Welkam to VAN­U­ATU

No, that’s not a spelling mis­take in the head­ing. It’s just the lan­guage of the friendly folk on Van­u­atu. LOR­RAINE THOM­SON laps up the laid back cul­ture and the sim­plic­ity of life in the slow lane.

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As soon as you step off the plane in Port Vila and feel the sub-trop­i­cal tem­per­a­tures and smell the frangi­pani and see the smil­ing faces of the lo­cals – you just melt into the mo­ment. The fast pace of the city life back home is soon for­got­ten – and once you are past those slow-mov­ing Cus­toms queues, you are away smil­ing. For our first night in Port Vila my hus­band and I stayed at Man­goes Re­sort, over­look­ing Erakor La­goon. The restau­rant at this place is a des­ti­na­tion in it­self – think My Kitchen Rules – and the meals you see served on the tele­vi­sion se­ries. The vil­las are set amidst trop­i­cal flower gar­dens and three swim­ming pools. There are also ten pri­vate pools – al­though they are so pri­vate that I never ac­tu­ally got to see one! The walk into town takes about 20 min­utes if you take the short­cut through the lo­cal hos­pi­tal grounds. On my trek I came across a young fam­ily and I asked di­rec­tions to town, as there are quite a few left and right turns. They said: ‘ Fol­low us” and off we went through yet more short-cuts. The hus­band and wife were orig­i­nally from Aus­tralia and they were in Van­u­atu, vol­un­teer­ing with the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion for a one-year as­sign­ment. Their young daugh­ter at­tends the lo­cal in­ter­na­tional school. I soon found it was not a good idea to go to town on a Sun­day as most of the shops in town were closed. It is a good walk though and I rec­om­mend tak­ing the coastal foot­path fur­ther north as far as Chan­tilly’s. This place is on the water­front and is a great place to stop and sit on the deck look­ing over the wa­ter while hav­ing a flat white. Yes, they do know how to make a good flat white here. Chan­tilly’s is also a bou­tique ho­tel and out­side on the street frontage is my favourite dress shop in Van­u­atu – with items that have a slight French chic ap­peal. Across the road and a fur­ther five-minute walk away is the be­gin­ning of a new two-level shop­ping mall. There are about ten shops in res­i­dence and these shops are a lit­tle more up­mar­ket than what you will find in town. Af­ter spend­ing a good time trekking around the streets it is al­ways a good idea to al­lo­cate some time for a re­lax­ing mas­sage. The Lo­tus Day Spa is easy to find as it is di­rectly op­po­site the Catholic Cathe­dral. The lo­cal mas­sage ther­a­pists make you feel in­stantly re­laxed and I can vouch for the hot stone mas­sage to melt away aches and pains. In the streets of Port Vila there are vans hurtling past ev­ery few min­utes and if they have a B as the first let­ter in the regis­tra­tion plate, then they are a bus and you can hail the driver to pick you up. This is def­i­nitely a friendly, cheap, if some­what bumpy, way to get around. Our stay for the next three nights was at The Ha­van­nah. This place is def­i­nitely a heav­enly place to stay on the edge of a white sandy beach. It is about a half an hour’s drive from Port Vila and for this jour­ney we were trans­ported by the re­sort’s shut­tle ser­vice. Our lux­ury suite opened out onto an ex­ten­sive deck with steps down to the wa­ter be­low. There was a pri­vate pool with deck chairs in the shal­low part of the pool, as well as deck chairs and other lounge chairs on the decks. Then there was the out­door bath tucked away to the side of the villa and the BBQ area with thatched over-head roof­ing and out­door

ta­bles and chairs. It was very pri­vate here and you in­stantly felt “this is the life”. For the first evening we headed out on the sun­set cruise which left from the Ha­van­nah jetty. Just one other cou­ple took up this op­por­tu­nity with us, to be driven around by a most de­light­ful lo­cal in The Ha­van­nah cata­ma­ran. The cou­ple from Fox­ton shared a lot about their fam­ily busi­ness while we were float­ing along, as the sun went down, sip­ping a glass of cham­pagne. The restau­rant at this re­sort also serves de­light­ful lo­cal del­i­ca­cies and I sus­pect this may have some­thing to do with the French man­ager and the Viet­namese chef. There was just a touch of both cul­tures in the dishes be­ing served. Be­ing a fair dis­tance from town there was much in­cen­tive to just stay put at The Ha­van­nah and rest up in a deck chair with a good book, but there is also a lot of op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the sur­round­ing area. A walk to the lo­cal vil­lage, Tano­liu, takes about 20 min­utes along a dirt path and this is where many of the staff for the re­sort come from. Other staff come from the is­land of Lelepa, op­po­site the re­sort. At Tano­liu vil­lage there is a World War II Mu­seum. It is not the sort of mu­seum most vis­i­tors to large cities would come across – rather it is a sticks and stones and thatched roof, open air struc­ture along the edge of the wa­ter. Many of the prized items on dis­play are orig­i­nal Coca Cola bot­tles and other para­pher­na­lia that had been dumped by Amer­i­can ser­vice­men in World War II. If you visit the vil­lage in the late af­ter­noon you can try kava at the lo­cal Naka­mal. A high­light of my visit was a trip by banana boat to Moso Is­land to visit the Tran­quil­ity Tur­tle Sanc­tu­ary. We were met by a guide, who took us on a five-minute bush walk, to where the tur­tles were be­ing cared for in tanks. The Hawks­bill tur­tle is highly en­dan­gered and hunted for its prized shell, used to make jew­ellery and or­na­ments. These tur­tles were brought to the sanc­tu­ary from just a few months old, some in­jured, and they were cared for un­til they reached one year. Vis­i­tors can spon­sor and name a tur­tle, which will be tagged and re­leased. If your tur­tle is caught by friendly fish­er­men or sci­en­tists in the fu­ture, you will be no­ti­fied by email where your tur­tle was found. An­other is­land visit on of­fer is to Lelepa Is­land [there are two is­lands within sight just across from the re­sort]. This es­corted tour takes you to the lo­cal vil­lages to see the tra­di­tional way of life. There is also a visit to caves to see rock art and the op­por­tu­nity to en­joy a BBQ lunch on the beach. Back at The Ha­van­nah there is the op­por­tu­nity to go snorkelling, play tennis, or petanque, head off on a cata­ma­ran or a ca­noe, or take out a stand-up pad­dle­board. I chose the lat­ter and en­joyed stand­ing up on the wa­ter as I pad­dled past the coastal neigh­bour­ing up-mar­ket prop­er­ties, many of which are owned by Aus­tralians. Af­ter a hard pad­dle, it is a good idea to head to The Spa Arom Essence – but it is best to book first. An­other mas­sage and a fa­cial worked won­ders on my stressed out body and sun-dam­aged face. For the high life in Van­u­atu, a trip into town to one of the four casi­nos, gives you the op­por­tu­nity to dou­ble your money – or not. There is The Grand Casino, Club 21, Hol­i­day Inn Casino and Club Van­u­atu. To­day Van­u­atu has the most num­ber of lan­guages per per­son in the world. With a pop­u­la­tion of only 200,000 and over 110 lan­guages, the lo­cals have de­vel­oped a uni­fy­ing lan­guage Bis­lama, which they use to com­mu­ni­cate to each other. On that note I will say: Tankio Tu­mas [thanks a lot] – a use­ful phrase to re­cite af­ter re­ceiv­ing friendly ser­vice.

The Ha­van­nah pri­vate jetty and ro­man­tic ta­ble for two.

The Ha­van­nah en­trance and lo­cal carv­ing.

One of the en­dan­gered Hawks­bill tur­tles at the Tran­quil­ity Tur­tle Sanc­tu­ary, Moso Is­land.

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