Visitors Guide R
The Port Vila Racecourse, on the road to Mele before the golf course, is only used once a year, for the Kiwani Picnic Race Day, a charity day and a hoot for both expatriates and ni-Vanuatu people. There are many horse enthusiasts in Vanuatu, but not too many versed in the craft of riding against other horses and jockeys so there are a lot of spills.
Apart from the races there motor bike races, parachute jumping, ni-Vanuatu stalls selling local food, corporate boxes with chicken and champagne, ‘fashions-in-the-field’, great raffle prizes and tote betting where the person taking your money says, “thank you and good luck”. I’ve never heard a bookmaker anywhere else wish the punter luck! Don’t miss this if you are visiting Vila at the time (usually mid-July).
Comin’ to your lounge rooms live across the air waves. Radio Vanuatu patches into short and medium wave radio from 6:00am in the morning and then comes on live from their studio from 4:30pm. You can listen to radio Vanuatu by tuning into 98 on the FM dial. BBC World Service is another option and, at night, you can pick up Australian stations on most radios.
Rainbow Gardens grows some wonderful local produce like coriander, basil, snow peas etc – available at Centrepoint and Au Bon Marche supermarkets.
Real estate returns a good tax-free rental income, but up until recently there was little in the way of capital gains (there has been a property boom in the last couple of years). If relocating to Vanuatu was purely a lifestyle decision or you had ‘lazy’ money to invest, it could be well worth looking into but one gets the feeling that the present boom may burst. An investment of over 5 million vatu in Vanuatu gives automatic investment residency status. For advice on real estate, see Douglas Patterson at Island Property (Ph 24630), Sylvie Lowen at Alliance Realty (Ph 26600), Loic Bernier at Caillard Kaddour (22629) or Glen at First National.
A must for walking on the reefs and can be bought or hired – best bring your own or these days you find them at a reasonable price at most Chinese stores.
Predominantly Christian, but whatever you’re after Port Vila has it. The largest group is Presbyterian followed by Catholic and Anglican. Seven day Adventists have a following, as do the Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are also many and varied evangelists who come and go. In July 2002 the breakdown was estimated at Presbyterian (36.7%), Anglican (15%), Roman Catholic (15%), indigenous beliefs (7.6%), Seventh-Day Adventist (6.2%), and Church of Christ (3.8%). The balance was classified as ‘Other’ but included a goodly number of the followers of Jon Frum Cargo Cult and Muslim. Visitors are welcome to attend Sunday services at the local churches. Many of the shops and markets close on Sundays. Some Chinese-owned shops and supermarkets may be open and, at the resorts, it’s business as usual. Local pastors are licensed to marry visitors to the tropics and marriages are legally recognised in Australia and New Zealand. More information on our Weddings Vanuatu website. The celebrant in the photo is Pastor Gideon.
As mentioned under Investment, investors with 5,000,000 vatu can apply for residency. If you are a specialist in a certain area (say, a teacher, doctor, resort manager) you may be given residency, as long as you are not taking a job that could be filled by a local. Visitors are given an automatic three-month visa on arrival.
The resorts in Vanuatu have something to offer all travellers although none of them can boast a true ‘five-star’ rating. Very briefly… for families, Le Lagon, Holiday Inn, Poppy’s on the Lagoon, Paradise Cove, Fatumaru Lodge, Snorkeller’s Cove at Iririki … for couples, Eratap Beach Resort, Iririki Island Resort, Erakor Island Resort, Chantilly’s, Mangoes, Tamanu on the Beach, Vila Chaumières, Breaka’s Beach Resort, Sunset Bungalows and The Havannah (photo)… for divers – Hideaway Island Resort or Tranquility Island… for business travellers, Holiday Inn, The Melanesian, Chantilly’s … for budget travellers, Pacific Lagoon Apartments, Kaiviti Village Motel, Tradewinds, Vanuatu Holiday Hotel, Coconut Palms Resort, Mariners and Moorings. (see an overview under Accommodation or individual property listings)
Generally the restaurants are first class thanks to excellent beef and fish and some excellent chefs. Here’s a thumbnail guide to some of them (see also individual listings):
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.
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.
L’Houstalet (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.
Mangoes (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 placxe 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.
RETOKO ISLAND (HAT ISLAND)
Hat Island is a delightful spot for a day trip (diving/snorkelling/Beach BBQ) and Sailaway Cruises can take you there. Historically it is significant – see Roy Mata below.
The Rotary Club Of Port Vila is one of the larger local charitable organisations. Rotary has clubs around the world, which are run by local businesses women and men. Their money comes from fund raising and getting matching grants from sister clubs worldwide. Most recent works have been the refurbishment of Vila hospital, kits for kids providing schoolbooks and educational material and Safe Water Save Lives. Their long-term project in Vanuatu is Rotary Against Malaria.
Roy Mata is considered the greatest chief who brought peace between the warring tribes of Efate in the 13th century. His remains were discovered by French archaeologist, Jose Garranger, in 1967, along with his wives who would have opted to be buried with him, alive.
What’s amazing about the archaeological find is that it came about purely through oral history. The stories of Roy Mata were so accurate, the digs were easy to locate and revealed exactly what the stories had told. The grave was discovered on Eratoka or Hat Island (most international flights to and from Vanuatu fly over the island).
The remains are now on permanent display in the National Museum and Cultural Centre.
The Vanuatu Round The Island Relay is held towards the end of July each year. It’s a challenging 10-person relay race around the main island of Efate and part of the local Independence Day Celebrations. The 10 sections of the race are based on landmarks and terrain, shorter steep sections (the shortest is a hilly 11.6km) and longer flat sections of up to 16km. Each year there are about 30 teams entered, mostly made up of local runners, but for the last few years approximately six international teams have entered. The day is a cause for a festival atmosphere around the whole island.