Famous for its bungee jumping natives, the 83 islands are located near Australia
By Brittney Vija Ihrig
Vanuatu: What it is and where is it?
A tropical climate, coral reefs, white beaches, active volcanoes, pristine blue holes, adventure sports, and the world’s first underwater post office.
So, why haven’t you been there, or more importantly, why haven’t you heard of it? Probably because it is relatively unknown outside the Australia-Pacific region.
I know Vanuatu intimately, as fortunately my auntie lives on a beach on the main island. There is sand in her backyard, occasional hermit crabs that gatecrash dinner, the aroma of salt, along with the sound of lapping waves.
For those who have yet to be acquainted, let me introduce you: Vanuatu is an 83-island archipelago, comprising of volcanoes, rainforests, beaches, and coral reefs and it is only a 3.5-hour flight from Sydney.
Aussie’s Tropical Fix
This is where many Aussies get their tropical island fix, and it is a cheap addition to any tourist’s Australian travel itinerary. With merely 90,000 visitors annually, compared to Italy’s over 40 million tourists per year, Vanuatu is one of the most unmarred tourist destinations on earth.
Usually, I stray from brochure-style tourism writing, however, my family ties to the country and the lack of articles on this humble destination has led to this somewhat brochure-style piece, please enjoy.
Where: 3.5 hours northeast from Sydney and 2.5 hours northeast from Brisbane, Australia.
How to get there: Flights from Australia, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and New Zealand. Many Australia-pacific cruises include Vanuatu in their itinerary as well.
Weather: Wet tropical climate in the north, and sub-tropical climate in the south, however, Vanuatu is relatively mild all year round. The wet season is from November to April, and it is also hotter during this time. The dry season is from May to October.
The cool season is from June to August, although, Vanuatu is warm all year round; the average high temperature from December to March is 31 degrees celcius, whilst in July and August it is 26 degrees. Nights are cooler than the days.
Tanna Island: Active Volcano
Perched high on Tanna Island, Mt Yasur is the most popular volcano in Vanuatu and one of the most active in the world, with frequent strombolian explosions of lava, ash and cinder. Take a scenic flight over the volcano, or stand as close to the edge as your nerve will allow.
The 4WD to Mt Yasur is across dense rainforest with views of coffee plantations and native villages and over rugged mountain passes. From there, it is a 15 minute ash-dune hike to the top of the 1184-foot beast.
Adhering to the safety rules is a must, as a tiny piece of volcanic rock will cut through your skin, muscle, and bone like butter. For views of the 400-meter crater with a backdrop of lushly vegetated island sitting in a vibrant blue sea you can trek during the daytime, or for a fireworks display of natural kinds try venturing at night.
Where: Tanna Island.
How to get there: Boat or small plane to the island of Tanna (from most major islands, including Efate), then a 4WD to either the base or the top of the volcano.
When: All year-round.
Entry fee: 2250 Vatu for the first night and 1125 Vatu for the subsequent nights.
Note: for safety, a tour guide is needed.
Visit an Indigenous Village
A quick Google search reveals an array of indigenous tours with different locations and prices. Although this abundance of tours seems commercialized, these are genuine villages and have been relatively unchanged for hundreds of years.
Many of these villages truly live the tribal lifestyle that a tourist pays to see – something is rare, when contrasting it with many ‘authentic’ cultural tours, that involve visiting people who would usually wear jeans and t-shirts, and dress up in traditional clothing for the occasion.
Tribalism is spread throughout all of the islands; so, you can marvel at the topless tribal dancing, men modestly concealing their nether-region with leaves, vines and other natural materials, learn to spear fish and then cook it buried in the ground and later at night, during the Melanesian feast, wash your culinary creation down with ‘kava’ – a local beverage similar to alcohol and with effects similar to marijuana that will lull you into an unusual relaxed (legal) state.
Where: On almost all islands, including Espiritu Santo, Tanna, Port Vila, Efate, Pele Island, and Pentecost.
When: All year-round.
Note: There are numerous authentic, affordable, and genuine online tours.
‘Nahgol’ – the Origin of the Bungee Jump
Visit the only place on earth that has ‘land diving’. In a ritual of male strength and ego, two vines are wrapped around the ankles of any man or boy as young as seven, before he dives off a 20-40-meter high wooden tower; his face landing inches from the ground.
With nothing to soften the impact, a vine snapping will likely result in a spinal or neck injury, or broken legs. On Saturdays during April and June on Pentecost Island is the annual Nahgol festival, and is the best time to witness this dangerous display.
Where: Pentecost Island
How to get there: Pentecost Island has a domestic airport, and there are a few flights a week from Port Vila and the flight time is under an hour.
When: Saturdays from April to June
Note: There are numerous online tours, and prices are affordable. Many locals do not speak English, so a tour is advised.
Vanuatu also offers all of the usual water sports in stunning locations; swimming under the Mele Cascades or in the pristine Nanda Blue Hole, parasailing, game fishing, snorkeling, and scuba-diving at the hideaway island, Flyboarding or ocean walking.
I’m betting that the latter two are unfamiliar. Oceanwalking was recently developed in Australia and like Flyboarding is developing in popularity. Oceanwalking, as the name implies, is literally walking on the ocean floor and is a way for non-swimmers to explore the reef.
Alternatively, if your desperate for some scuba action, but don’t want to ruin your perfectly straightened bangs, then the helmet style exploration – that doesn’t allow water to enter, is for you. Flyboarding is a water jet-pack that propels you into the air. Most of the typical and unusual water sports can be experienced on the main islands of Efate, Pentecost and Espiritu.
Ocean Walking: 6400 Vatu at Port Vila. www.oceanwalkervanuatu.com
Flyboarding: 7 000 Vatu for adults and 6 000 Vatu for children for a 15-minute ride.
Blue holes: There are many blue holes on the island of Espiritu Santo, including the most well known – Nanda Blue Hole.
Note: All other water sports are held on most of the islands all throughout the year.
Feeling a little bit tired after your 15-minute walk up to Mt. Yasur volcano, why not sandboard down?
Like most beachy-island destinations, adrenaline junkies can satisfy their addiction at Vanuatu: buggy safaris, horse riding, 4WD driving, or Ziplining are all great ways to experience the lush forests, beaches, and ash plains that blankets the 83 island archipelago.
For a different kind of excitement and adrenaline kick, you can punt on a horse in Port Vila – the capital city in July.
Gambling Away Her Vatu
I will never forget feeling incredibly grown-up when visiting my Aunt in the fourth grade in primary school, and ‘gambling’ my abundance of Vatu (which was worth very little AUD) on horses that had cool sounding names.
Vanuatu has a tropical and sub-tropical climate, a mild wet season and lush vegetation all year round. So, if you desire tranquility, then you can relax by an orchid or palm tree or if thrill-seeking is your travel style then I suggest you blaze down safari trails in your quad bike any time of the year.
Zorbing: Port Vila go to this website for more details.
Note: All other adventure sports help on the main island of Efate, and most other islands. So, if you’re planning your dream Australian vacation, why not squeeze in a week in Vanuatu, or the next time you’re deciding on your beachy holiday, don’t just breeze towards to obvious tropical havens, why not try something less popular?
Brittney Ihrig is an aspiring journalist from Sydney in Australia, and has been published in Rising Nepal – an English newspaper in Nepal, Vivacity Magazine – in Kathmandu, Nepal, and Air Asia’s Travel 3Sixty in-flight magazine. Brittney’s journalistic passions and interests lie in culture, travel, activism, and psychology.