The island paradise of Vanuatu offers a cultural lesson like no other, just a stone’s throw from home.
We can sit quietly in school lessons and listen to tales from other countries but it will never match the knowledge gained by packing the family bags onto a flight and taking notes, first hand, in a distant land.
Although Vanuatu is only a few hours’ flight from Australia (you can leave at morning tea and still catch the lunch menu when you arrive in the capital of Port Vila), it provides an opportunity to experience an entirely different people and culture.
Age-old customs and traditions are central to the Melanesian people. A visit to any village will give you insight into the rituals, ceremonies and decision-making processes,little changed over thousands of years. Here disputes can still be resolved peacefully by exchanging food, mats and pigs. Children from our western culture stand enthralled as ground stomping, dancing, singing and the rustling of grass skirts spiral to a feverish level under village banyon trees during traditional ceremonies.
Discovery of this ancient land usually starts in Port Vila on the main island of Efate, housing a mishmash of European, Vietnamese, Chinese and Melanesian cultures. The main street houses a sleepy mix of duty free shops, restaurants, tourist offices and banks but it is on the outskirts of town at the Port Vila market where the locals shop and sell their wares. Rows and rows of coconuts, bananas, kava root, shells, artefacts, flowers and souvenirs beckon. Brightly coloured sarongs flap in the breeze and grass skirts and coconut bras rustle their allure. Ni Vanuatu ladies sit in their vibrant ‘mother hubbard’ dresses, equipped with Singer sewing machines and warm gestures. Visitors mix easily here laughing and chuckling with the locals.
Beyond the capital there are many things for the family to explore. Children and parents frolic within emerald pools at the Mele Cascades, tucked in the jungle greenery just out of town.
Many little islands are just a short boat ride away and if your kids don’t mind taking a side trip through corals, fluorescent blue starfish and inquisitive lobsters on the way to the post office, this one’s for you. Hideaway Island is home to the world’s first underwater post office and children revel in the novelty of diving deep through a cloud of fish to send their waterproof postcards home to envious friends.
Vanuatu’s best beaches are predominately on the surrounding islands and a popular day out to explore these is on board Vanuatu’s Lady of the Sea, a 23-metre sailing ketch. A barbecue lunch stop on the island of Moso is the highlight surrounded by sparkling waters and pure white sand.
Accommodation in and around Port Vila abounds for every budget. Five minutes from town and on the shores of Erakor Lagoon, Le Meridien Port Vila Resort & Casino is Vanuatu’s most deluxe. It sports a golf course for dad, Namele day spa for mum and a kids’ club for the littlies plus a host of diving, boating, water and land based activities for the teenagers and young at heart. Other popular family choices include Le Lagon Resort, Erakor Island Resort & Spa or Poppy’s on the Lagoon for a self-contained option.
A short flight from Port Vila is the island of Tanna, one of the most southern islands in the Vanuatu archipelago and home to the world’s most accessible active volcano, Mt Yasur.
It’s not every day your children get to stand on the edge of a seething,rumbling, active volcano (and by the way, there is also a post box on the crater rim - now that’s hot mail!) The ground moves, the rumbling starts low and guttural and then spirals into a sharp clap of thunder. Huge fiery boulders of flaming lava shoot upwards then crash through the burning skies into the landscape below.
Admittedly there is lots to keep you busy on and around this main island of Efate. But my advice to fully experience Vanuatu is to also venture further afield and send that postcard from one of many other hot spots in the archipelago.
Efate is Vanuatu’s main island but there are many other adventurous islands to explore such as Espiritu Santo, Tanna, Epi, Ambrym and Pentecost.
Air Vanuatu flies six times a week
from Sydney to Port Vila and three times a week from
Brisbane. Visit www.airvanuatu.com
Le Meridien Port Vila Resort & Casino
Le Lagon Resort Vanuatu
Erakor Island Resort & Spa
Poppy’s on the Lagoon
Australians do not require a visa however you must have a valid, ongoing or return airline ticket and your passport must be valid for six months beyond your intended stay.
The best time of year is considered from April/May to October when temperatures range from 18 to 28° C. Lightweight casual clothing plus a sweater is usually sufficient.