Malakula, one of the 83 islands of Vanuatu turned out to be a pleasant surprise and a great destination when we visited in April this year. The outer islands of Vanuatu have a reputation of being a hard post and only for those working or the adventure seeking. Often the conditions are poor, no running water, bad accommodation, limited foodstuffs, and the dreaded rats etcetera. But as we pulled into the Lakatoro Trading Company (LTC) general store to get our room keys, I was impressed with what I saw. A well-organised store with just about everything one could need. Now we’re not talking DJ’s Food Hall here and nor could you find a pair of CK jeans hanging from the racks. But you could buy a cold beer to wash down your fresh baguette and French cheese role at lunch and a cabinet sauvignon to go with your beef stew for dinner. It had the basics, and as the basics go they were well stocked.
Our accommodation, the LTC bungalows, were yet another surprise, a well sized, fully contained bungalow with bedroom, lounge, bathroom, and kitchen including cooking and refrigeration facilities. But the biggest surprise was in the bedroom where they had a brand new air-conditioner. So new the remote controls were still kept under lock and key and in plastic bubble wrap in the main office. The air–conditioners were a new thing I was later told along with the twenty four hour power. Either way I got to live out my fantasy of four white walls, and a bug free air-conditioned room. It was a great relief from the hot summer nights of Vila and we slept blissfully well in cool mozzie free comfort. Of course this is not the only accommodation. There are plenty of other bungalows to choose from but, from what I could gather, this was the most sophisticated and popular with expats.
Before you come to Malakula it’s a good idea to have your accommodation and tours booked. This can be done through any of the inter island tour operators in Vila. It is necessary to book tours before you go because once you’re there it not easy to get around unless you’ve organised transport and got yourself a guide. There are many tours to choose from both half day and full; jungle trekking, waterfalls, villages, custom dancing, snorkelling and swimming. The visitor to Malakula is in for a feast of sights, sounds and culture. The sheer depth and breadth of the jungle, the fabulous blue pacific waters, and a unique look at village life are some of the things you can expect.
There is also custom (kastom). The Big and Small Numbas are the two tribes of Malakula who have maintained their traditional culture. As our travelling companions said, “things are done by kastom here”. The running of the village, any problems, and the role of villagers all comes down to the chiefs. And from what I could tell they do an excellent job. Everybody has a role, and everybody is included. The villages of Malakula are well laid out something similar to an old French village with the town square, the church, a school and shops. The only difference is the buildings are grass huts.
When travelling to the islands always check with your booking agent about food and water supply, as you may need to take your own. It is always a good idea to travel with a good first aid kit, which includes water purifiers, and when in the islands it is advised to take anti-malarial tablets. If however, these make you sick be sure to take with you a long pair of pants and a long sleeved shirt to be worn in the morning and at dusk when mosquitos are at there worst. Shoes and socks are also a good idea as well as RID on any exposed skin.
Malakula has plenty to offer those seeking something other than your resort style holiday. The islands of Vanuatu really are a different time and place and the visitor to Malakula will return with a greater insight to the people and the country called Vanuatu.
- Malakula is the second largest island in the archipelago.
- Population: 20,000.
- Languages spoken: over 30.
- Culture: Ritual. Big Nambas (northern hills) and Small Nambas (south) wear penis sheathes made from banana or pandanus leaves that reflect the names. Kastom dances have mythical significance.
- Art: Sand drawings, tall head-dresses, clay heads, puppet figures, masks.