Why we love Vanuatu and you will too
Most Australians we know dream of a sea change … somewhere warmer, slower, friendlier, safer. There seems to be a desire among city dwellers to escape and be a little (or a lot) more wholesome.
Perhaps it’s because modern-day lives are so different from what we remember as kids. Perhaps it’s because we dread the idea of our kids being raised in this current environment. For us, it was all of this.
We have been holidaying as a young family in Vanuatu, a republic archipelago of 83 tropical islands, for about eight years. Every holiday seemed to get more magical as we saw our two young daughters come alive outside of their Sydney routines and together, Steve and I reconnected as a couple, being based in the same city for more than a day. (This was a rare thing given we both work as travelling TV presenters sometimes up to 300 days away from home a year.)
Once we made the decision to leave the city, we considered many Aussie destinations, including Byron Bay, Queensland and the NSW South Coast. But, ultimately, we felt the need for a new adventure and somewhere where we could experience a totally unique world.
Vanuatu isn’t just anywhere. The second you step off the plane in Port Vila you inhale the scent of native flowers, the smoke of local bonfires and feel the heat of the South Pacific sun. The French influence is everywhere as we pass supermarkets named Bon Marche, drive on the right hand side of the road, while French is one of three languages spoken on the island (the other two are English and Bislama, a creole language derived from English). Coconut palms line the streets and a rainbow of bougainvillea vines hang off ramshackle buildings.
The oceans and coral reefs surrounding the “ring of fire”, the volcanic islands of Vanuatu, vary from deep dark blues to bright turquoise. The reefs are teeming with cobalt-coloured starfish bigger than your head, with an abundance of lobsters, crabs, poulet fish and bluefin tuna. Needless to say, the local cuisine is hard to beat, especially when you throw in fresh coconut, papaya, coriander or pineapple.
Our daughters have settled well into their new international school and spend their afternoons either snorkelling with clown fish, climbing trees, collecting hermit crabs or painting. They have also taken up horse riding, French lessons, tennis, ballet and piano. And best of all, they would rather run around on the grass under the sprinkler than watch television, which is great, since we haven’t bothered to connect our TV since we’ve arrived!
We’ve made new friendships with a large number of local expats and Ni Vanuatu (locals). On weekends, we go on group family trips to remote islands and stay in tiny huts and build bonfires and toast marshmallows. We’ve joined the local running group (and I recently competed in the Vanuatu Round Island Relay). We go bike riding and kayaking for exercise.
Steve has also discovered the local surf break and is starting French lessons as well.
I have stumbled upon a yet-to-beidentified tropical flower that I am hoping to infuse and include in my new fragrance range based on rare native ingredients from the islands.
And together, Steve and I are looking into launching a botanical range of rum from Vanuatu.
However, the transition hasn’t been super smooth. Within the first month of arriving, I was diagnosed with dengue fever or “broken bone fever” as it’s commonly referred to. It’s a mosquito-borne virus that will now be in my blood stream for life. Not great.
Trying to register our car has also been an interesting experience, to say the least. What would normally take a few hours in Australia took a week in paradise, partly due to “island time”, a general lack of cohesion, and hours spent in queues only to be told that we were “in the wrong queue” and we needed to start again in a new queue.
The potholes and traffic are a living nightmare despite the South Pacific Games that are to be held in Vanuatu in December 2017. So needless to say, there’s been work done on the roads and infrastructure to take them from terrible to just a little less terrible.
And yet, the strangest thing has happened. A year ago, Steve would have sat in this traffic and felt his road rage rise to new heights. I would be cursing the potholes and writing letters of complaint to the powersthat-be about the lack of competence in government departments.
And yet, we didn’t. We actually embraced the pace. We now laugh at the potholes and we love the road signs that say “slow down”, not because they hold up traffic but because they are so symbolic to us about why we moved here.
And the truly great thing about Vanuatu is that while we live here in our own little remote pocket of tropical bliss, we still jump on a plane and check back in with Australia every now and again (it’s only a twohour flight to Brisbane). We reconnect with loved ones, get our hit of real-life shopping and dining, and then smile when we board that flight home again, knowing that nothing in Australia has changed – except us and our stress levels, our quality of life and our appreciation for what we have had the courage to create.
ULTIMATELY, WE FELT THE NEED TO EXPERIENCE A TOTALLY UNIQUE WORLD
It’s a simpler life in Vanuatu with nature’s bounty at every turn.