PALM-TREE CHANGE

Why we love Van­u­atu and you will too

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION | VANUATU - ROSE AND STEVE JA­COBS

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

PIC­TURE: SUP­PLIED

It’s a sim­pler life in Van­u­atu with na­ture’s bounty at every turn.

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