Vanuatu was not a part of our original itinerary but after hearing a raving testimonial about this tiny archipelago we decided to reduce our time in Fiji (which was shaping up to be pretty expensive) and go here first. It was a short flight from Auckland to Port Vila, so it’s clear that tourism in this beautiful and inexpensive country will certainly increase in the future. We arrived in Port Villa without an agenda, just hoping for some beautiful beaches and possibly a trip to the active volcano, Yasur. The island turned out to be the perfect place for our homesick hearts that week. It was difficult to know that our family was hurting at home and we weren't able to be with them. I'm sure this shaped our experience in Vanuatu. We found it to be a peaceful place to think and meditate.
Our first couple of days were spent at Villa Chaumiere, a lovely hotel on the edge of a lagoon with individual bungalows, a hidden pool and a well-known seafood restaurant. It was extremely relaxing and romantic but the restaurant was a bit too expensive for our budget. After feeding the lagoon fish our breakfast scraps, we headed to the main street of Port Villa for exploration. Transport around Efate island is by vans that are licensed to pick up people anywhere on the road and a trip into town will cost about a $1 - $2 per person.
Port Villa is one central main street with a several hotels, many restaurants, bars and the large open marketplace in the center. Although it was Vanuatu’s Independence Day everything was open, including the market place and celebrations were held that evening in the villages with Kava flowing. Oh the Vanuatu men love their kava! The kava plant is dried, powdered, drunk as a tea which numbs your mouth and looks like dirty dishwater. We did not work up the courage to try kava in Vanuatu, probably because the Kava bars were very scary looking huts.
On day 2 we desperately needed to escape the island (jk!) for an even smaller one. Off we went to Hideaway Resort and Marine Sanctuary, a tiny dot off the coast accessible by ferry. Snorkel equipment is free for guests at the resort and we stayed in a simple room with shared bathroom facilities for the night. The resort staff directed us to the (dried) coral beachfront in front of the restaurant and we swam right into a beautiful coral reef with hundreds of different fish. The reef was really fun to explore with walls, both deep and shallow areas and tons of the most colorful fish to follow. Diving trips were offered to a shipwreck not far from the island, as well as Vanuatu’s only under water postal box. Many visitors came only for a day trip and it was nice to have the island to ourselves that evening.
The next day we headed to Pacific Lagoon Apartments. After taking out tippy kayaks, we enjoyed a nice dip in the kiddie filled pool. Our 2 bedroom apartment was right on the lagoon and would have been perfect for a group stay. That afternoon we walked up the road to find Pango Point surf spot and sure enough the break at the point was sprinkled with surfers. Directly in front was a hotel, Surfside Vanuatu, which has beautiful beachfront bungalows and we opted to stay there for our final night. With only one night to enjoy it, we made the most of surfing, our private pool and the balcony overlooking the ocean. That evening we found a small restaurant, Conquistadors, at the top of a dusty road with incredible views overlooking the village and the ocean beyond. It was a delicious dinner (Surf 'n Turf for James, Vodka Sauce with Shrimp Spaghetti for me), with great service and a super friendly staff. Outside of the four Mormon missionaries also dining there, we had the entire place to ourselves. It was the perfect evening to end the most serene week in paradise. Only regret.... not spending the $ to see Mt. Yasur. Next time!