A Travellerspoint blog

Vanuatu

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)

Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

Scuba diving, horse riding, blue holes, beautiful beaches and luxury camping.

semi-overcast 29 °C

We left Tanna Lodge late afternoon and arrived in Port Vila early evening after a 40 minute flight. We stayed just a short drive from the town in a cute place called Vila Chaumieres. Our room was a little more western than our Tanna home, set in well maintained grounds full of tropical trees and plants in bloom. We ate in their restaurant the first night which entertained us as it was set overhanging the river which had been lit up. Down below were hundreds of fish, crabs and starfish all moving around making the most of all the flies and insects attracted by the lights.

The next day was full of heavy, tropical showers. We headed into town to see what was there and soon felt that we had made the right choice in staying in Vila for only one day. The town is compact and mostly full of tacky souvenir shops ready to sell their overpriced items to people off the cruise liners. We didn’t witness any of the friendly happiness we saw all around us in Tanna. We did however catch up with neighbours of ours who had moved there, due to work, in the New Year. They seem to be settling well and are making the most of island life. Once we got back to the room we headed next door for dinner at Tropicana Lagoon in between ridiculously heavy rain showers. The food was absolutely divine and we were wishing we had discovered it the night before!

Our taxi driver woke us at some ridiculous hour of the morning for our flight to our third and final island, Espiritu Santo. We were met by Shane who is running Barrier Beach House which was to be our home for the next 5 nights. Barrier Beach is gorgeous. Shane and Shendel who run it are the perfect hosts. They are helpful, friendly and totally make you feel at home. The 3 fares (beachside accommodation) are beautiful, clean and spacious and the beach has some great snorkelling off it.
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After dumping our bags we headed to the beach to relax and read. Later in the day we went for a walk at low tide, lots of coral reefs were right at the waters edge and you could see hundreds of tiny fish darting in and out of the coral. We saw fish, starfish and even a 2ft long banded sea snake.
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After our walk we decided to be even more energetic and took the kayak out for 45 minutes or so. By the time we got back all the other guests had arrived back from their days’ diving so we had drinks, played scrabble and swapped travel stories.

The following day we hired Shane and Shen’s spare car and drove up the East Coast. Our first stop was Champagne Beach. It cost 2000V to enter (approx $25NZD) as it is such a pretty spot. Unfortunately as we got there it decided to pour down so we really didn’t see it at its’ best. We had also gone there to find one of the 3 geocaches that are hidden on Santo. Having the entire beach to ourselves meant that we could really have a good hunt around but we still came up empty handed.
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We decided to continue onwards to Port Olry. By the time we got there the sun was in full force and the sea was looking very enticing. While we were eating lunch we could see a turtle swimming along and coming up for air every so often. As soon as we had eaten we headed into the water for a bit of snorkelling and ended up staying far longer than originally planned.
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Once we got back on the road we decided our final stop for the day would have to be Velit Bay. The place is very beautiful and, just like everywhere else we have been, quiet and pretty deserted. We sat watching the beginning of a sunset and what looked like another rain storm heading our way as we ate banana cake and ice cream.
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As we had the car we headed into Luganville Town for dinner. On the way home we were surprised to have a barn owl fly straight across the road just feet in front of us. Shame I didn’t have a camera as it looked amazing in the car headlights.

Day 3 at Barrier Beach was a lazy one, mostly consisting of laying in the sun on the beach reading and snorkelling the reef. In the afternoon Shane gave us a life into town to book some diving. We had to pass 2 geocache sites on the way there so we told Shane all about it and he said he would like to help us find them. The first one was another fail but after a long search I found the second one. It had nicely adapted to it’s surrounding area making it very hard to spot!

Another early start the next day for our diving trip. The first dive was on SS Coolidge, a 200m cruise liner converted into a war ship that unfortunately sank just off shore when it hit a mine. We only covered about a third of the ship on our dive. We got to see guns, ammo, helmets, boots and even some of the bathrooms still intact with their wash basins and tiles! Obviously there is plenty of life down there too and we got to meet Nessie the long term resident Moray eel. This was my deepest dive to date at 33m.
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In between dives we had a good chat with our dive guide and enjoyed the sunshine. Before long we were back in the water. This time for a reef dive at a site called Cindy’s. Here we saw loads of brightly coloured fish, huge starfish, sea slugs, nudibranches and I spotted a lion fish hiding in some coral. Cindy’s is supposed to be home to turtles and leopard sharks but unfortunately we didn’t see either.
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We hired the car again the next day to go and find some of the blue holes that are so famous in Vanuatu. The first hole we went to was Matevulu. When you see it for the first time it really does make you go ‘Wow!’ The water is the richest, deepest blue you can imagine. Apparently the limestone in the ground is what causes the colour. Gerald was brave enough to get in, I got in to my shins and felt how cold it was so thought I would stop there!
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We then went to Nanda’s blue hole. Again you couldn’t help but be impressed by the water. Nanda’s hole has a lot more fish living in it and despite the water being very deep you can see all the way to the bottom as the water is crystal clear. This time I got my courage up and decided I really should try the water. After a good few minutes on the edge I finally jumped in. It was ‘refreshing’ and I didn’t manage long in there!
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The afternoon was spent exploring the rock pools near Barrier Beach. We spent ages watching an octopus hunt for food, he was changing colour every time he moved to a new spot. It was fascinating watching him move around!

The next day was our final destination change, we moved just a couple of km’s down the road to Hidden Cove Eco Resort. The place is a resort for two! It is a HUGE luxury tent on the water front with French style furnishings inside such as a four poster bed. It has everything you could want – a bathroom with double shower and a bath for two, a BBQ and a kitchen with everything you need if you wish to self cater, bikes if you want to go exploring, a plunge pool, TV with enormous DVD collection, books galore and more.
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We took the bikes out and visited Lope Lope for lunch and in the evening Sue, the owner, drove us to Turtle Bay for dinner, both of which were very nice.
The next day Sue arranged for me to go horseriding at Lope Lope. I spent an hour or so on Velvet riding through green pastures, past blue holes, through jungle and finally heading back to the ranch through the turquoise waters of the sea.
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The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the pool and paddling in the sea. That night Sue cooked us a delicious three course meal and served it to us at our candlelit table by the pool. A very nice way to spend the evening.

Yesterday Sue drove us into town to get some meat so we could have a BBQ for dinner. Apart from that we did very little, just relaxed by the pool, read our books and enjoyed the views.

Today is our last full day as we fly out early in the morning. We are planning on another totally relaxing day today….Vanuatu it has been a pleasure!

Posted by bumblebum 22:16 Archived in Vanuatu Comments (0)

The magnificent Mt Yasur

Tanna, Vanuatu

sunny 28 °C

We arrived at Port Vila International airport and had to make the short walk to the domestic terminal. We followed signs for the luggage drop off. This led us to a deserted and dimly lit area with nobody in sight. After a minute or so a man appeared and said he would take our cases so we left them, somewhat dubiously, with him assuring us that they would make it onto our flight. Amazingly when we arrived at the very cute airport in Tanna our bags had indeed come with us and were presented to us through a big hole in the wall! With only 16 passengers on the plane (that sat about 40) who needs a conveyor belt!? We were relieved that the flight was only 40 minutes long as the plane smelt pretty badly of stale urine, a smell that hit you as soon as you got on board and didn’t really go away the whole flight!

I think the word ‘rustic’ sums up Tanna pretty well. The roads are almost all dirt tracks and most journeys are a bumpy ride to say the least. We arrived at our accommodation ‘Tanna Lodge’ to find out we had been given an upgrade to their best room as they were so quiet. This was a real bonus as we had paid for a room costing 17,250V (approx $230NZ a night) and ended up with a room worth 26,250V (approx $350NZ a night). Now you might be thinking that we are staying in some high end, luxurious hotel – we are not! The place is lovely by Tanna standards but as I said Tanna is rustic. Tanna Lodge is very cute and we are happy here but the same money in most other parts of the world would get you way more. Vanuatu is known to be a very expensive country and Tanna being one of the ‘outer islands’ is even more so. The one thing I will say is the staff are fantastic. They are happy and friendly and cannot do enough for you. We would recommend a stay here but you must leave your western ideals behind! Saying that though, we do have everything we need, hot water, en suite bathroom with his and hers sinks, outdoor private shower, a fridge, kettle, fan and electricity 24/7. This is most certainly NOT the case in the majority of Tanna establishments.
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After a delicious tropical breakfast the next morning we decided to explore the area a little and headed off for a walk around the neighbourhood. After 2 hours of walking we were only passed by 3 trucks and saw one family heading off with rods to catch that night’s dinner. The only other things we saw were cute birds and colourful lizards.
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Two hours walking was about enough as the humidity here is just ridiculous! As soon as you step outside you start to sweat and I have given up on trying to keep my hair in check. I very much resemble Monica from the episode in Friends where she goes to Barbados. It has gone FRIZZY beyond belief!!!

When we got back we had a bite to eat and started to get ready for the main reason we came to Vanuatu – Mt Yasur Volcano. We jumped into a jeep and drove for almost 2 hours to get to Mt Yasur over the, previously mentioned, bumpy roads! Stella, at Tanna Lodge, had kindly given us cushions for the journey and I was quite glad to have mine! As we neared the volcano the roads, and all the surrounding foliage (mostly ferns), became completely covered in dark ash. Before long there was no plant life at all just an alien looking landscape made of ash that went on and on. We got our first proper look at Mt Yasur spurting out huge clouds of black smoke into the air.
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We continued around the base of the volcano until we reached the car park and the path leading up to the crater. The path up was short but very steep and we arrived at the top a little out of breath and slightly wet as it had begun to rain. Within minutes we were pretty much soaked to the skin as the heavens opened.
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We could wring our clothes out and our feet were squelching in our trainers but we didn’t care one bit as we stood there and watched the best firework display you could ever possibly imagine. As the vents expel their gases the boom vibrates under your feet and through your body. Huge chunks of red molten magma fly hundreds of feet into the air and you can feel the heat as they cascade down and land with a huge thud. The experience really is so hard to put into words. We stood and watched the volcano spurt out the bright orange chunks anywhere from 20 seconds to 3 minutes apart never failing to be impressed. As the day turned into night the show just got more and more impressive against the black sky.
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Apparently we were getting a ‘stage 3’ display, our guide kept trying to get us to leave as by ‘stage 4’ they do not allow anyone up the volcano, or so he said. Of course we persuaded him to stay until a huge chunk of lava (about the size of a suitcase) landed about 40m or so away from us. After that we took a few more photos before embarking upon the bumpy ride home. The journey home was another show by Mother Nature, 2 hours of fork lightning. As we ate dinner heavy rain arrived at the lodge. Somehow it had made its way through the mosquito netting of the room and soaked our bed. Stella quickly had us settled in another room for the night – thank goodness they weren’t fully booked!

The next day we decided to walk to the local market. Stella told us she thought it would be a 10 minute walk, 20 at the most. Forty minutes later we finally arrived looking rather hot and sweaty! We wandered around the stalls of fruit and veg mostly minded by women with their young children in tow.
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It reminded us of our South East Asia trip when we saw children probably no older than 2 grasping hold of 6 inch knives with rusty blades. Health and Safety – what’s that?!? I couldn’t resist taking a sneaky shot of one little baby waving their knife around happily.
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After a wander round we headed back home. All aong the way the locals were waving and saying hello to us. At one point we caught up with a group of very young children heading home from school. They were very excited to say hello to us and even more excited when I showed them photos I had taken of them!
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When we got back to the lodge we were chatting about how amazing the volcano had been and began to wonder if we should do it all over again. At that moment Stella headed over and, upon mentioning our thoughts to her, proceeded to tell us that if we went again the trip would be half price! That was it, our minds were made up. So a second night was spent on top of Mt Yasur and fortunately this time we did not get soaking wet. Once again it put on a magnificent show and we left slightly reluctantly knowing this time really would be the last time.
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We woke to another sunny day with blue skies and after breakfast headed to relax and read around the pool. After lunch we had a wander along the black sand beach throwing stones for the lodge’s dog to chase after and checking out the coral that the tide washes up each day. By mid afternoon it started to cloud over so we decided to ask if we could hire a quad bike for an hour or two. Before we arrived we had downloaded all the geocaches hidden on Vanuatu. There are only 2 traditional ones on Tanna and so we decided to go and find the closest one. We made the 15km trip to the hiding place and all along the locals were shouting hello and waving. Groups of small children heading home from school wanted to high 5 us as we sped past! We arrived at the hiding place covered in mud splatters from the huge puddles in the pot hole laden roads to be greeted by Tom, the land owner. He knew all about the cache so he watched us as we waited for the GPS to settle down and when we figured out where it was he kindly took rocks off the wall to make it easier for me to climb over! The cache was soon in hand and the log signed. We headed back home with a quick stop at the airport to say goodbye to Fred and Barbara. They had been staying at Tanna Lodge and came on the volcano trip with us both nights so after 8 hours of car rides we had swapped a fair few travel stories!

Our last day on Tanna started off with a few showers but turned into a beautiful day. We had been telling the owners about our geocaching adventure and how it all works. By the end of the conversation they said they would love to be a cache guardian for us and so our final day was spent exploring the nearby beaches and caves for a suitable location with their son Jed. Some time later we returned, cache hidden away in a cave waiting for it’s first finder. I wonder how long that will be?

Posted by bumblebum 03:15 Archived in Vanuatu Comments (1)

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