Cultural Village.
A few nice spots for pre-dinner drinks:
On the sixth floor of the Grand with great views – quite stylish – and there is the casino on the ground floor. Or for a more casual drink before heading out… (below photo – they don’t have large spiders on arms outside Ekasup Cultural Village…)
The Anchor Inn
Vanuatu’s cruising yacht club (airport end of town) has a harbour location and a nice beer garden setting.
Waterfront Bar & Grill
Thatched roof, on the harbour, clinking against the masts on yachts, reflections, Iririki Island just across the water…
And if you want to kick on after dinner…
Located at Moorings Hotel – 2 for 1 drinks every Thursday night. Normally will have some sort of drink special promoting a certain alcohol etc. Has a pool table as well as a dance floor. Music ranges from top 40 to a small amount of dance. Each drink is around 700 vatu.
Smaller ‘pub‘ located behind The Beef House – can get quite busy – this is the ‘go to’ venue for the local expatriate young crowd. Has a wide range of about 25 different shots including ‘marshmallow candy’, ‘callipo’ and the famous ‘flaming voodoo’ which is a must do if you are young enough and silly enough! Drinks start from around 400 vatu. The nightclub takes song requests and will play anything from the 70’s 80’s 90’s as well as dance R&B and top 40.
Modern club with a silver and red décor. Large dance floor, is located up a flight of stairs above the main street. Drinks start from about 800 vatu. Music ranges from Top 40 as well as popular 70’s and 80’s music.
After tourism, the economy is mainly based around agriculture – copra, cattle, cocoa and coffee. The ni-Vanuatu people in outlying areas rely on traditional subsistence farming, clearing patches of bush or jungle to meet basic daily requirements. Vanuatu is a tax haven. There is no income tax, corporate tax, capital gains tax, withholding taxes or death duties. There is a 12.5% government tax on all goods, which is included in the price.
Because it is a tax haven, there are a number of accountants in Port Vila to assist those wishing to invest or base an international company in Vanuatu. The facilities and the expertise available through the members of the Vanuatu Finance Centre Association are world standard.
In 2000 Vanuatu’s GDP was US$257 million, with 26% from agriculture and 62% from service industries, and growing at 2.7% pa. Agriculture employs 65% of the workforce and 30% in services. Principal commodity exports are copra, kava, beef, cocoa, timber, coffee with main export partners being Japan, Belgium, US and Germany. Apart from agriculture and tourism, other important industries are food and fish freezing, wood processing, and meat canning.
Vanuatu 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, many successful years on with a bus, a business licence, some bikes, excellent support guides and still a lot of enthusiasm (and insurance!) Vanuatu now has ecotours with a difference.
Check out Trip Advisor – many, many happy customers and here is a link to Pascal’s Vanuatu Ecotours website.
Phone (678) 25299 or mobile (678) 54 03 506.
Efate is the main island of Vanuatu in that it’s home to the capital Port Vila (see separate listing). The drive around the island is around 140km (but because of the condition of the road is a 4 hour journey). The island is dotted with beaches, resorts and places of cultural and historical interest.
EKASUP VILLAGE CULTURAL TOUR
Ekasup offers a village cultural experience near Port Vila. There’s a 5 minute walk through rainforest to get to the village to gain an insight into traditional village life. Watch and marvel at the ceremonies, taste traditionally cooked food and find out how they caught it. Discover what the values were and what was important – for example, to a young man, the best wives were the one’s who were the best cooks, not the best lookers. Learn how to fish with a spider’s web and discover what breast-feeding mothers did when their nipples clogged up, all in the comfort of a traditional village. The Ekasup tour is available through all tourist operators or can be pre-booked. Yes, it is a tourist attraction, but a damn good one and it is a way of passing traditional kastom down the generations. For more info on this and other activities – www.GoVanuatu.com.
220-280 volts AC, mainly three-point plugs in hotels (same as Australia & New Zealand). Some places, built by the French, take European two point plugs. If resorts have these, they will have adaptors at reception. Adaptors can also be bought at Fung Kwei (airport end of town).
The tyranny of distance and cost of international phone calls has made email a necessity for expatriates in Vanuatu. All resorts and tourist attractions also have email, most have web sites. You can check/send email at the Naviti Cybercafe opposite the markets and at the post office. There’s another Internet cafe in the arcade opposite Ma Barkers and Snoopy’s next to the Coongoola Cruise office.
The British High Commission closed in 2005 but the French still have 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.
EMERGENCY TELEPHONE NUMBERS
Fire telephone 22 333, Police telephone 22 222, Ambulance telephone 22 100. However, the above may be operating on ‘island time’. In the event of a medical emergency and the need for non-island time assistance ring ProMedical on 25566.
‘Entertainment’ means different things to different people. For a thumbnail guide to dining, see Eating Out and/or Restaurants. For pre-after dinner drinks there’s the Port Vila Pub, the Anchor Inn, Club Vanuatu, the Waterfront Bar & Grill, l’Houstalet, the bar at Café du Village, Chantilly’s, the Hemisphere at the Grand or Voodoo Bar. The resorts all have bars and there are occasional themed nights (Melanesian feasts, trivia nights around the pool etc). Rumours Nightclub at Moorings Hotel can be a good place for a meal and drink till late.
On the whole, the environment in Vanuatu is in pretty good shape. However, ‘clean’ rubbish like cans and polystyrene food containers can be seen on the side of the roads and in parks etc. It’s a bit like Australia a few decades ago when people just threw their rubbish out without thinking. There are campaigns to stop this and it seems to be working. On your visit you may see two signs/bumper stickers ‘Rispektum Vanuatu’ (Respect Vanuatu) and ‘No sakem toti albaot’ (Don’t chuck ‘dirty’ all about).
Epi is a delightful island, north of the main island of Efate. It has black sand and white sand beaches, excellent snorkelling and a resident, friendly dugong (sea cow). The local people are very friendly and welcoming as is Epi Guest House owned by Rob and Alix Crapper (Ph 24844). There are regular flights to Lamen Bay and Valesdir.
Erakor Island is a small island in Erakor lagoon (opposite Le Lagon Resort) and home to Erakor Island Resort The resort welcomes non-staying visitors to swim off the sandy beach, use the watersports facilities, bar and restaurant. The open-air chapel is a romantic spot for a wedding. There are also the graves of a missionary family and it’s a lovely island to just walk around (non resident guests should ask for permission first). It’s five minutes from Vila to the 24 hour ferry (five minute ride across the lagoon). Aqua on Erakor Restaurant is a great spot for lunch or dinner, you can get some pampering at the Essence on Erakor Day Spa and, on Thursday nights, there is a fabulous Melanesian Feast and traditional cultural show on the beach with fire dancing (non-staying guests also welcome).
ERAKOR ISLAND RESORT
There are 35 rooms/bungalows at Erakor Island Resort, which has undergone a full renovation. There are Garden Rooms, Family Loft Villas, Deluxe Spa Bungalows and Aqua Blue, a four bedroom beach house. The island itself is 16 acres of tropical rainforest. The resort offers non-motorised water sports as part of the tariff and has the Essence on Erakor Day Spa for massage and pampering and the historic open-air chapel for weddings. New ownership brought total refurbishment of the bungalows and Aqua on Erakor restaurant as well as landscaping and attention to the beach areas.
The only negative comment we’ve heard about the Spa Bungalows came from a couple who found the distant gentle waves lapping annoying (these bungalows are on the reef side of the island) and they asked to be moved to a bungalow on the still lagoon. Takes all kinds!
Contact us regarding Erakor Island Resort
Erakor Lagoon is a pretty, tropical lagoon (picture postcard in parts) but it’s been pretty much fished out. It can be explored in a canoe or on a catamaran or windsurfer. Warwick Le Lagon, Erakor Island Resort and Pacific Lagoon Apartments are near the mouth of the lagoon.
ERATAP BEACH RESORT
Eratap Beach Resort is one of the two upmarket boutique resorts with excellent facilities and a terrific restaurant. It is about 20 minutes from Port Vila (depending on the state of the road as you near the resort). Getting off the beaten track is a real contrast to the oasis that awaits.
There are well-appointed villas (two with own plunge pools), a very nice swimming pool and lots to discover in the lagoon and off the beach. The snorkelling, diving and fishing are excellent. On one visit spinner dolphins were frolicking on the lagoon side while a school of large fish broke the surface just off the beach. Somewhere rather special!
Contact us regarding Eratap Beach Resort
Erromango Island was also known as Martyr’s Isle because of the number of missionaries who died there. One of the larger islands, it once had a population of more than 10,000 people but it is now sparsely populated (see Blackbirding, Sandalwood Traders and Missionaries). Erromango and Aneityum were the islands with the longest exposure to missionaries and white man’s disease resulted in a 95% decrease in population. It’s a rugged, mountainous and heavily forested island with some kauri trees a thousand years old. There are also several species of mango, hence the name.
Espiritu Santo Island (known mostly as ‘Santo’) is the largest island in Vanuatu. Luganville is the country’s second largest urban centre and was an operations base for the US army in WWII. The army left behind airfields and bomber wrecks as well as the famous dive sites, Million Dollar Point and the President Coolidge. There are around 20 excellent dive sites off Santo.
It’s also a scenic island and home to Blue Hole, Champagne Beach and Vanuatu’s first National Park, the recently opened Vatthe Conservation Area. It’s set on 2300ha of protected jungle with 15km of sandy beaches (Big Bay and the Jordan River). It’s home to coconut crabs, flying foxes, boa-snakes, and turtles (October to December). Santo produces much of Vanuatu’s exports – cocoa, coffee, coconuts and quality beef.
Eton Beach (pronounced Etton) is one of my favourite spots on Efate. It’s about a forty-minute drive on the new road that bypasses White Sands. There is an entry fee (550vt for a car or the listed price for individuals), which the local people use to maintain the area. There’s a barbecue hut and toilets but the attraction is the beach itself.
It’s only small, but it’s sheltered and you can snorkel, swim, play volleyball or fish off the breakwater. A freshwater spring empties into the cove so you can get rid of any sand and salt by jumping into the cool, clear fresh water.
Hire a car, or your own bus with a driver to get there.
EVENTS AND FESTIVALS
Festivals of culture and big parties to celebrate past historical events are on most of the time in Vanuatu. Whether it’s the Tusker Vanuatu Golf Open, the Independence Day celebrations, or Kiwanis Race Day, Vanuatu has a lot of special events.
Evergreen Tours has an office at the Chantillys end of town and it’s run by Mele people. You can buy your ticket to Cascades Waterfall and other tours there and jump on a bus rather than pay for an organised tour. For a Cascade visit combined with adrenalin you can now abseil down the falls with The Edge (book at Evergreen).
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)
Expatriates (expats) have settled in Vanuatu from all over the world and ‘expat’ is simply the term used to describe pretty much any white person. They say that expats fall into one of three categories – missionaries, mercenaries or misfits – which, we guess, is pretty much the case.
This may seem a silly heading, but careful observation will see locals communicating with their eyebrows. The raising of eyebrows can mean ‘hello’ or ‘yes’ and you can even flag down a bus with a facial expression. Likewise, you may hear people ‘hissing’ at each other. This is a way of grabbing another person’s attention and it is so refined a person may single one person out in a group across a street. The hiss is personal and it’s a bit like a mother being able to pick her own baby’s cry at playgroup.