Where to start!? Vanuatu was an absolute joy to visit. We felt so lucky to have experienced this wonderful archipelago of islands. I hope we can convey a bit of how fantastic the country is but in reality JUST GO! You will not be disappointed.
Our adventure began in Port Vila, the capital of the country which has had something of a turbulent past with Cyclone Pam causing havoc a few years ago. Arriving from a very pleasant Air Vanuatu flight we landed into Bauerfield Airport and it looked like we were landing in the jungle and out into wonderful 26 degrees.
The outskirts of the city are made up of small villages, slightly shanty town in style, but the people are some of the friendliest I have ever come across. Walking around town it is impossible to go too far without a smile and a hello from a stranger. Now recovered from the destruction, Port Vila is very much still a developing city. Getting around Vila is very easy thanks to a fairly entrepreneurial system of taxis and people carrier sized buses, indicated by T and B on the number plates respectively. There is no bus stops you just flag someone down when you need one.
With a small town centre boasting some great restaurants (try Reefers and Stonegrill’s, both delicious) and a handful of shops, the main attraction is the Port Vila market. A huge barn sized building lined with tables and piled high with every variety of fruit, vegetable, fish and flower. Add this to the bright colours of the people and clothing and you have a full and enjoyable assault on the senses. The real sights lie elsewhere on the island of Efate.
Our first stop for explorations was the Mele Cascades, located near Efate’s largest village Mele. The village is full of beautiful; gardens and communal areas surrounded by thatch woven huts. Chickens scratch in the dirt and they even have a football pitch where the kids were running around. The cascades themselves are at the end of the road and the entry to the park itself is just the beginning of a beautiful 20 min walk to the waterfall that starts the cascades. The start of the walk is beautiful, full of flowers and butterflies.
There is a large pool with a building at the side laid out like the edge of a natural swimming pool containing light, bright blue waters.
As we made our way up the cascading pools got better and better, crossing streams along the way, by the time we reached the top pools we were thoroughly impressed. Helen only fell in once!
To reach the top pool you walk through the water and up the tiered pool edges through the cascades of water that barrel down the carved out steps.
Trying to get into the top pool was like walking head first into a hurricane! The wind and spray generated from the 30m or so of falling water was providing quite the splash back.
We decided a lower pool might be a better bet and found a frothy natural (cold) Jacuzzi to enjoy.
The staggered tiers off the main plunge pool and all down the water course all vary in size and depth and are a dazzling light blue all the way down, add to that the location of what seemed like a tropical rainforest and you have one amazing visit.
You could literally spend hours exploring the pools, there is one near the top when you can jump off the falls into the plunge pool below and then another further down that acts as a natural, fairly steep, slide. We tested both these out and although the water is pretty fresh it was fantastic fun and a beautiful place to splash around.
For more water based fun we headed to nearby Hideaway Island which is only actually an island at high tide so we ambled across the spit of sand on our arrival. There is an entry fee to the island, as it is actually a little resort, but with a café, bar and plenty of non-motorised water sports this is a minimal amount.
The beach itself is not sandy but instead made of dead and broken coral fragments so flip flops or reef shoes are advisable, interesting to see the different shapes and types of coral but tough on the feet.
Hideaway Island is probably most famous for being home to the world’s only underwater post box so it would have been rude for us not to send a postcard from such a place. The specially made postcards are postage paid and waterproof and after writing our greetings in pencil we donned our snorkels and flippers to post them!
First of all we had to find the post box which after many years submerged is blending nicely with its surroundings, it is also a couple of metres under the surface. Guy dived down full of grace and posted his no problem but mine took a couple of attempts and even when I did get it in I thought it might float back out so I had to go back and poke it in a bit further! The post gets emptied once a day so time will tell if they make it back to the UK after their dunk in the sea.
A bit further out from the post box we went looking for fish, the coral here is pretty damaged but there were still loads of fish to be seen and a good variety too, metre long pipe fish, clown fish, parrot fish, wrasse, tangs and angelfish among the ones we knew the names of and plenty more we didn’t! The scramble back up the coral back was somewhat inelegant in flippers, more of a stumble in fact, but we made it back to the loungers to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine and watch the world go by.
For the following days explorations we stayed near our hotel, the Ramada, which sits on the edge of the Erakor Lagoon, a great turquoise expanse of water.
We took some kayaks out for a morning paddle, the shores of the lagoon are dotted with bright orange starfish with ferocious looking black spikes protruding from their tops so we were sure to avoid them on our way in.
The lagoon was pretty peaceful, not many people out and about other than a fisherman in a traditional looking canoe casting his nets. On the opposite bank there were villages in the trees and occasional smoke pillars rose from hidden villages in the forest giving a real remote feeling to the place.
Working our way out towards the sea led us past mangroves, villages and towards the Erakor Island that sits in the mouth of the lagoon. Working our way back proved a little harder as we were fighting the current but nothing too alarming as we paddled gently along admiring our surroundings.
After that it was an afternoon of relaxing and enjoying some excellent cocktails prior to part two of our Vanuatu escape – blog post coming soon!