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.
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.