Visitors Guide T
Tam Tams are hollowed out slit gongs or slit drums made from carved logs. Up to 6m high, you will see them all around Vila.
Only Man Ambrym (men from Ambrym) are allowed by kastom to carve them although some Vila craftsmen risk being caught and fined. The more experienced and accredited the craftsmen, the more heads they are allowed to carve on the one Tam Tam. There are also distinct Tam Tams (not as elaborate – more just the slitted gong) from the island of Malekula.
Tam Tams are not to be confused with Tim Tams which are available in supermarkets. Crafted by Arnotts they are imported and cost close to AUD$5 a packet.
Tanna combines culture with adventure. Mt Yasur is of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes. Most Tannese people live a traditional lifestyle that includes kastom medicine, initiation and circumcision. The island is home to the John Frum Cargo Cult. There are waterfalls and hot springs with great sunsets from Port Resolution.
There’s basic, comfortable accommodation at the super-friendly Friendly Bungalows and it’s a little more upmarket at White Grass Ocean Resort on the airport side of the island. Tannese men who move to Efate/Port Vila are often entrepreneurial (e.g. chances are the owner/driver of a local bus will be Man Tanna).
The only real ‘tax’ in Vanuatu is the 12.5% value added tax on goods and services and is included in most prices. There is no personal tax as such. Vanuatu is a popular home for International Offshore Companies as it is one of the few places in the world where there are no corporate or personal income taxes, capital gains taxes, reporting requirements, or restrictions on company employment policies, however to be exempt from all local taxes and restrictions, the company may not conduct business within Vanuatu itself.
Look for a Tico or other small cars with a ‘T’ on the number plate and you’ll find yourself a taxi, and there are plenty of them. Some are metered some are not and usually it won’t be much more than a bus ride. It is recommended for longer journeys to be clear about the price before you set out. They can be hailed from anywhere with the wave of a hand or simply by raising your eyebrows.
There are several public phones in Vila. Most are by the post office, which also has a Telecom outlet where you can by phone cards. There is another phone by the Telecom office down the other end of town. All phones require phone cards. The Vanuatu Telephone Directory is available online.
Local Vanuatu TV is pretty ordinary unless you want news in three languages, cartoons, a French documentary and maybe a movie, if someone at the station remembered to put the DVD in. Satellite television is now happening and includes channels like Australian TV live from Perth’s Channel Nine, Imparja or Star TV out of Hong Kong. Most major sporting events like the World Cup, Wimbledon or any international rugby involving Australia and/or New Zealand will be broadcast (as well as State of Origin league). If it’s not available in your hotel/resort, head to the Port Vila Pub, or Anchor Inn.
Vanuatu is one hour earlier than East Coast Australia and an hour after New Zealand for the mid-year months. There’s no daylight saving in Vanuatu so when Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania go to daylight saving, it’s the same time zone. The official time zone is GMT + 11 hours.
There is no tipping or bargaining in Vanuatu – it goes against local tradition. If you give something for nothing, the receiver feels as though he/she owes you something. A smile and a ‘thank you’ is tip enough (“tank yu tumas”). Mind you, the prices at the souvenir markets may rise on days when cruise ships are in dock, so it’s best to put off the shopping for a day if you know one is in town. This is not an attempt to rip off the tourists. Traditionally cruise ship people bargain, especially if they’ve already been to Fiji, and the stall holders simply put the prices up to settle on the normal price.
This famous dance happens on day two of the Nekowiar Ceremony on Tanna. It can start before dawn and goes through to night to reach its climax, so to speak. During the previous night, the women huddle in small groups preparing for ‘attack’. The other preparation is to apply ‘beauty magic’ (colourful and artistic face paint). The Toka dancers make a circle to capture a woman and then she is tossed up and down between them with lots of touchy-feely stuff. The atmosphere sends hormones racing, so much so that girls often menstruate for the first time on this day. The dance may well go all night and the rule of thumb is that a man may have sex with any woman he catches, even tourists. Ladies, best not to go alone and to watch from a distance, unless we’ve really got you thinking!
If you pick up a brochure on Tonga from a travel agent you will probably read that the Kingdom of Tonga is a “rare sprinkling of jewels set in the turquoise blue of the Pacific”. It could well say the same in a dictionary. The diverse natural beauty, the people and the culture make Tonga a unique and rewarding destination. Tonga is the only Pacific nation never to have been subjected to foreign rule and, as such, traditional lifestyle has been maintained. The monarchy is important, as is the church and the sense of family and inner peace can be somewhat enviable.
The northernmost islands (6) of Vanuatu are home to about 600 people. They’re expensive to get to (by plane) and are really for the well-heeled adventurer or backpackers willing to boat to the remote. There’s lots of traditional culture and stunning white sand beaches. These islands never practiced cannibalism, which in turn led to a decimation of their population. Because they were known to be peaceful tribes they were easy targets for Australian ‘blackbirders’ in the 19th century.
There are a number of tour operators in Port Vila (Adventures in Paradise, Adventure Centre, Evergreen, Meridian Charters, Destination Pacific, Melanesian Tours, etc) and resorts can organise tours for you. You will know yourself if you are a ‘tour person’ or not. Tours take the worry out of planning and exploring and often have access to cultural events and the like that the independent traveller won’t. We recommend, for cost and simplicity, that tours of Vila town, the cultural centre and to places like Hideaway Island and Cascades be done independently while other tours are excellent value. A round island trip, for example, may include kastom dancing, a sample of Melanesian food, swim stops and a guide with good knowledge. Three tours we highly recommend are Vanuatu Ecotours, the Coongoola cruise and Ekasup Village.
Tradewinds is a mini resort boasting good quality self-contained accommodation at a budget price. The five individual studio bungalows can sleep up to two adults and two children in comfort. There are also two-bedroom bungalows and a three-bedroom house. All bungalows are fully screened and feature extensive use of tropical timbers. Tradewinds is positioned at the top of the hill overlooking the lagoon above Poppy’s on the Lagoon at Seaside and is easy walking distance to town.
For those shops/offices that take a siesta, 7:30am to 11:30am and 1:30pm to 5:00pm, Monday to Friday. The ANZ Bank opens from 8:00am to 3:00pm, Wespac from 8:30am to 4:00pm. The post office is open from 7:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday and 7:30am to 12:00 noon Saturday. Shops that have tourist products for sale don’t close for lunch and supermarkets open around 6:30am and close around 7:30pm.
Traveller’s Cheques can be cashed at banks or Goodies but our question is, why are you travelling with them? With credit/debit cards, ATMs and cash, is there a need? Surely these things must go the way of the dinosaur?
Triathlon is a big thing in Vanuatu with several significant annual events including the Triathlon du Paradis Vanuatu. Visit www.triathlon.com.vu for more. There are also island trekking and swimming events at other times of the year.
You will hear ‘tumas’ tumas (literally ‘too much’ but closer to ‘a lot’). Tank yu tumas in Bislama is thanks a lot. It’s something all visitors should have as part of their pleasantries. Sori tumas, but that’s the way it is.
Made by Vanuatu Brewing, Tusker is the local beer and preferred brew. It is a pretty good beer. If you don’t like it, there’s plenty of imported stuff but a lot of work has gone into producing the ‘bia blong yumi’ (the beer for us). There are a couple of micro-breweries – Nambawan, opposite The Grand, and the War Horse Salon on the left near the golf course at Mele.
TVL (TELECOM VANUATU LTD)
TVL is owned by the British and run by the French. Some things in this country never change. While their services are expensive they are reliable. Mobile telephony means you can purchase a SIM card to use in your phone from home. You can buy from TVL or the post office or in-flight with Air Vanuatu.