A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring Efate, Vanuatu

A lovely way to end the summer holidays

sunny 32 °C

It turns out those FaceBook competitions aren't always scams....back in April I entered a competition run by Vanuatu Tourism in conjunction with Air Vanuatu and The Terraces Boutique Apartments in Port Vila to win a 4 night luxury holiday. In August I received a phonecall to say I was the winner and the very next day I booked our flights and apartment still not quite believing it!

The flight to Vanuatu was only about a third full so we had a spare seat between us and had been given the exit row meaning we had so much leg room that I couldn't touch the seat in front even with my legs fully stretched out. It was only a 3 hour flight to Port Vila so the flight was soon over and we quickly got through customs. The Terraces had arranged an airport transfer for us and Port Vila is not that big so we were in our accommodation within about 15 minutes.

Our apartment was very spacious and had everything you could want, including robes and umbrellas. We even had our own plunge pool on the deck.
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After having a good look around we headed for bed as we were still on New Zealand time (2 hours ahead) and it was getting late.

The Terraces is next door to the resort Mangoes and as part of the prize breakfast was included each morning in their restaurant. After breakfast we made the 15 minute walk into Port Vila town to book a hire car as all the ones at Mangoes had already been rented out. Turns out we got a much better price with Europcar and we got a free upgrade as they didn't have any left in the price range we requested. The one thing they strongly advised was to get a 4 wheel drive, so we did and we were so glad (more on that later!).

Once we got our car we decided to drive the ring road around the island which is approximately 150km. Our first stop out of town was to collect a geocache. We parked up and walked through farmland to reach the lookout point where the cache was hidden. Even though it was only 10.30am it was already about 30 degrees and walking uphill was hot, sweaty work!
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Once the cache was found we continued on our journey. We passed many little beaches with white sand and turquoise waters but had made the rookie mistake of not getting any cash out....every beach had a fee to access it ranging from VT300 up to VT1000 so we had to keep on driving. We stopped off at a nice looking resort on the beach for lunch only to find out that their internet was down so we couldn't pay by card!
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Onwards we went until we spotted a sign for a restaurant down a side road. This side road soon turned into a narrow dusty, pot hole filled track and now we were starting to see why a 4 wheel drive had been recommended. Eventually we arrived at Divi's, a very cute tapas place on the beach which also had beach side accommodation. We had a delicious late lunch and thankfully were able to pay with our credit card!
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We got home early evening and still full from lunch decided to skip dinner and just have dessert and drinks in Mangoes restaurant, we then headed back to watch one of the many movies on offer in the apartment before heading to bed.

The next morning we stopped off in town to get some cash out and then headed to the office of Vanuatu Jungle Zipline as we had heard good things and were keen to give it a go. Their credit card machine was out of action so they told us to pay once we got there as we had chosen the 'self drive' option rather than the transfer to and from town. This is when we really realised the importance of having a 4 wheel drive! The main ring road is full of pretty big pot holes but the road to the zip line was incredibly steep, bumpy and narrow. It was several kms of Gerald driving slowly and carefully to reach the summit barely getting out of first gear!
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We arrived and once again the credit card machine was not accepting our card! Thankfully the manager kindly let us use his wifi so we could pay via online banking and not miss out. They offered 2 different courses and Gerald and I were the only 2 that had signed up for the Trek tour rather than the Canopy tour. Our tour offered an extra zipline, totalling 7 ziplines, but involved some jungle trekking between each line rather than being in the canopy the whole time. We had a fantastic time and the views were incredible as we crossed over the canyon. The place has been set up by an ex military Australian guy so it was very professional and it would be good to visit again in the future as he has lots of plans he wants to carry out.
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After ziplining we headed for lunch nearby at Island Magic Resort, we both had seafood whilst admiring the view of the sea. Seafood is plentiful being an island and also very tasty. I had poulet fish which is on all the menus in Vanuatu and Gerald had prawns. We left very satisfied.
Vanuatu is not a cheap place for dining but the food is good and we never felt hungry after a meal.
Our next stop was Eton beach which we had passed the day before but not been able to visit as we didn't have VT1000 in cash. We spent an enjoyable few hours swimming and reading our books in the afternoon sun.
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Travelling the roads of Efate is quite amusing as it seems the more people you can get in your vehicle the better! Health and Safety does not appear to be an issue!
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We had dinner at Mangoes that night and it was delicious, we also timed it right for happy hour which was a bonus!

The next day we decided to spend the morning at the Terraces infinity pool. There was only one other couple there and we soon got chatting to them and exchanged travel stories.
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We headed into town for lunch but it was pretty busy as a cruise ship was in so as soon as we finished lunch we hit the road.
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We headed to the Blue Lagoon, another place we had spotted on our first day but couldn't enter due to having no cash. The entrance for the lagoon was VT1000 each. We enjoyed having a swim in the lagoon and watching people use the rope swing to jump into the lagoon. The water is a beautiful colour and a nice refreshing temperature.
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That night we had dinner at Stonegrill, we both had steak and chips followed by dessert, in true Vanuatu style they came over to say that the credit card machine was not working so Gerald had to do a quick drive to the nearest ATM! If we ever go to Vanuatu again we will definitely go with lots of cash! They were very apologetic and gave us a couple of salted caramel vodka shots each, as Gerald was driving he had one and I had three as they were absolutely divine!

Before we knew it our last day had arrived. We spent a couple of hours on our deck and in the plunge pool before packing and heading back to the airport to drop off the hire car and head home, saying goodbye to the sights of Vanuatu and realising just how lucky we were to have won this prize!
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Posted by bumblebum 17:47 Archived in Vanuatu Comments (1)

Around the World in 20 days - seventh stop, Chile

Exploring Easter Island

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We boarded our plane bound for Easter Island and were greeted by a scary, mask faced Pilot along with the rest of the crew dressed up as usual.
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We landed on Easter Island early evening and were taken on a little tour of the island with a quick stop on the way to our accommodation. We were taken to a little settlement which was used temporarily during their annual competition to swim to a neighbouring island and retrieve an egg! As we were such a large group on a very small island we were spread out over 4 hotels for our last night of the tour - thankfully we ended up with a bunch of people we had got to know quite well over the previous 3 weeks.
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We set off early the next morning for our tour of the island and to see many of the famous heads - Moai. Easter Island is a beautiful place and I loved our time there even though it was short. The statues are around 1500 years old and there are hundreds of them varying in size from around 1m up to almost 10m. The largest one, if it had been completed, would have been 21m but it is still lying in the Rano Raraku quarry not quite complete. Some of them weigh over 80 tonnes so it is a remarkable feat that they were transported all over the island and even to this day nobody quite knows how. Many of the Moai have had to be restored as for one reason or another they have toppled over. Some are still lying how they fell but it all adds to the charm. There are more than 900 moai on the island with almost 400 still located in the immediate area around the quarry.
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All too soon it was time to board the plane for the final time.

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Our final flight was memorable for a few reasons.... each flight passengers were invited up to do the safety brief (I had had my turn a few days earlier) and today was Gerald's turn!
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It also happened to be my birthday so the Qantas Crew came and sang Happy Birthday to me whilst making me wear a silly hat and hold a plush toy birthday cake! They then took a Polaroid photo of me and them as a keepsake along with a birthday card.
We flew over the South Island on our return to Sydney and it was looking pretty stunning.
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Once we landed at Sydney there were lots of farewells with fellow passengers. It was hard to believe the trip was over. We made lots of amazing memories and thoroughly enjoyed every destination visited.

Posted by bumblebum 19:35 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Around the World in 20 days - sixth stop Peru

Chiclayo and Trujillo

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The majority of the Constellation Journeys passengers headed to Machu Picchu for the next stop but as we had been there before we decided to take advantage of the alternative destinations on offer - Chiclayo and Trujillo. Once we touched down in Lima our small group of 16 headed off to catch a domestic flight to Chiclayo. We arrived but unfortunately our luggage didn't. Apparently the flight was too full so the airline decided to not to put the bags on as it would be too much weight! Fortunately they came on the next flight.

The first destination we visited was Huaca Rajada (Sipan) which is a Moche archaeological site dating from 50-700AD but was only discovered in 1987 when an El Nino finally eroded some of the tombs away revealing the treasures inside. Apparently, locals woke up to discover the treasures and looting began. One local was too late to the party so reported the others to the police but sadly only 10% of the treasure was recovered. Because of thousands of years of erosion the pyramid tombs looked like hills of dirt but now it is clear to see the area is full of pyramids which are slowly being excavated.

As the area has been excavated the items in the tombs now are just replicas but the site shows how there were burials over 3 levels and that sacrificial ceremonies were part of the burial. All around the site were very cute Burrow Owls, aptly named as they live in burrows.
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We also visited a place called Tucume with a further 26 pyramids including a partially excavated pyramid with ocean themed murals. Tucume also had a small museum containing some of the ceramics and smaller jewelry items that were excavated.
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Later that day we visited Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipan which is where all the items that were recovered or subsequently excavated are now exhibited. Sadly I have no photos to share as photography was prohibited but the 'treasures' were well worth seeing. Lord Sipan along with several other people sacrificed with him were buried adorned in precious metals and jewels along with ornate and beautifully decorated ceramics filled with food and drink, carvings and animals such as llamas. It was a fascinating place to visit.

The next morning we had a 4 hour drive to reach Trujillo, another pretty colonial city. We had a quick city stop before heading to see the sun and moon temples and the city of Chan Chan.
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Chan Chan was constructed around 850AD. It is huge, covering around 20 square kms, and is being painstakingly renovated. It was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986.
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We had a lunch stop by the beach before heading to the Sun and Moon Temples.
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We spent time on a guided tour of the Moon Temple which is located about 500m from the Sun Temple. The Moon Temple is a monument that has been modified during different time periods. As it has been excavated archaeologists have uncovered layers of large multi coloured murals depicting the Gods that they worshipped at that time. It was a very impressive place.
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After a long, busy day we flew back to Lima for a night in the Wyndham Airport Hotel ready for our flight to Easter Island the next morning, but that's a whole new blog....

Posted by bumblebum 15:34 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Around the World in 20 days - fifth stop Colombia

Colourful Cartegena

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One of the perks of travelling on this tour with our own chartered plane was expedited airport experiences. When we landed at Cartegena we stepped off the plane to find buses at the bottom of the stairs. The buses drove us straight to our hotel, we didn't even step foot in the airport! We arrived late afternoon, settled into our room with a pretty good view and had a relaxing afternoon before dinner at the hotel.
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Saturday morning was spent on a walking tour of Cartegena's Old Town surrounded by a 11km stone wall. Cartegena is a 16th century port city on the Caribbean Coast. We visited the fortress first (another UNESCO site) and spent some time exploring and admiring the views from up high.
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The Old Town was beautiful with cobbled streets, colourful buildings and ornate doorways. We saw some very cute red squirrels playing in the trees but I couldn't get a decent photo as they were a bit too far away.
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After lunch we had free time and I had read that Cartegena had some great street art so Gerald and I decided to go in search of it and a couple of our group tagged along. Just outside of the city wall in the new town we discovered an abundance of amazing street art among the colourful buildings and down little laneways.
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After a couple of hours we took advantage of the shuttle bus Constellation Journeys had arranged and headed back to the hotel for a bit of relaxation by the pool before getting ready for our final gala dinner - the next part of the trip would see the tour head off in different directions so it was the last time we would all be together. The dinner was another impressive affair, held outside by the city wall. We were treated to more dancing and delicious food.
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The next day was our sightseeing option and we chose to visit the Colombian National Aviary set amongst 7 hectares of natural habitat. The aviary has set up different eco-systems and has almost 200 species on display. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and had the opportunity to get up close to some stunning birds. I loved the toucans.
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We ate dinner by the harbour that night with some of the group before heading back to pack for an early morning flight.

The crew had a great selection of costumes the next day - coffee, bananas, Ugly Betty and Miss Colombia to name but a few!
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Next stop Peru....

Posted by bumblebum 11:27 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Around the World in 20 days - fourth stop Spain

Barcelona and Montserrat

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Only a 2 hour flight from Malta we arrived in Barcelona at lunch time and so had time to familiarise ourselves with the city at our leisure instead of a guided tour for the rest of the afternoon. We had a wander around the area surrounding our hotel which happened to include the famous Gaudi building Casa Batllo.
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We had dinner in the hotel that night and a relatively early night ready for the next day's adventures.

We began the morning with a Flamenco lesson which was great fun and a good work out to make up for the fact that we were about to go and have churros and hot chocolate in the old town. We walked through gorgeous narrow lanes full of galleries, cafes and boutique shops.
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Today we were given cash to eat lunch wherever we liked, so on the recommendation of a friend, we chose to eat at Els 4Gats which is famous for being the meeting place for famous artists, such as Picasso, through the modernist era. We had a delicious tapas lunch before meeting up with the group for our afternoon tour.

Our first stop was La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona's most famous building which is still under construction despite being started in 1882! Work is expected to finish in 2026. The Basilica tells the story of Jesus through its' intricate facades. It is a very striking building with an obvious change in architecture between the old and new.
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Despite having pre-purchased tickets the wait time to get in was painfully long. But it was when we entered the building that I really had my breath taken away - the wait was worth it! The stained glass windows, even on the overcast day that it was, cast the most beautiful colours over the interior of the building. It is just stunning.
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Next we headed to see Casa Batllo's interior on a guided tour. What an amazing and unique building!
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That night we had another amazing gala dinner, this time held in the beautiful Chamber of Commerce. More fantastic food and our entertainment for the night was a trio of Flamenco dancers which showed us how it really should be done!
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We left Barcelona the next morning for a trip to Montserrat, a beautiful place in the mountains.
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Montserrat has had a Benedictine community there for around 1000 years so we made a visit to the monastery.
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Montserrat is also a famous wine region so we visited Codonui, the oldest producer of cava. We had a guided tour of the cellars including a train ride through some of the 20 miles of hand dug cellars.
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We had a huge, late lunch before making the journey back to Barcelona. We were so full we couldn't face eating dinner so just headed out for a few drinks with some of the other passengers from the trip.

The next morning we were back to the airport for the next leg of our adventure. Once again the crew's outfits did not disappoint!
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Next stop, Cartegena, Colombia....

Posted by bumblebum 19:18 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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