We knew we wanted a beach holiday. What we didn’t want, was a “Typical Singaporean” destination; something different from the typical Maldives, Boracay’s and Hawaii’s.
We wanted somewhere really exotic. We wanted to try things we’d never done, see things we’d never seen. A country in the South Pacific sounded like a plan. Fiji? Nah, too common among backpackers. Samoa? Too far, and the flights weren’t frequent enough.
Then, we found them all; an island country in the South Pacific, Vanuatu.
Picture from oceanislandtravel.com
Vanuatu is made up of over 80 islands, each with something different to see. Tanna island, with its underwater caves and volcano, Espiritu Santo for its beautiful beaches, Pentecost, for watching land diving, and Port Vila, the capital and also my first stop, which is pretty much a mix of everything.
To get to Vanuatu, you have to first catch a flight to Brisbane. From Brisbane, Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu is less than 3 hours away.
Scoot/Jetstar (500+ SGD Return) From Brisbane, Air Vanuatu represents the cheapest way to get to Port Vila, it's capital (520+ AUD).
If you're feeling loaded, Qantas will get you there too.
Now, for Typical Singaporeans, (with their "Herd Mentality") even knowing about Vanuatu is a feat in itself. Of the few who might have heard of this country, it's probably because they saw it on "Survivor. Islands Of Fire."
For the sake of the more adventurous ones, i'll break down Vanuatu's 80 islands into just Four "Must Go's".
1. Port Vila (Its Capital, Island of Efate)
Picture from The Havannah, Island of Efate. 30mins away from the capital, Port Vila
As with most island capitals, you shouldn't expect the best attractions or the "bluest waters" of Vanuatu to be found in Port Vila. There are lots of ships in the harbour, resorts, an island casino, and tourists (not Singaporeans of course). And here's an interesting fact. There are NO traffic lights in Vanuatu. (They get by because they give way to one another)
What we really loved about Port Vila was " The Blue Lagoon", a sparkling turquoise pool right smack in the middle of the forest. There is a jungle swing for you to swing yourself right in the middle of it; Or you could gingerly make your way in like how "The Girl" did.
The cool turquoise waters of "The Blue Lagoon"
The most popular beach on Port Vila is probably Eton Beach (below). Despite the many ships in the harbour, the waters of Port Vila still manage to remain relatively blue (nothing compared to its outer islands of course).
For all it's "popularity" there's a good chance you'll have the whole beach to yourself, leaving you feeling like one of the characters on "Lost" the popular TV Series.
Eton Beach, Port vila. We were the only ones on the beach!
Being the capital, Port Vila isn’t the “real” Vanuatu. We didn’t come here to see this. We came for the lagoons, the volcano, and the underwater caves. That would have to wait till our next flight to one of outer islands; Tanna, with its Yasur Volcano and Blue Cave.
2. Tanna Island
Waiting for the water level in the river to subside. Because it had rained the night before, it was too deep for our 4X4 to cross.
Yasur Volcano. This, is the reason travellers make their way to Tanna Island. If you want the experience of sitting right at the edge of an active volcano, this is it. The smell of sulphur, tremors jolting your every bone, and lava spewing everywhere; it makes a pretty strong memory.
Picture by Businessinsider. My camera battery ran out just when it was getting dark, thus we didn't manage good photos of our own.
We had to wait till nightfall to have the best views of the eruptions. (Our camera battery died right after this shot) This was truly an eye opener for us.
Air Vanuatu will get you to Tanna for around 164 AUD. There’s more to Tanna than just Yasur of course. We had a good time with the locals, who showed us their way of life. They brought us to the beaches, blackened by lava, the hot springs, shark bays, and the underwater caves.
This is what a beach holiday should be. Blue waters and fine sand? Check. Nice resorts if you have the extra cash? Check. Volcanos, Tribesmen, diving for fishes and corals? Check, Check, Check.
"The Girl" with the locals at the Black Beach. Because of the nearby Yasur Volcano, there are various "Boiling holes" on the beach for you to boil yourself an instant hot meal!
If you think yourself a good swimmer, Tanna Island offers a swim/dive "underwater cave" experience. From our resort, we took a small boat out to the "Blue Cave". During low tide, a short underwater dive will see you resurface in a cave, with a ray of light illumniating the blue water, creating a truly magical experience for one who made the "dive".
Picture from Vanuatu Tourist Information
Unfortunately for us, the tide had gotten a little higher than usual. To be honest, I (The Bald Guy) would consider myself a fairly strong swimmer (used to be school team) but this was crazy. It was all I could do to keep myself from being carried and smashed onto the rocks. Most of my energy was spent"battling the current" as opposed to taking good photos.
3. Espiritu santo
By now our batteries were flat, which meant our cameras and phones were useless. (You can't charge your phone when you stay in the more backward accommodation in Tanna. They don't usually use electricity and you have to pay a premium if you want them to charge it for you)
Picture from nandabluehole.com (besides the blue lagoon in Port Vila, you'll find another similar one here on "Santo"
If Tanna Island was for the adventurer, Espiritu santo represents a beach/sea lovers paradise. Divers may explore the many "Shipwrecks" all over the island. For the snorkler, sunken tanks and aircraft left behind by the US Millitary after WWII are easily accessible at the Million Dollar Point dive site. You can fly to Santo from Tanna Island for 290 AUD.
For the Honeymooner, you'd be glad to know that "Santo" is the home of the most beautiful beaches in the South Pacific; the most famous of them being "Champagne Beach"
Picture from firstname.lastname@example.org
Picture from worldmagicalplaces.com
Picture from internationaltravellermag.com
The "Spirtual Birthplace" of Bunge jumping. However, it's only worth going to Pentecost during "Land Diving" season which runs from April to June. Watching a Land Diving performance would cost you around 120 AUD.
For Singaporeans who think nothing of dishing out a couple hundred dollars for a good nights sleep, Vanuatu will be right up their street. Unfortunately for budget travellers, there are NO hostels in Vanuatu. You might want to try its neighbour Fiji, which is a heaven for backpackers.
At 55 AUD a night, City Lodge (Above) is arguably the cheapest accomodation in Port Vila. (There are cheaper ones at 30+ AUD but they are way off the city centre. You'd need a taxi, which just adds to the cost) Considering I usually stay in hostels, I expected a lot more for 55 AUD. Our Hotel 81 puts this to shame.
In the outer Islands, like Tanna and Santo, you can get accomodation for less than 30 AUD. There is a catch though. You'll have to eat all your meals with them; and each costs you 30 AUD as well. In the case of Tanna Island, you don't have a choice because all food is shipped in from the main island. If you don't pay, you don't eat.
Tanna Tree Top Lodge and Tanna Lava View Bungalows; budget accomodation nearest to the Yasur Volcano.
We also stayed in Island Dream Bungalows. (Above) If your idea of bathing is buckets of cold water which you have to fill up yourself, you'll do fine here. I doubt ladies will be thrilled with the idea though.
Our Room in Tanna Dream Bungalows, 20+ AUD
2. Mid Range
Can you spot "The Girl"? Preparing for a swim at the Moorings Hotel.
Most Hotels in this category range anywhere from 100 AUD to 180 AUD. We stayed at Moorings Hotel, 10 mins walk from the City Centre with a Seafront view for 120 AUD. I thought it was fantastic. If you have a partner who would complain about the quality in this range, dump them.
Ours was the more expensive "Sea View" room. Just perfect.....
Oh, and you won't be forced to pay 30 AUD for each meal. There are bars, swimming pools, complete hotel facilities.
The Hotel Bar and Restaurant at Moorings Hotel where we stayed. Meals cost around 10 AUD for a "Burger and Chips"
3. High End/Ultra High End
Picture from Travelcafe.co.nz. Iririki Island Resort, Port Vila
We only stayed a couple of nights in this range of accomodation. The Tanna Evergreen Resort is the 2nd most luxurious resort on Tanna Island. After a many nights with mosquitos and cold showers, we thought it would be nice to end our Tanna stay in luxury.
Waiting for our "seafood dinner" at Tanna Evergreen Resort, Tanna Island
Luxury accommodation costs anything from 180 to 1.000 AUD a night, which is lot, considering that you could get a nights sleep for less than 30 AUD in the "budget" range. Here, they actually have a "real restaurant" so you can have a choice of what you'd like to eat. Meals still cost at least 30 AUD though.
Picture from The Havannah, Island of Efate. 30mins away from the capital, Port Vila
There are a wider range of tours available at the resort. We did our "Blue Cave" tour from here. You could do the Yasur Volcano Tour from the resort, but it would take you at least 2 hours to get to the Yasur, which why we stayed in the "budget bungalows" which were just 30mins away, and offer a view of the Volcano too.
Our Vanuatu Experience
Fun with the local children along the Black Beach, Tanna Island. "So young already know how to use Parang!"
We have slept under the stars in the Sahara Desert, trekked the mountains of the Himalayas, wandered around more of parts of Europe than most Singaporeans have even heard of; and our time in Vanuatu ranks up there with the very best of them.
Here, you get more than just the typical beach/water bungalow experience. (Keep the Maldives for when your 50) Vanuatu is a place for the Adventurer, the Beach Bum and the Honeymooner.
As for the rest of the South Pacific? Here comes "The Girl and The Bald Guy".
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