24 September 2019 – Written by Lisa Glassey
Vanuatu, I’m in love with you! What started as a bit of a last minute trip due to some super cheap airfares being released on Air Vanuatu from Auckland to Port Vila, I thought this is a prime opportunity to check out another Pacific Island and I have not been disappointed. I must admit, Vanuatu wasn’t really at the top of the travel bucket list, primarily because I didn’t know a lot about it, however I can wholeheartedly say I am 100% converted and highly recommend as a great authentic beach holiday destination. This trip we remained on the mainland of Efate, however I will be back to explore Tanna and Santo soon!
From the moment we boarded Air Vanuatu in Auckland we felt welcomed, the locals are the friendliest on Earth, I am absolutely blown away with the positivity, love, passion and willingness these people show to help each other and tourists. Every single person we walked past would say hello and even the children were the politest kids I have ever met – you can’t help but fall in love with everything this small country has to offer!
Air Vanuatu is the only airline offering direct flights from Auckland 6 times a week with a flight time of approx. 3 – 3.5 hours. They are very basic but the service is good and the food was fine with the standard selection of either Chicken or Beef, I believe Vegetarian options are also available. The biggest thing to remember with Air Vanuatu is there are no screens in the seat backs, therefore you do need to download the Air Vanuatu Entertainment App before you leave home so you can watch TV, Movies or access to games for the kiddies on your own device. Do remember to take earphones which is one thing I am terrible at remembering until I’m on board! I also found the in-flight magazine quite an interesting read with lots of ideas on activities, restaurants and general information.
Once we arrived, we had organised transfers from the airport to our resort with Adventures in Paradise. There was slight confusion to begin with as they had left our name off the ‘pick up’ list however this was quickly sorted. Once on the bus the tour manager was very knowledgeable and shared helpful information such as buses, customs, pointed out various attractions/building etc. English and French are the main languages however everyone we came across spoke fluent English.
To get around Vanuatu is super easy, there is a bus system which are vans with a Red B on the number plate, Taxis have a Red T, Government officials have a Red G and lastly hire cars have a red H in the number plates so they are all very easy to identify. The buses however operate just like a taxi and they are EVERYWHERE! Some are good and some not so, therefore make sure you barter the cost. Around the city (Port Vila) there is a standard bus price of $150 vatu (approx. NZD2) but once you need to go out of town the price goes up. Most resorts will offer transfers into/from the city at a cost but it’s usually cheaper than the bus and taxis are more expensive again. The traffic congestion in and around Port Vila is crazy and it’s due to the hundreds of ‘buses’ on the roads.
We hired a taxi driver for a full day for $10,000 vatu (approx. $120 NZD) for four of us. This was a great solution as we gave Simione (our driver) a list of all the activities we wanted to do and he drove us there and waited. During this tour we visited the Blue Lagoon, Turtle Sanctuary, Hideaway Island, Tanna Coffee, Market, Government Buildings/Conference Centre etc. Simeon has fluent English and would share with us information on whatever we wanted to know.
The roads in Vanuatu are pretty bad, so what should take 1 hour to get somewhere will take double the time, not because they are on Island time but due to the poor road conditions. I was really impressed to hear the Barak Obama had put quite a bit of $$$ into the Vanuatu roading system before he left his presidency and the main highways (main roads) have been resealed and in relatively good condition.
In our first 3 days we did a lot and would highly recommend everything, although please be aware that the activities can be pricey.
Jungle Zip Line
If you’re not worried about heights this is a lot of fun and I was really impressed at all the safety checks the team did to ensure the highest of safety standards. All the equipment was in pristine condition and I never once felt the need to worry. The tour bus will pick you up from a local coffee shop called Numbawan located in the middle of Port Vila, from there they will drive you out to the site which is a approx. 40 minutes scenic drive on the back of a covered safari style ute. Once there you will be safety briefed, harnessed up and off you go. Six ziplines (first 3 are small but the last two are super fun!) and a couple of swing bridges. You can opt to arrive up in the jungle by helicopter if you choose but we opted for the drive.
There is some pretty good snorkelling and diving spots in/around Vanuatu but the best spot we came across was in/around Hideaway Island. Although we didn’t stay at Hideaway you can organise trips there with various companies. The beach is outstanding and near the main wharf to get the boat over to Hideaway, is the The Beach Bar which is highly recommend for lunch, snacks, cocktails etc.
This was one great day but be aware you WILL get super dirty so make sure you wear old clothing as the mud doesn’t come out (from experience!!). We did this through Buggy Fun Adventures as they were finalists in the Vanuatu Tourism Awards in 2017 and 2018 and they have also received the Trip Advisor Excellence certificate in 2016, 2017 and 2018. I can tell you they did not disappoint. The buggies are VERY old and the steering is terrible but it’s all part of the adventure. You will drive on main public roads, off-road, on beaches, through mud pits etc and depending on the tour you choose, we had lunch and enjoyed some kayaking nearby.
Coffee is not made very well in Vanuatu, however Tanna Coffee itself is delicious, just needs someone to make it properly. When visiting Tanna Coffee they will show you how the coffee is made from start to finish. You can then enjoy you cup. While there take a look at some of the local artworks or you might enjoy the souvenir shop full of lotions and cremes.
This is the best place to relax for a morning swim. The afternoons can get busy with tourists and locals so recommend you head there for a morning. The Blue Lagoon does not disappoint, it’s crystal BLUE and cold! Try to take some reef shoes with you as the coral getting in and out can be rather sharp – especially with children. There are lots of platforms to jump off, ropes to swing from, lots of undercover areas, beach chairs etc. There are limited facilities so make sure you take plenty of water and food as you cannot buy once you’re there. There is a small charge to enter the lagoon of approx. The lagoon changes between salt water at high tide and fresh water at low tide.
Open 7 days and located on the main street in Port Vila this is the place to go for fresh fruit .. you can find EVERTHING here and it’s fresh daily. If you are gain enough to try to the local Blub Blub (similar to our NZ Hangi) then head to the back of the market and a standard blub blub will set you back around $250vatu (approx. NZD$4). From here you can take a walk along the beautiful waterfront where you find children’s playground, various cafes, restaurant and there is also a couple of small handcraft markets mainly selling local handmade jewellery, clothing and wooden souvenirs.
Where to Eat
Food in Vanuatu is expensive. Without a doubt the best restaurant we encounted was the famous L’Houstalet which has been open in Port Vila for 45 years and I can see why. It’s French, it’s authentic and it’s delicious – the steak was outstanding, and the Flying Fox looked interesting! I would have eaten here every night as everything on the menu looked amazing. We ate at a few other restaurants but L’Houstalet was by far the best!
Where to Stay
There are no hotels in central Port Vila, the closest options are Iririki Island Resort which has some fabulous individual Fares scattered around the Island and is a 3 minute ferry ride from the city. Once on the island you have numerous options of pools, restaurants, bars and activities as well as it’s own private beach so Iririki is fabulous for families.
We stayed at The Terraces Apartments which was a 10 minute walk into town. The Terraces offer one, two or three bedroom apartments up on the hill with lovely views. It’s also part of Mangoes Resort, therefore breakfast and all the facilities at Mangoes can also be used.
For a more romantic or couples getaway, I recommend either Ertrap Beach Resort or Tamanu Beach Resort. Both are approximately 45 minutes drive from Port Vila and both offer beautiful individual villas, however I would say the beach at Ertrap is much better than the beach at Tamanu which wasn’t really ideal for swimming. We stayed at Tamanu and the villas and the resort itself were outstanding and the food was delicious. It would have been nice to swim in the beach but everything else made our stay a memorable one. The service was amazing and they even set up our own bonfire on the beach to watch the sun go down – it was magical!
Overall I loved Vanuatu, it’s very different from the likes of Fiji which has quite a westernised presence. I loved the grassroots of Vanuatu, it really is a beautiful place to visit.