|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Scents of Rhythm
Vanuatu, the Land of Fire and Water, lies west of Fiji, south of the Solomon Islands and north of New Zealand and Australia's Great Barrier Reef. In 1774 Captain Cook charted the islands and called them the New Hebrides, and the name remained until independence in 1980 when it was changed to Vanuatu.
Vanuatu, at the east end of the Melanesian chain, sits on the edge of the Pacific Plate and is divided into three groups, Torres and Banks Island in the north, the Y-shaped central group of Espiritu Santo and Maewo to Efate, and the Tafea Island group (Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Erromango and Aneityum)in the south.
Vanuatu is the unpolished jewel of the South Pacific Islands, a land of many cultures and an ideal adventure destination with fascinating surprises. Colorful reefs with tiger sharks, scuba diving, game fishing, giant banyan trees, and a unique prehistoric giant fern, namwle. Rituals, the obligations of kinship and traditional ceremonies are an integral part of modern life and one that can be appreciated more fully by a visit to one of the many islands.
On Efate you can walk to beautiful waterfalls, meet locals with a freshly killed wild pig, visit the local Yakel tribe village where time really has been standing still for many years, or drink kava in the red light district of the capital Port Vila where every house displays a lantern at the bar.
Kava is very popular throughout the South Pacific and is a derivative of the pepper tree family. Traditionally it is cut and chewed into a pulp then spat into a bowl and the resultant liquid drunk. It is usually an evening ritual drink but certainly not for the faint hearted. On some islands both men and women may drink kava as an evening soporific after a hard days work. On Tanna it has become more ritualized as a men only pastime, so much so that women dare not pass near nakamal's(men's houses) at the time kava is being drunk, lest they accidentally see the ritual and be punished with a beating.
In the north the climate is tropical and in the south sub-tropical, and it is the most hurricane prone country in the South Pacific. There are three official languages, English, French and Bislama, and because of a long history of inter island and inter village trading, many ni-Vanuatu speak numerous languages. There are over 113 distinct languages and many more dialects are found throughout the group.
Staple foods are mostly root crops such as yam, taro and manioc, and seasonal fruits like breadfruit are important mainstays. Pigs are a mainstay not just for food but as a form of money and prestige.
Traveling the islands of Vanuatu is an experience you will never forget so try and see as many as possible to gain an insight into the culture of these friendly people.
Efate is the main island of Vanuatu and is dotted with beaches, resorts and places of cultural and historical interest. The drive around the island is around 140 km. Port Vila, the capital, is located around a magnificent natural harbor offering stunning views of Iririki, Ifira islands and a look out all the way to Malapoa Point.
The island has a rugged coastline and rolling verdant countryside, fast flowing rivers, cascading waterfalls, isolated sandy bays and lagoons. The interior is lush rain forest cut only by a few walking tracks to remote weather and radio beacons.
Vila is a pretty town, clean and uncluttered, the waterfront area is unpolluted, and is fast becoming known as the gourmet capital of the South Pacific with French, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Melanesian and Mediterranean, along with American chili dog or Aussie meat pie. Night life is fun and caters for all ages with night clubs, pubs, several casinos and more. You can stroll along the waterfront, or darkened back streets late at night and feel safe.
In the southern islands, particularly Tanna, titles or names are bestowed on certain men, which designate them as chiefs. This status can give them rights over land and even possessions of entire social groups. Women hold a very low status whereas in places like Ambae and the Shepherds, women can achieve the rank of Chief.
Espiritu Santo is the largest of Vanuatu's islands and with some of the most beautiful white sand beaches, amazing blue holes, caves, world renowned diving sites such as Million Dollar Point and snorkelling, it is a little known paradise waiting to be uncovered.
In Luganville, the main town, there is a local market with fresh produce and local crafts, a number of bars, restaurants and tour operators. Visit a Kastom village to learn about the ancient history and traditions of the locals, spend time relaxing or picnicking on the bare white sandy beaches, kayak from island to island enjoying the crystal clear blue water for which Santo has become renowned or visit one of Santo's amazing blue holes for a swim or a snorkel.
Just an hour drive from Luganville, you can visit Millennium Cave and walk through this 50 metre high cave full of bats, stalactites, stalagmites and water sculptured rocks. During the trek you can swim in waterfalls, take time out for a picnic in a tropical rain forest and swim down the river in a tropical gorge.
Malekula is the second largest island and the most diverse, culturally and linguistically with over thirty distinct languages spoken, and some of the best custom dances come from the islands of Small and Big Nambas.
The interior of Malekula is mountainous, rugged and forest-covered with good walking and bird watching. There are old cannibal sites hidden in the bush on north Malekula and the villagers are exceptionally friendly and enjoy sharing their proud cultural heritage with visitors. You can visit caves, neighboring islands such as Maskelynes, Uri and the Uripiv Islands.
Tanna Island is reached in 70 minutes by a 6-seat er plane ride from Efate and is best known as the home to one of Vanuatu's most popular tourist attractions, the Mount Yasur volcano. Considered one of the world's most accessible volcanoes Mt Yasur is just a one hour drive from the airport and then a 10 minute walk to the crate rim.
There is a lot to see and do in Tanna so, if you want to swim in underwater caves, snorkel on some of the best coral in the South Pacific, visit untouched waterfalls, see the islands wild horses and experience an ancient culture that remains largely unchanged to this day, allow time to explore.
The main town is Lenakal, you can village a tribal village and learn about the customs and culture, share their knowledge of traditional medicine, crafts and styles of cooking. They will entertain you with custom dancing, horse riding demonstrations. See the world's largest banyan tree, visit the blue hole at White Grass then take a boat ride to the Lemnap underwater cave, or simply just relax on one of the beautiful white sand beaches.
There are also cult tribes to learn about including the Prince Philip cult and the John Frum's cargo cult. If you visit on a Friday you will be privy to the weekly ceremony when John Frum members conduct rituals including raising flags and marching in unison, holding the belief that mimicking these American acts will lead to the delivery of magical cargo such as radios, jeeps, fridges and other manufactured items owned by American visitors during WWII.
In 1942 1,000 men from Tanna were recruited to work at military bases on Efate. A sort of cultural hero emerged who would come across the sea bringing wealth in abundance. Jon from America as the symbol of their new-found religion the Tannese took the red cross seen on wartime ambulances on Efate and today villages north of Yasur volcano and elsewhere are dotted with little red crosses neatly surrounded by picket fences, bearing witness to this extraordinary chain of events. The cult is still active today and the followers believe that John Frum will come back on a February 15 (the year of his return is not known), a date which is observed as "John Frum Day" in Vanuatu.
For the adventurous traveler seeking a real island experience, Ambrym is the island for you. It is a place of culture, spirituality and adventure and the people are warm, friendly and welcoming. Ambrym is considered Vanuatu's sorcery center famous for its black magic. The North of Ambrym is famous for some of the best wood carvings in the Pacific, the mysterious Rom dance and for its easy access to Mt Marum and Mt Benbow volcanoes, which still rumble away.
Culture is strong with its many spiritual beliefs like in the north, there is no fishing, hunting or other activities from 1 September to 31 December during the Yam planting season, and volcano trips can only be available from the south during these months. Wildlife Ambrym is home to some fascinating wildlife including the endemic Vanuatu Megapode (Namalao), dugongs and turtles.
Erakor Island is a small island in Erakor lagoon and home to Erakor Island Resort. The resort welcomes non-staying visitors to swim off the sandy beach, use the water sports facilities, bar and restaurant. The open-air chapel is a romantic spot for a wedding. There are also the graves of a missionary family and it's a lovely island to just walk around. Erakor is just five minutes from Port Vila and the lagoon is very pretty and can be explored by canoe.
Aneityum is Vanuatu's southernmost inhabited island and a tropical island paradise. The interior is mountainous and covered with wet, dark forest. Along the coast, pine plantations contrast with coconut palms, white sand beaches and coral reefs. The main source of income is tourism and many cruise ships call here. Mystery Island is all beaches and reefs and a popular cruise ship destination. There are very few visitors and you will never be bothered with crowds.
Aneityum is far from Port Vila and it's an expensive flight so to get the most out There are two flights a week to Aneityum from Port Vila and it is an expensive flight so combine this with calling at Tanna and/or Erromango on the same ticket. Anelgauhat in the south is the main settlement and there are a couple of basic stores, telephones and medical dispensary. Aneityum is malaria free and you can expect to be tested on arrival at the airport.
Erromango was formerly known as Martyrs Island by the Presbyterian missionaries in the 19th century and is the largest island in Tafea, the southernmost province of Vanuatu. There is only one road from Upongkor to the Dillons Bay Airstrip and there are flights from Port Vila. The largest villages are Potnarvin and Upongkor and there are three strato volcanoes that form the Traitors Head peninsula, north of Cook Bay on Erromango is largely un-populated and undeveloped.
There aren't many flights and a visit to Erromango will take more than a few days. Erromango is not the easiest island to visit but it is quite possibly the most unspoiled. Erromango is ideal for trekking and bush walking. A day out to Lelepa Island can be an expedition of fun and adventure or a romantic escape where you can relax in a hammock or just simply walk on the sand and swim in the sea.
Pentecost Island has become famous throughout the world for the land diving ritual Nagol which occurs every Saturday between April and June. The ritual, which influenced the invention of bungee jumping, sees local men and boys as young as seven jump from a 20 -30 meter high man-made tower with only a vine attached to their legs. Travelling to view this magnificent ceremony is a once in a lifetime experience.
No words can express the feeling of the ground vibrating under the dancing and stomping feet of villagers and the excitement. The awe- inspiring ceremony celebrates the yam harvest and is a fertility rite for men. There are four flights a week to Pentecost from Port Vila and Santo. Diving on Pentecose, visiting local villages, where time has stood still and where cannibalism existed until 1985.
Maewo is a very thin and rugged island stretching 56 km, the mountainous central chain and the south eastern coast are good places for bird-watching. Both coastlines are covered with black sand beaches. Most of the islanders live on the sheltered west coast. Maewo receives the largest amount of rain in Vanuatu and has some of the most beautiful waterfalls.
Maewo is famous for its ancient secret societies. Magic is performed almost as much as in Ambrym and the sorcerers claim to be even more skilled. Some traditional dances performed by men are tabu for women. They must not see any of the dances and the dancing ground will remain forbidden for some time after the dance. In return, the women have their own dances which cannot be seen by men.
The Wallis and Futuna islands are two group of islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean between Fiji and Samoa and became a French Overseas Territory in 1961. Wallis and Futuan is the only French territory where a native system of monarchy has been allowed to survive. There are three traditional kings in Wallis and Futuna: the Lavelua (King of Wallis), the Tuiagaifo (King of Alo) and the Keletaona (the title of King of Sigave depends on family heritage, thus he carries the title of Tui Sigave, Tamolevai, or Keletaona).
The Wallis group consists of the main island of Uvea and more than 20 surrounding islets scattered in the lagoon and the coral reef surrounding the island. Mata-Utu is the capital and principal city of the territory is located on Uvea. The terrain is volcanic in origin with low hills and many lakes, such as the spectacular Lake Lalolalo found in ancient volcanoes. Roughly two-thirds of the inhabitants live on Wallis the other third on Futuna.
The Futuna group, sometimes identified as the Hoorn Islands, consists of the two islands of Alofi(uninhabited), and Futuna, which lie approximately 225 km southwest of the Wallis group. The archipelago is mountainous, of volcanic origin. Futuna has no coral reef or lagoon and is subject to periodic earthquakes. Alofi was inhabited until around 1840 but was abandoned due to a shortage of water has a coral reef and lagoon. Crops are, however, still grown there by the inhabitants of the eastern part of Futuna, only 2 km away.
Wallis and Futuna have a tropical climate with February being the hottest month and July the coolest. Most exotic fruits can be found on Wallis: bananas, breadfruit, coconuts, lemons, pineapple oranges, mangoes, and papayas. Yams, taros and manioc constitute the basic elements of Wallisian cuisine. Manioc is especially cultivated to feed the pigs. The "faikai" are dishes based on starch extracted from Tacca. The lagoons off Wallis and Alofi abound in multi-colored fish (such as the clown), and one can even spot rays,tortoises and dolphins.
Aniwa is a small coral island in the southernmost province of Tafea, in the northwest is Itcharo lagoon which is open to the sea. Like the nearby West Futuna the inhabitants originally came from Samoa although there has been much intermarriage with Tanna over the generations.
There are five distinct villages, Itamotu, Imale, Isavi, Ikaokao, and Namsafoura. The main village is Ikaokao, located in the center of the south of the island, followed by Isavai in the island's centre. The John Frum cargo cult exists in Ikaokao and is unaffected by the touristic involvement.
The Banks and Torres are Vanuatu's northernmost islands. Geographically, they reach north and west to the Solomon Islands. As with all of Vanuatu, the main islands are volcanic in origin with active volcanoes on Gaua and Vanua Lava islands.
The Banks and Torres are made up of the following island group: Vanua Lava is the big island and has mountains, a volcano, crocodiles, reefs, rivers, waterfalls and rainforests. There is plenty to experience, here in the northern islands of Vanuatu. Sola is the provincial town for the Banks and Torres Islands. From Sola you visit Mt Sere Ama, an active volcano, the Selva River and Kwakea Island.
Distant from modern Vanuatu, Mota Lava and Ra islands are a pleasant island escape. These islands are relatively small and around west Mota Lava and Ra are white sand beaches and coral reefs. The massive rocks on Ra are for confident climbers, but the Sleeping Mountain on Mota Lava is short, but steep, and you are rewarded by magnificent views. The walk around Mota Lava will take between 2.5 to 3.5 hrs. There are three flights a week to the Banks and Torres Islands but no regular shipping.
When the South-East Trade winds are blowing in the far north of the archipelago the surf is up in the Torres Islands and the brilliant white beaches are simply superb. Only four of the main islands are populated and the Polynesian influence is at its strongest here. They get so few visitors this way that the shops are not geared up to tourists so coconut crabs, elsewhere a delicacy, constitute an important part of the local diet and you can pick them up cheaply.
We hope that you have enjoyed an insight into the beautiful islands that make up Vanuatu, enough maybe to make you want to visit and maybe stay awhile in this tropical paradise.