Vanuatu Highlights

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Lelepa Island Day Tour

Lelepa Island day Tour has a lot of great reviews on Trip Advisor and other sources, so we decided to include it on the next opportunity. Looking at the weather forecast there appeared to be only one day, so we quickly made the booking.

The transfer bus came and picked us up around 8.30, then picked some others from various accommodation in Port Vila. Then we enjoyed a pleasant drive past Hideaway Island and wound up the very steep road which has Mele Cascades at it’s base.

By 9.30 we were waiting on a small beach to be picked up and ferried by island boat out to Lelepa Island.

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A short boat ride saw us landing on a small beach on Lelepa Island. Then our guide took us on a leisurely stroll along an impeccably groomed path and gave us some very interest insight into the way that various trees and plants are used in every day life. They included antiseptic leaves to treat coral cuts etc, leaves for toothache and even a tree whose only function is to warn the people that they cannot eat reef fish for a certain period of time by flowering at a definite time.

The path ended on a beautiful beach which is nicely set up with toilets, BBQ and shelters. We were immediately given some refreshments then given instructions on where best to snorkel and engage in other water activities. All snorkelling gear is supplied as well as glass vision body boards and an island outrigger canoe. The snorkelling immediately in front and too the left is pretty amazing. It is just a very broad coral bed, with many types of fish making it their home. The outrigger was fun too, though a little bit of a challenge to get the steering right at times.

While we played the Lelepa Islanders prepared a simple but delicious meal of fried chicken, rice, a very tasty beef stew, and plenty of fruit and other salad. Then it was time for more snorkelling or relaxing in a hammock.

After a little while we were asked to pack up to move on to another highlight. The boat trip was extremely short, taking us just to the next small bay. We disembarked here and were led to the entrance of a very large cave.

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In the past the villagers used this as a refuge during cyclone season. It is massive and extends about 130 metres! You could imagine an entire village living here and all keeping dry and safe. They do not use it now, not since WWII, having moved their entire village to the other side of the island where the cyclones do not wreak as much havoc.

We followed a candle lit pathway to the back. Here we were told that when the cave was being explored human bones were found, where cannibals of the distant past enjoyed a taste of their enemies!

Our next boat ride took us around the coastline to a cove which sported a handwritten sign NO FISHING. Marine Reserve. Here we simply tied up to a mooring in about 4-5 metres of super clear water, put our snorkels on and jumped overboard. WOW! The most beautiful coral formations and loads and loads of fish. Leftovers from lunch were thrown into the water and the fish literally teamed around us. Not just small ones either. There were quite a number of sizeable members too. I would have to say that it was easily as good as Hideaway Island, if not better. The fish were not as big as Hideaway, but the coral was alive, vibrant and extensive. A definite winner.

The next leg of journey was a little rough but showed the skills of our young boat captains. The wind chopped up the sea and it was surprising how stable their long boats were.

Before long we arrived at the village shore and were soon at a small market area arranged for us especially. The village has about 500 persons and they have 3 sources of income. Fishing, market vegetables and tourists. The items they had for sale were very good quality. Woven bags, baskets and coasters as well as various types of jewellery and other souvenirs. A couple of the locals were actually demonstrating the weaving which was interesting. There were also complimentary hot drinks and snacks available. One lady even went and picked some nuts and gave us a taste. We loved the time spent there with these friendly people.

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Then it was time to go home. So another walk to another small rocky beach and then another boat ride back to the mainland shore.

The bus soon picked us up and brought back home again.

What a day. 8.30am till 6pm. But worth it. We all enjoyed the experience and would thoroughly recommend it for those who want a taste of an Island fishing village and the wonderful people that live there.

 

 

Mele Cascades

Mele is the largest village on Efate Island. One of the tourist attractions is Mele Cascades.

When we visited 8 years ago, entry was free but here were very little facilities. Now the price is 2000 vatu/ ($25) adult and 1000 vatu/($12.50) child. It sounds a little expensive, but when you have seen the before and now, the developments made, you can see the money has been used well. The developments have been done to fit in with the environment too with out detracting from the overall beauty of the place.

The day we went was hot and surprisingly Lois was the first one into the water. The first waterhole has a nice deck on one side and a rock to jump off on the other. There are loads of fish of varying sizes too. There is also a cafe and bar close to this area, as well as the change rooms and toilets. These are the best facilities at a village attraction we have seen so far.

From this area you follow a well constructed path up the hill to the waterfalls. Along the way you pass through the village gardens, a huge bamboo grove and small streams. As you get further up you have to walk through the water over the rocks. Wear shoes that can get wet. The rocks are not at all slippery and there are ropes for added assistance if needed. The water gets up to adult knee depth(mine) in a few places. Once you are at the top of this section you break out into the open and immediately see the first large waterfall. It is probably 30-40 metres high and cascades downs into a small pool. There is easy access into this pool and it is not very deep at all. Here is a little feature that you would not see without being told; looking at the waterfall, there is a rock to the left with a gap between it and the wall. It has a pretty heavy fall of water there, but if you walk straight through the water curtain within about a metre there is a small grotto/cave. It would easily hold 6 adults. It is a great little spot behind the waterfall, which cannot be seen from the outside at all.

This is the first waterfall. The other one is slightly higher up. Follow the path and a series of steps cut into the rock to the right.

We spent from 12.30 till 4 here, which allowed plenty of time to have lunch walk up to the top and back, swim in as many waterholes as we could on the way down, have another play at the first hole, have a coffee, ice cream or cocktail, use the facilities and still have time to wait for the bus.

It was a great afternoon. We all enjoyed it. A taste and touch of paradise.

 

 

Le Lagon Resort and Spa

Warwick Le Lagon Resort and Spa is the closest resort to our accommodation.

It has some very nice restaurants, including a buffet style dining room which offers good value.

It also has some beautiful swimming pools ranging in size and depth for all ages. A couple of them feature swim up bars if you feel the need for additional refreshment without leaving the water. Some nice cocktails or a milkshake or Tusker.

Le Lagon also has a short golf course which has great views over Erakor Lagoon.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Well we decided to go along and use their facilities. Visitors can choose to buy a day pass. For our family of 2 adults and two children it cost 3000 vatu ($30) which allows you to use their swimming pools and spa. The pass price is redeemable on any food or beverages which is a good idea.

Mt Yasur, Tanna Island

Now, this is high on the bucket list of many people. Visit an active volcano. Mt Yasur makes this possible in the easiest fashion, being one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world. Not only is it easily accessible, it is also very active. The day we went the eruptions occurred regularly every 3 or 4 minutes, sometimes even more frequently.

We stayed at Tanna lodge, which is on the western side of Tanna Island. Mt Yasur is on the East, but even so, it is only a little over an hours drive to the volcano. Tanna Lodge have their own tour vehicles. In fact when we were planning the trip we weighed up doing a fly in fly out tour with Unity Airlines. But after a few emails back and forth and having a good look, we found that the cheapest option was actually flying with Air Vanuatu to Tanna Island, staying for 2 nights at Tanna Lodge, doing the Mt Yasur tour with them as well. Not only did this allow us to have a great trip to the volcano, but we were able to enjoy more of the sights of Tanna Island without being in too much of a rush.

In researching this trip I had read reviews that said the roads were terrible and the trip was long etc. Really? The roads are rough, yes. but the tour is done in a 4WD Landcrusier which made it as comfortable as can be. The trip to the volcano had a variety of road surfaces, including concrete, compacted volcanic ash, soft volcanic ash and the inevitable potholes. We all loved it!

After driving up hill and down dale, stopping occasionally for a quick photo shoot, we broke into the open ash plains, with the magnificent Mt Yasur as the backdrop. Breathtaking is a good description.

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This view sent a thrill through our group for what lay ahead of us.

This is the front? of the volcano, but the access is from the other side, so we headed off for the last leg of the journey. The road winds it’s way through forest, villages and grassland and eventually comes out at the parking area. There is a toilet there which is well worth using, just for the experience. From there it is just a steep 10 minute walk to the lowest viewing area. We stopped here, but you can choose to climb a ridge to the left to gain a higher vantage point. This is done on advice from the tour guides.

The tours are arranged to make sure you arrive before sunset. This allows you to gain the summit before dark. The eruptions are happening all the time, but it is as dark falls that they get more visually spectacular.

If this is not on your to do list yet, think about it carefully. It is an awe inspiring and humbling experience.

The drive back is quite exciting too. On the ash plains in the pitch dark the headlights do next to nothing and it is only the experience of the tour drivers who do this every day, that keeps you heading in the right direction.

Back to Tanna Lodge by 8pm, very hungry for the meal ordered pre tour.

Again. An awesome experience. All of us agreed it was worth the time, effort and money to get there.

Eton Beach

Eton Beach is located about 10 minutes drive north of Blue Lagoon.

You pay a small entrance fee of 300 vt per adult and 150 vt for children.

There are basic shelters and benches to put your bags and enjoy your lunch if you like. There is also a rustic toilet and change room. (Combined)

The beach itself is beautiful. The snorkelling is quite good, with an abundance of fish and coral to be seen. A small fresh water stream feeds into the sea which creates a natural phenomenon. Because fresh water flowing from the stream is less salty and less dense than water from the ocean, it often floats on top of the heavier seawater,  resulting in a sort of oily look to the top section of the water. The further away from the entrance to the stream the clearer the water.

To us the best feature of Eton Beach is the deep hole near the entrance to the above mentioned stream. The sandy bottom drops suddenly and forms a hole about 10 metres in diameter.  At low tide this makes a great spot to run and jump into. At other points of the tide it changes as water pours over the outside reef and feeds in the hole. This creates a natural swimming challenge, as the water gets quite strong and near impossible to swim against. When it gets too hard, just let the water take you back to shallow water.

Tanna Island

On the weekend we ventured to Tanna Island, which is just a 40-60 minute flight south from Port Vila.

The outstanding attraction is Mt Yasur, one of the most active and accessible volcanoes in the world. I will talk about that some more in another post, as well as Tanna Lodge where we stayed for two nights.

Tanna Island is a beautiful place. There are very few vehicles compared to Efate, which makes a pleasant change. Most of these are 4WDs which is due to the road conditions. Almost every road is gravel, though there are some parts which have been concreted to make them passable during the wet season. Along with the gravel roads are the many potholes, which make driving and being a passenger interesting. I decided to have a bit of a snooze on part of our trip, but only got a minute or so into it when I was jolted out and stayed out. Because of the lack of vehicles, there are lots of people walking everywhere. It is quite lovely to give them a friendly Halo and wave.

Lenakel is the biggest town on Tanna Island but really consists of little more than a market area, some produce shops and small supermarkets, a post office, bank and a few other buildings and businesses. The business area is called Black Man’s Town as no outsiders (such as the Chinese) are permitted to own businesses there. The market is open for trade on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. There is a lot of locally produced fruit and vegetables at very reasonable prices. We found them to be quite a bit cheaper than the market in Port Vila. The day we went there was also a lady selling woven shoulder bags for a good half the price of similar items in Port Vila. Lois and I spoke with Mister Tom who has the fish market. He buys from the local fishermen and keeps the fish in freezers and on sells to the resorts and restaurants. He was very friendly and explained some of the varieties of fish they catch, such as Bonito (Tuna), Poulet and Wahu.

We noticed that we got a lot of attention from the locals. On the day we went were the only white people walking through the small market. There were others in the shops, but not many at all. We were able to chat a little in our broken Bislama which was a good experience.

A good story our bus driver told us was about one of the main streets, “Jennifer Street”. It is named after a local woman who he described as having something not quite right with her. But her story is interesting. Every day for many many years Jennifer has been going to peoples homes and asking if they need any cooking pots washed. 100 Vatu ($1.20) each pot. When they agree she takes the pots and follows the street down to the beach and washes them thoroughly. She does quite a lot of these each day. No one has ever seen her spend any of her hard earned money. And when she is walking down the street, she does not move for any man or vehicle, it is her street. Jennifer Street!

Life in Tanna is simple. People do not have much materially but they do have everything they need. The food is abundant, the houses made from woven bamboo and palm fronds are strong and offer good protection, and the family unit and village life is strong. It may seem primitive to us, and maybe it is to some degree, but it is a happy way of life.

Blue Lagoon

On Monday it was time for another road trip to see some of the unique features on Efate, Vanuatu.

We decided on Blue Lagoon and Eton Beach. They are close to each other and offer different attractions.

I will talk about just Blue Lagoon in this post, Eton beach in another.

In 2010 the entire main road around the island was sealed, which makes for quite a pleasant trip. It takes you past extensive coconut palm groves and lots of local villages and beaches. As we got closer to Blue Lagoon, we saw quite a lot of the beaches attract a small fee for you to swim there. Fair enough. The locals own the land and access points, and the beaches themselves are some of the best around. If you have the time, exploring these different beaches could be very rewarding.

About a 45 minute drive found us in the car park with about another 6 or 8 buses.

Entry fees are 500 vatu for adults and 300 for children under 12.

After a very short walk you see what the attraction is. A large, bright aqua blue water hole surrounded by beautiful gardens. There are many shelters with benches and tables to use all connected by coral sand paths.

The Blue Lagoon itself is probably 60-70 metres long and 30 metres wide. When the sun is shining the clarity of the water allows you to see everything to the bottom from the shore. In the water it is not so clear. It seems to have the brackish sort of haziness to it.  I am not sure what the deepest point is but I would guess 5 or 6 metres. We think it is a little tidal too as we did notice a small drop in water levels over a couple of hours. Hence the brackish I suppose.

The real feature is manmade a consists of two thick ropes hanging from branches of large overhanging trees. Wooden platforms have been built from which you can launch yourself out over the water before dropping into the beautiful water below. And again. And again. And again. I think you get the picture. Check out the videos and pictures below.

Lyndon demonstrating his acrobatics.

Hideaway Island

On Wednesday we made a day trip to Hideaway Island. It is just a 20 minute bus ride away. Imagine our surprise when our prearranged bus arrived with all the windows closed and the air condition pumping! Lovely and cool. In some ways I actually prefer the older buses with worn seats, windows wide open and the wind blowing in my…. on my head. I am not sure why. I just like it. Any way it was a pleasant way to travel to Hideaway.

If you are wondering what the attraction is, Hideaway Island is a marine sanctuary. So fish from far and wide come to Hideaway. The coral is amazing and the variety and sheer number of fish is great. They are quite tame too, often coming right up to you while snorkelling. The kids enjoyed being able to get up close to the reef and fish.

The beach is pretty good too. There is a large bank of dead coral where beach chairs are set up overlooking the bay. This slopes down to the beautiful clear waters. So while some of party were not sure about the 1250vt fee to go to the island, their minds where changed within a very short time.

Hideaway island also boasts the world’s only underwater post office. You have to dive down about 3 metres to post the special postcards. Pretty cool.

After coming back to the mainland on the ferry, we had a wonderfully refreshing swim at Mele Cove, before having woodfired pizzas and other yummy food at The Beach Bar. By 6.30 we were done. The Beach Bar gives a meal to the bus drivers when they are picking up people who have dined with them, which is nice.

 

Erakor Island

On our first night we wanted to go out for a special dinner, so opted for the nearby Erakor Island Resort.

On Thursday they have a Melanesian Feast.

The setting is idyllic. A marquee is set up on the beach, about 10 metres from the water’s edge.

The food boasts a great range of local produce in a buffet style.

Throughout the meal, we were also treated to some cultural dancing and a talented local music group.

Afterwards, a fire dancing group entertained us all for about half an hour.

This was a great way to start our holiday.