Visitors Guide G
There are a number of galleries including Gallery Blong Vanuatu in the numbatu area, Michoutouchkine-Pilioko Foundation on Pango Road, L’Atelier Art Gallery. Diana Tam has a gallery in Ellouk (just down the lagoon from the Erakor Wharf and Le Lagon near Pacific Lagoon Apartments).
The biggest gambling in Vanuatu is online with some major players basing their organisations in Port Vila because of the low tax system. For offline gambling there are poker (slot) machines at Club 21 (upstairs at the Melanesian), Club Vanuatu (upstairs and downstairs) and at Palms Casino at the Holiday Inn. There is also a casino right in town at the Grand Hotel & Casino.
There are game fishing charter boats for hire – head to the Waterfront Bar and Grill and you will see the boats all lined up at the sea wall. You would be very unlucky to return without a catch and could be lucky enough to find marlin and fighting tuna. The boat ‘owns’ the catch, but the Waterfront will cook it for you that evening. Nautilus has three boats and know the reefs and waters. Each year there is the Vanuatu Marlin Classic game fishing tournament.
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 Beach Club. 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 gift ware and menu items are pure and organic – products of the orchards and plantations.
Most homes and resorts that have cooking facilities have gas (in bottles) for cooking and hot water as, in the past, electricity was not as reliable as it is today and would be interrupted by storms/cyclones. Origin Energy (formerly Boral) provides an efficient and reasonably inexpensive service (compared to the cost of electricity).
Some visitors are taken aback at the sight of a group of strapping ni-Vanutau men coming towards them carrying bush knives (machetes). Fear not, they are just carrying their tools of trade. Bush knives are great garden tools and handy for attacking coconuts. Plants flourish in the tropics and gardens need more attention than they do in cooler climates. All expatriates have gardeners, either full or part-time. This is not as ‘colonial’ as it sounds. If people did not employ gardeners, the locals would frown on them for not giving employment to the local community.
Gaua is the second largest of 60 islands making up the Banks and Torres Island groups in the far north of Vanuatu. Only 13 of them are inhabited, the others are tiny islets of white sand or volcanic rock. Also known as Santa Maria, Gaua is dominated by Mt Garet. It’s a semi-active volcano with a smoking crater, a large sulphur stained lake and Siri Falls, a 120m high waterfall. (more volcano info)
There is no ‘active’ gay scene in Port Vila and no exclusively gay resorts but people are pretty much accepted for whoever they are. It’s more a place where gay and lesbian couples in a relationship can have a romantic break rather than a gay singles destination.
Geckos are small, harmless lizards with adhesive pads on their toes. Mostly nocturnal, they wander the walls and ceilings, cack-cacking, mating and keeping the mosquito population down. Repeat – they are harmless. I’m repeating that because of a resort in Fiji that told me they had quite a few American tourists complaining that there were baby crocodiles in their room.
Vanuatu is in the heart of Melanesia, with Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to the north, Fiji to the east and New Caledonia to the southeast. For atlas readers, approximately 168E and 18S. The Vanuatu Archipelago is a Y-shaped 1300km long chain of four main islands and 79 smaller islands, of which 68 are inhabited. The islands themselves are mostly mountains of volcanic origin (several of the islands still have volcanoes) with narrow coastal plains and have a combined area of 12200 sq kms and a combined coastline length of 2528km. The lowest point is sea level, while highest is Tabwemasana at 1877m.
In July 2012 the population was estimated at 256,155 being 98% indigenous Melanesian, and the remainder being English, French, Vietnamese, Chinese, or other Pacific Islanders.
The principal religions are Presbyterian (36.7%), Anglican (15%), Roman Catholic (15%), indigenous beliefs (7.6%), Seventh-Day Adventist (6.2%), and Church of Christ (3.8%). There are three official languages – English, French, and Bislama – plus more than 100 local languages and dialects.
As mentioned in separate sections, getting around Port Vila and the island of Efate is easy (whether by hire car, a guided tour, bus or taxi). The outer islands are connected by planes but inter-island travel isn’t cheap. Buses charge VT150 for trips anywhere in Port Vila and, while taxis charge by the meter or have set fees for certain journeys, some drivers may negotiate a comparable fare for, say, four people. There are many streets in Vila with no names and very few with street numbers. Residents use post office boxes for all mail and landmarks are used for describing where someone lives. It is customary to draw a map on party invitations and to hang balloons on the gate to indicate the house. Another quirky address thing for delivery of gas etc is to use the name of the previous owner. For example, for three years I was known as ‘ex-Brian Blake’ even though the staff at Origin Energy knew my name. And when I left there was someone living in my old house who had the name ‘ex-Ian Heydon’… spooky.
There are gifts to suit all tastes and budgets – copy t-shirts, market trinkets and souvenirs like coconut shell bras (‘basket blong titi’) and carved boats. More substantial carvings (pigs, masks etc) can be found in shops like Goodies, Exotic Arts, The Drug Store and Vila Handicrafts. For perfume and jewellery go to Prouds, Paris Duty Free or Shiraz Duty Free. Fung Kwei has a range of duty free watches and electrical goods as does the Sound Centre. Sharper Image is also worth checking out.
‘Go finis’ (‘go finish’ in Bislama) means something comes to an end. When expatriates leave Vanuatu they have Go Finis parties and Go Finis garage sales.
The Holiday Inn and Le Lagon have golf courses but serious golfers should head to Mele (Port Vila Golf and Country Club). The course is pretty, well maintained and quite challenging. This is where most competition golf is played and it has a clubhouse that welcomes visitors. Interestingly, the longest drive award at one annual presentation evening was one of several kilometres when a ball smashed through the back window of a bus and made its way from Mele to Vila.
Goodies is a souvenir shop in the centre of town near the Island Time Café and it attracts visitors to the shop by providing the best rate of currency exchange in town. Rates are written on a board outside and are always a good couple of cents better than the banks and certainly way better than exchanging at a resort. On the souvenir front there can be excellent carvings and Volcanic Earth occupies a section of the shop. Goodies also has a booth opposite the ANZ and Westpac banks. Resorts the world over are notorious at giving poor exchange rates when you’d think they would provide a better service, just to keep the guests happy. I have the same argument for mini-bars and have no qualms about emptying them and re-stocking after a visit to the shops for alcoholic goodies – apart from the savings, hitting the shops is a great way to get a ‘feel’ for a place.
GOVERNMENT (GAVMAN IN BISLAMA)
Governments come and go in Vanuatu quite often as ministers may decide to change parties depending on the political climate. Unfortunately there is a tradition of corruption, as there is in most third world governments – from perks like misuse of government cars and expenses to bribery and misappropriation of funds. However, the government, at the time of writing, appears to be anti-corruption and solid in its endeavour to do the best for the country. Charlot Salwai, a former accountant, was elected Prime Minister of Vanuatu on 11 February 2016.
Vanuatu is an independent, democratic republic with a 50 member Parliament elected by the people every 4 years. The executive consists of a Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister who is elected by Parliament from among its members. The President is elected by Parliament and the National Council of Chiefs for a period of five years.
The Prime Minister and the 12 co-members of the council of ministers oversee the administration of Vanuatu’s 13 government ministries.
Independence was attained in 1980 after some 74 years of joint rule by Britain and France. The islands were then known as the New Hebrides and the system of government, the ‘condominium’, was know as the ‘pandemonium’.
The Constitution provides for executive and legislative arms of government, and the judiciary. The President is Vanuatu’s Head of State. The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and a Magistrates Court.
Vanuatu is a full member of the British Commonwealth, the French League of Nations, the United Nations, Agence de Co-operation Culturelle et Technique, the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Co-operation (SPEC), the South Pacific Commission, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (which has its regional headquarters in Port Vila).
Now… why is Parliament House (photo) sometimes called the Pizza Hut?
Guidebooks are pretty thin on the ground for Vanuatu. Lonely Planet is, as always, reliable. However, about half the book is on other islands apart from Efate where most visitors spend their holiday. Moon Handbooks South Pacific, written by David Stanley, is an excellent publication but is not available in shops in Australia and New Zealand. Visit the Vanuatu section of David’s website, The South Pacific Organiser.
As part of the condominium, the French dabbled in introducing capital punishment au Française in 1932 when they used the guillotine to decapitate six Vietnamese-French found guilty of murder. They are buried in the current graveyard minus their heads (in the Vietnamese section on the right when you enter).
One of the thrills of holidays is breaking routines but, if you want to work out, there’s a good gym attached to the tennis centre and squash courts (Cercle Sportif). There are aerobic and kickboxing classes at various times during the week and visitors of all fitness levels are welcome.