Top Five: Vanuatu
Vanuatu is laidback and cheerful with an appealingly eccentric twist, like a great aunt with a Sex Pistols vinyl collection. Nature Boy and I had a rockin’ good time moodling around the island, drinking duty-free vodka and eating way too much at the breakfast buffet. Here are the things that I loved the most:
1. Mele Cascades – Close your eyes and think of Enya. Windex-blue water washes over limestone encrusted lava flows, community gardens flourish under morning glory canopies and birds hoot and titter overhead. Mele Cascades would be a great place to shoot an ad for bottled water. Or virgins. Or angels. It’s pure, pretty and a magical place to cool your heels. Entry is 1000VT (about AUD $10) and the walk up to the top of the falls involves some underwater slippery bits so wear shoes with tread.
2. Pele Island – Not a bad place to get shipwrecked. Snorkelling above the teeming coral reef, I saw a moray eel hanging out in his underwater lair, not doing anything sinister at all (to my grave disappointment). There is a small community of Ni Vans (the correct term for Vanuatu nationals) that subsistence farm and host tourists on the island. Evergreen Tours run day tours to Pele Island that pick up/drop off from your hotel. Well worth the vatu as it includes a welcome coconut, BBQ lunch, snorkelling and a jaunty live music performance.
3. The Blue Lagoon – Another perfect film location, but this time for a mutant sea creature that eats skinny dipping lovebirds. The water is so clear and so blue that it looks like mouthwash. It’s 300VT to get in, lackadaisically policed by a guy who I suspect never gives anyone change (so take small notes). There are change rooms and picnic tables so if the weather is nice, pack a baguette and a bouteille and cast your mind back to a certain early ‘80s Brooke Shields flick for a nostalgia burst.
4. L’Houstalet – A hokey French restaurant owned by a Hawaiian-shirted, ponytailed French dude named Clement Martinez. Nature Boy and I ate here twice because we loved it so much. The steak is tender and loaded up with pats of herb and garlic butter and the coconut crab is pure theatre; a mountain of orange limbs drowning in unguent garlic sauce. The wine list is halfway decent, the bread and butter is bottomless and the chocolate sauce on the desserts is real; not some plastic Cottees confection.
5. The fresh produce markets – To dip your toes into non-resort reality, the markets in the comically termed ‘city’ are a wonderful way to get in touch with what really goes on. Cleverly woven palm frond baskets contain mountains of manioc, taro, papaya and Asian greens. Freshly dug peanuts sit on creaky benches, margarine tubs of raspberries sell for 400VT and heat sealed packs of taro and bananas chips crowd tables. At the far end of the markets, islanders in shower caps prepare local food and smile at you when you peek at their meals.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn that has recently been refurbished. I would recommend staying here if you’re after a low key, clean, friendly place that’s a little bit out of town. The guests were mostly families and couples, the rooms were fresh due to the new paint, tiles and timberwork, the cable TV package is included (notably, Fox Movies and Cinema One). We booked a fly-stay package through Holiday Specialists that was really good value (included massages, 2 x tours and breakfast daily), flying Air Vanuatu.
Have you been to Vanuatu? What were your favourite things about it?