Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu is an independent island chain/ country located 3 hrs NE of Au and 3 hours north of NZ, fairly close to Tahiti, and was going to be our first stop in the Pacific islands. Our flight with Air Vanuatu from Melbourne with a stopover in Sydney arrived on time mid November, and were welcomed by a Polynesian music group that played traditional folk music that immediately made us feel we were in the Pacific, where distant cultures remain strong and embellish any traveler that arrives there.
It was not raining right then, but had obviously done so very recently and were unfortunately rewarded with the unwanted answer to the obvious question: will it rain all of this week? Upon hearing “the probably yes” Liza and I looked at each other and then rolled our eyes. Still, all was not lost, as storms in the Pacific are known to appear usually in the afternoons, very much like in any tropical climate, unless it was the rainy season, which had not started yet. Supposedly.
Our pre-aranged van picked us up after we filed the complaint for Liza’s broken suitcase, and were soon at the dock where the small boat would take us to our hotel: the Hideaway Resort (40$ p/p, dorm room), built on a small island 20 minutes away from port Villa (Vanuatu’s capital city) and with a well known coral reef around it. We were looking forward to days of swimming, snorkeling and sailing, plus hopefully having the chance to learn about the local culture and visit other places or even islands. We had booked 2 beds in one of the dorm rooms, but fortunately it was all for us.
Once we settled in we decided to check what dining options we would have, and most important learn about the costs involved because it is well known that life in all island of the Pacific is very expensive. And this would be our first shock, as Vanuatu turned out to be extremely so. Thus, we made our way to the supermarket and purchased just enough food to function on survival mode (bread, tuna and fruit), as we still had a few months of travelling ahead and our budget was beginning to feel the pressure of unexpected expenses, namely Japan and the flight to Vietnam.
Port Villa is an uninteresting capital city that does not offer anything to the tourist, except perhaps the only cafe at the waterfront which enjoys beautiful sunsets and has fun activities (movie shows) going on plus free internet (good stuff in a country that usually charges around 6 USD per hour of use).
We spent the first three days chilling out at the resort, snorkelling whenever we felt like it and reading books on the beach when it was not raining, which unfortunately did not happen as often as we would have wanted.
We also checked on Efate island (the island where the capital city is, and thus where we were) tours to be made, but at almost 100 dollars for a 4 hour tour that did not cover anything really interesting we decided to hold back. Next option was to check out how expensive it would be to reach Tana island, the only island in the country and probably in the Pacific where a single tribe still maintains its traditional lifestyle, barely wearing any clothes and without electricity. However, at almost 400 USD per person for a 2 day tour (yes, two days, as the few operators that have it fly you there in one day, take you to the volcano, spend the night, take you to the village the following and fly you back) we again had to discard the idea.
Seeing that Vanuatu was proving to be a tad to expensive for us and that we were going to leave the country without having seen anything outstanding or peculiar, we chose to visit the nearby waterfalls. At 13 USD/ person they were not cheap either, but certainly had a charming beauty to them and were a nice background for some good pictures.
So, what is there to do in Vanuatu? It depends. if you are on a tight budget like us certainly not much. Any activity that you want to do will cost you at least 60 to 70 USD and it might not be that interesting. However I really think that visiting Tana island and its primitive village is a must before it disappears, so if you have a chance and the money go for it.
Snorkeling at Hideaway Resort is quite good (check these budget waterproof cameras)but not the best, although feeding the fish can be a lot of fun, and I cannot deny that there is a subtle charm in sleeping in your own island somewhere in the Pacific. My verdict? If you have the money head to Vanuatu only if you are going to visit Tana island as well. Otherwise there are other islands in the Pacific that are less expensive ( or can be) and offer much more. Like Moorea in French Polynesia, for example. Yes, that’s Tahiti for most of us. And no, it does not have to be as expensive as it is famed to be.