Visitors Guide S
Vanuatu is a very safe place, but it’s amazing how people let their guard down when on holidays. Tourists all over the world are easy targets for theft. They carry money, passports and cameras and are easily distracted when surrounded by new cultures and surroundings.
On the whole, the ni-Vanuatu pride themselves on their honesty and politeness but petty theft does occur. Don’t leave shoes or towels outside your room at night, leave valuables in your hotel, lock cars – basically, take the precautions you would at home.
BTW, there is no world for ‘stolen’ in Bislama – but from time to time things might simply ‘go missing’.
A number of resorts provide non-motorised sailing craft for guests free of charge, particularly the larger ones like Le Lagon, Holiday Inn and Iririki Island Resort. For serious sailing as crew see Yachting.
Halfway between Fiji and the Cook Islands is Samoa – the beautiful white sand beaches, blue-green waters, swaying palm trees and friendly locals will undoubtedly seduce you as will fa’a Samoa (the Samoan way). Whether it’s romance, soft adventure or a family holiday you’re looking for, there’s accommodation and activities to suit all tastes and budgets. Visit Samoa A To Z for more information.
Sandalwood was in great demand in China for making incense in the 1800’s and Erromango was the main target for traders from 1820 – 1860. The traders didn’t particularly get on with the local people and, indeed, some of them ended up being killed and eaten. The antagonism reached its height in the 1840s when nine ships were attacked and the sailors taken. The traders retaliated by chasing natives into a cave and lighting a fire at the entrance, killing them all through suffocation. The cave still exists. Some missionaries also met their end as a form of retaliation against the traders.
Coincidentally, one of the missionaries to meet a nasty end (1839) was John Williams, the reverend who introduced Christianity to Samoa. The plaque on the memorial on Beach Road in Apia reads:
JOHN WILLIAMS PIONEER MISSIONARY OF THE LONDON MISSIONARY SOCIETY IN THE PACIFIC LANDED IN SAMOA AUGUST 24 1830. MARTYRED IN ERROMANGO AND BURIED NEAR THIS SPOT. THIS STONE COMMEMORATES THE FIRST 100 YEARS CHRISTIANITY IN SAMOA. 1930.
The island of Espiritu Santo. more commonly known as Santo, is Vanuatu’s largest island and second business centre. It was an important American base during WWII and the army left behind airfields and wrecks that make for great scuba diving. The island’s biggest attraction is the 1930’s luxury liner, the SS President Coolidge, which is sunk in 20m to 70m of water just a walk/swim from the shore. With jeeps, trucks, weapons and an amazing array of sea life, this is arguably the world’s best wreck dive. The island also has fantastic scenery including the much-photographed Champagne Beach, Blue Hole and Oyster Island. Santo is important to the country’s economy and produces export quality beef, cocoa, coffee and timber. The capital, Luganville, is a sleepy town that sprawls along the waterfront. It has a certain run-down charm, as there are many reminders of how it once saw much busier times.
Vanuatu Seaplanes has scenic flights, romantic island options, ‘Flights of Fire’ (volcano) and seaplane fishing. Visit www.vanuatuseaplanes.com or ring 5554200.
Simon and Jeremy operate Vanuatu Helicopters from the Nambawan Café on the harbor for charter, scenic flights, volcano trips, the land dive on Pentecost, a posh drop in to Tamanu on the Beach for lunch or a day of romance and relaxation on your own private beach. Phone 25 022 or 5547147 or visit www.vanuatuhelicopters.com. Unity Airlines is also available for charter – phone 24 475 or 774475.
For expatriates there are two main schools. The French School follows the traditional French curriculum from primary through secondary. Port Vila International School starts at pre-school through to year ten and follows the Queensland curriculum. There are plans in place to introduce correspondence school on site for years 11 and 12.
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.
The plane is available for scenic flights around the main island of Efate, for romantic private beach picnics on Moso Island (where Survivor was filmed), for ‘Flights of Fire’ (to the volcano).
There’s a lot to see from the air and a lot of water to land on.
Phone 5554200 or visit www.vanuatuseaplanes.com.
Yes, you’ll see them in the lagoon and you really shouldn’t touch them. The usual story is that their mouths are so tiny they could only open wide enough to bite the webbing between a baby’s fingers. Not having a baby to test this theory, we’re not willing to offer our own webbing to prove/disprove this.
Yes, there are sharks. There was the tragic taking of a 7-year-old New Zealand girl in June 2005 off the island of Malekula. However, sharks are not that common, especially around the main island of Efate. If a shark is spotted in Port Vila Harbour there will be a momentary break to swimming activities while the shark is monitored and, after a few days, all returns to normal.
An important industry to Vanuatu, almost every business relies in one way or another on shipping goods into the country. This explains the containers dotted all around town.
The shopping strip is situated on the main road, Lini Highway, down town. There are actually two ‘main roads’ both one way in opposite directions. Vila has a number of duty free stores, souvenir outlets, several supermarkets and a lot of Chinese stores filled with really interesting stuff.
There is a two-hour lunch break in Vanuatu for office workers, from eleven thirty to one thirty. Some shops will close over this time but the supermarkets and some smaller stores remain open. However we recommend, you embrace this custom with gusto. It’s amazing the difference a ten-minute nap in the middle of the day will make.
A few restaurants serve snails that are farmed for eating (l’Houstalet always has them on the menu). There are some nasty African snails on the island, though. These are large with very attractive shells but should not be picked up as their slime is very toxic.
The snakes in Vanuatu are not poisonous and there are two types – small burrowing snakes and larger boas (pythons). Most ni-Vanuatu people are scared of snakes. On Santo, Erromango and Ambae custom says that the souls of ancestors live in snakes. On Tanna, custom says that evil is embodied in the snake. While they aren’t poisonous, they can give you a nasty nip if they’re angry so still best to look and not touch unless you are offered a docile, well-fed one in the botanical gardens.
Snorkelling in Vanuatu is brilliant and so accessible. There is fantastic snorkelling to be had all around Vila. Some of the easiest spots are Hideaway Island and behind Iririki Island as well as with organised cruises like Meridien Charters. There is an abundance of coral reefs and tropical fish to be seen just below the surface of the water. A disposable underwater camera can be an excellent investment.
Vanuatu is yet to catch up to First World attitude to smoking. While it is banned in shops, banks and food outlets etc, there are no non-smoking areas in restaurants or bars. Locals often buy a single cigarette, called ‘a fruit’. And bislama for a cigarette lighter is ‘gas matches’.
Yes, we have soap, some local, some imported. The local coconut soap smells nice and has an amazing lather (even lathers in sea water). An inexpensive ‘thought’ gift to take back home perhaps?
Souvenir shops are scattered all around town including the market place where you can often meet the person who made your souvenir (near the Nambawan Cafe). One of the more novel souvenir shops is Vila Hand Prints just across the road from Bon Marche supermarket at number two. Here you can purchase original and amusing t-shirts.
Be careful of buying any souvenirs with seeds (necklaces etc) as they won’t be allowed through Customs back home (likewise coconuts or anything with rough bark). Coral is also a no-no. Woven bags, tam-tams and shells are all okay, as are wooden carvings as long as there are no borer holes. An inexpensive souvenir is a basket blong titi (coconut shell bra).
Spiders in Vanuatu are really big with webs as thick as ropes but they’re harmless (the spiders, as well as the webs). In fact, if you’d gone on the Ekasup tour you’d know they were traditionally used to help men catch fish. The web the large spiders weave is golden. Men would get a stick with a fork in it and catch some of this golden web in the fork then wave it over the top of the water. The fish would be attracted by the golden light thinking it was a bug and come up to the surface where they were caught and promptly became the evening meal.
SPORT & RECREATION
While it’s hot and humid in Vanuatu, there’s still a large variety of sport played – there is a centre with a gymnasium, squash courts and tennis courts at Cercle Sportif (phone 22 437). There are also courts at the Holiday Inn, Le Lagon and opposite the Melanesian Hotel. Visitors might like to join aerobics, yoga or kickboxing classes.
For equestrians there’s horse riding and polocrosse (Club Hippique and l’Hippocampus Sea Horse Ranch).
Golf is big with locals and visitors are welcomed. There are several golf courses in Port Vila (two resort and one 18-hole courses). The best course is at Mele.
There’s also soccer, netball, rugby, cycling and triathlons. There’s a great variety of watersports with excellent reef and wreck diving. There’s excellent big game and reef fishing. The annual picnic horse race day is a must (Kiwani charity event in July with Race Ball on Thursday, Calcutta on Friday, Races on Saturday). There’s also competitive cricket and petanque.
Erakor Lagoon is full of large, beautiful and harmless starfish. They aren’t that fragile, so if they are in the way when swimming, just Frisbee them to one side (making sure they are still pretty side up!)
STATUE OF PARLIAMENT
In front of parliament house there is a statue of a man, woman and child. On the back is a plaque that says much about the local attitude to the role of women…
Logo: “United In Peace We Progress”
Introduction: From the past to the present the strength of a nation has been, still is and always will be, the unity of its people.If people are to be united, then family unity must prevail. If the laws, principles, and customs of a nation assist the families to be united peacefully the country can only progress.
Meaning Of The Statue:
- The Husband: The Head of the family points and leads his family to the future with confidence. He’s holding his wife with his left hand as a sign of love, care and unity. He is strong and healthy as a nation should be. He is Melanesian of origin as Vanuatu is. The man represents the Government.
- The Wife: She is beautiful, clean and decently dressed including her children whom are also well dressed and healthy. This means that she cares and feeds her family with the correct nutrition and looks after their health. She is the pride of her husband. She listens humbly to her husband’s plans of the future and her face shows confidence and willingness to be subject to her husband and to cooperate with him. She is of mixed cast and she represents all the people and communities in Vanuatu united together.
- The Son: 10 to 12 years of age. He is confidently in front of his parents looking towards the future that his father is pointing to. That means the boy is not shy and is prepared to challenge the future with confidence. He holds a book on his chest, which shows that he cherishes education as the road to progress. The boy represents the individual Ni-Vanuatu in society, healthy and educated, confidently looking and working towards a better future.
- The Daughter: A three to four-year-old girl in the arms of her mother. She is confident, healthy and loving. She represents the individual Ni-Vanuatu’s feeling in a display of Peace and Security.
- The Family as a Whole: Everyone has their body covered decently, which indicates a moral obligation in modern society. Clothing is also an indication of the nation’s progressing wealth. The family is united in Peace and Security thus the logo “United In Peace We Progress”.
The tropical sun (especially in Summer) can sneak up on people. It is powerful and there’s not much worse than a dose of severe sunburn to take the fun out of holiday. Wear a hat, sunglasses and slap on the sunscreen and keep hydrated with plenty of water. Even after doing this, most visitors will still go home with a tan if the weather is fine. In case of sunburn, women will find moisteriser soothing and men may like to try Viagra – it can keep the sheets off the burn.
Sunset Bungalows is a boutique ‘adults only’ property overlooking No 2 Lagoon, just out of town, on the way to Tamanu on the Beach.
There are ten bungalows, eight Lagoon Studio Units and one Honeymoon Spa Bungalow. All rooms are air-conditioned and have TV/DVD with a Balinese feel in the furnishings. The bar and restaurant, Bungalow:Ate gets good reviews and there’s a nice swimming pool. “Affordable indulgence” is their catch phrase. The property offers excellent value for what you get especially when they have ‘stay-pay’ specials.Sunset Bungalows
Meridien Charters offers a lovely sunset cruise (three drinks and nibbles included in the price).
There are over 40 restaurants in and around Port Vila. There are a couple of special places for a romantic sunset dinner – Tilly’s is one of Vila’s best restaurants and a table for two with your own waiter can be set at the end of the jetty over the harbour. Sunset Bungalows has a nice lagoon setting and your own area next to the water can be arranged here.
Oh! And I have actually witnessed a ‘green flash’ sunset over the harbour from The Rossi Restaurant (now La Tentation) – such a rare act of nature that even some sailors refuse to admit it is possible. Up there with UFOs. But real.
The Port Vila supermarkets and chemists stock everything you would find at home… You can get Tim Tams, Vegemite, Colgate and Winnie Blues but they will be slightly more expensive due to freight costs. Some things are a lot more expensive so it’s advisable to pack things like sun block and toiletries. Work on an exchange rate of AUD$1 = 80 vatu or, for ease, just move the decimal point for a rough guide – so, if apples are 500 vatu a kilo, the rough guide is $5 but the actual conversion is $6.25. Fruit at the markets will be less expensive and, for fruit like bananas and pineapple, much sweeter! Local beer (Tusker) is cheaper than imported and it’s a good drop. There’s no local wine, all imported with a hefty mark-up (apart from French champagne, which is similar to prices back home. Local bread is inexpensive and fabulous freshly baked and the local beef is sensational!
There is a large Au Bon Marche supermarket at Nambatu (up the hill from town on the right on the way to Le Lagon) and there is a smaller Au Bon Marche across the car park from the Mama’s Markets down town on the harbour front.
There are good waves to be found around Port Vila (Pango Point) but they are off reefs and should only be taken on by competent riders – novices could end up with some nasty coral cuts. There are no surf lessons for the newcomers and ‘oldcomers’ should bring their own boards. Kite boarding can be excellent off Breaka’s and in Mele Bay.
SURFSIDE AT BREAKA’S
Surfside on Breaka’s Beach is a stunning group of family friendly absolute beach front villas and only a short stroll along the beach (5 mins) from the adults only Breaka’s Beach Resort.
The Three Bedroom Ocean Villas have a large outdoor entertaining area with private pool and bbq area, the bedrooms are air conditioned and villas are fully self contained. Surfside also has hotel rooms and studio rooms with private indoor pool options for couples.
These villas have been strata titled so may present an investment/lifestyle opportunity as well.
Contact us regarding Surfside at Breakas
Survivor fever hit Vanuatu in 2004, in particular Port Vila. Nobody is sure if having the TV show set there resulted in a lot of tourists flocking to Vanuatu but it certainly raised awareness and put a lot of money and employment into the place when it was filming. If you take a Coongoola Cruise or a Lelepa Island Day Tour you will see where the series was shot and probably get some insider gossip from the locals. In 2006 the French version of the same show was filmed in Vanuatu.
There are places to swim and snorkel all around the island – in rivers, lagoons, the harbour and beaches. While swimming is safe, there are no lifeguards patrolling beaches or resort pools. If you have small children, best to keep the ‘floaties’ on until they are confident. Also worthwhile to pack reef shoes to avoid coral cuts and urchins.
Port Vila Masterbathers is an open water swimming club that swims most days from the Nambawan Cafe at 8am around the harbour. They have monthly competitions that are open to all swimmers and are currently gearing up for the 2015 2.5km BRED Bank Charity swim on the 23rd of May (all details are on the Masterbathers website) raising money for the newly founded Vanuatu Aquatics Federation.
The ice cream for people who like lap-lap… (only kidding!!!) Switi ice-cream is the best ice cream in the South Pacific and possibly the world, particularly the chocolate. It’s made on the island out by the dairy and is a must. It’s now exported to New Caledonia and Fiji.