Bianca: Lying a short, 3 hour flight from Sydney, is the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu. Prior to my recent visit I hadn’t really given much thought to the small country. But the location is gorgeously picturesque and the people are lovely.
Jules and I flew from Sydney to Efate on Air Vanuatu. Landing was a bit bumpy but flight attendants were friendly and very attentive!
Meals on planes are always the highlight of any flight, there’s just something about being hand delivered a small tray of mass-produced frozen meals…We had the sea bass with ginger which was perfectly fine! I hoed into that bread roll & butter. I had the exact same meal on our return flight home, so clearly not a lot of rotation going on there.
Customs was tedious with a 30 min wait in line. But changing money was a seamless process with a 0% commission money exchange at the airport! Also, word of advice. Go to the taxi desk first before walking out, as we were quoted a price 500 Vatu more than the standard 3000 vatu to get in to port villa.
Working out the money took me a little while to get used to but the easiest way, was to just divide everything by 80 (or the currency amount at the time). So a 3000 Vatu taxi works out to about $37 AUD. Buses run along the main road very frequently, it’s simply a matter of flagging one down and paying the 150 vatu/$1.80. Just look for the mini-vans with the big B on the number-plate.
We stepped out into the Vanuatu afternoon only to be met with a thick oppressive heat. We visited during rainy season and the weather was a little unpredictable. It was a quick 15 minute drive to our accommodation, NASAMA RESORT. It’s best described as self-contained apartments / resort. Allowing you to truly live the hermit life with a kitchenette/stove. Or lap it up in luxury with the onsite restaurant Café Villa. There is no gym (which was a bit of a shame) but there was a large infinity pool, lounge recliners and a private beach.
The rooms are simple but they’re furnished with all the latest mod cons. Very spacious and the outdoor seating area was great to relax and take in the gorgeous vista overlooking the lagoon! Kayaks are free to hire but word to the wise, don’t swim to the right of the resort or it’ll be a total ‘LOST’ situation… without Michael Fox to keep you company!
CAFE VILA was a great base for a few of our meals. The menu is a mish-mash of cuisines. We found across the board that all the menus were geared towards westerners and generally very pricey and slow to receive all the food. With the only real opportunity to sample local Vanuatu cuisine at the port Vila markets!
Our first meal was a hilarious example of the universe aligning. Of course they had a burger on the menu!! The Big Aussie Burger 1550 vatu / $20, without the beetroot! Ultimately wasn’t too bad, no cheese in sight. Which is the greatest travesty to any burger. The beef was surprisingly tasty. The bun was a little cumbersome but they’re catering to the Aussie masses here and it shows. 2.6/5 Pickles.
Julian’s Crispy Skin Pork Belly 2550 vatu/ $32 was the winner. Crispy unctuous pork, gelatinous fat that melted in the mouth! The red wine BBQ sauce was the perfect accompaniment to mop up with the pork. Excuse the picture…
Breakfast for me is usually low-key. We both decided to go for the lighter option of the French Toast & Tropical Fruit Salad 850 vatu/ $11. The French toast was really a very lightly egg washed slice of bread, then fried. The batter didn’t even soak through so it was a little like munching on a plain ol piece o toast. But the addition of the fruit salad & yoghurt & maple syrup added some sharpness and really helped to liven the whole thing up.
Port Villa is the capital of Vanuatu and located on the island of Efate. A lot of the cruise ships make a stop here so there were a lot of Aussie tourists. Make sure you visit the Port Villa Markets in the morning, that’s when they’re really bustling, with the most produce available.
The vibe is electric and the produce both smells and looks fantastic. We had the most delicious pineapple from the markets.
Our tip for authentic Vanuatu food are the stalls up the back of the markets. 400 Vatu ($5 Aud) gets you a complete meal and a great way to experience the local food. My Beef Stew was rather adventurous for 10am but when in Rome.
BREAKAS BEACH RESORT was just up the road from our accommodation but once night falls it’s almost impossible to see outside. No street lights do mean the local villages are plunged into darkness. And even driving around you have to be incredibly careful, literally hundreds of people are just walking the streets and having a fear of zombies and The Walking Dead, it’s almost a recipe for disaster.
With tables in a mock inside/ outside setup with sand overlooking the infinity pool & ocean. And a thunderstorm just offshore, it was the perfect location for our meal.
The Vegetable Filo 1450 vatu/ $19 with Indian spices, was a generous and delicious serve. And Julian’s Thai Red Chicken Curry 1950 vatu/ $25 was true to form and authentic in flavour. This was up there with some of the best food we ate in Vanuatu – flavour, price and locale big factors.
Hiring a car isn’t essential but recommended. That way you can experience the more ‘off the beaten tracks’ around the island. $6000 vatu (about $75) per day gets you a small car and insurance. We hired a small Citroen from GO2RENT. Due to the poor roads in Vanuatu we blew out a front tyre and subsequently had a few issues with one of the owners who was quite rude and was then dubbed ‘Pierre le douche‘! My advice would be to avoid this company.
HIDEAWAY ISLAND for snorkelling with time constraints, 1200 vatu/ $15 includes a ferry ride & entrance. It’s a snorkeler’s cornucopia here with a myriad of coral & fish to admire. As well as an underwater post box.
We stopped for lunch at the HAVANNAH. An upscale adults only resort, with a ‘smart casual’ dress code. We literally rocked up in our swimming gear, read the sign & did a quick costume change in the car!
The Cheeseburger 2450 vatu/ $30 was criminally overpriced and isn’t going to win any awards but honestly for the view, I’d chew on a piece of cardboard. A 2.4/5 pickles.
Julio had the Grilled Efate Beef Fillet 2950 vatu/ $37 and despite the fact he murdered the steak by ordering it well done, it was still delicious with the thick onion red wine sauce.
Make sure you pay close attention to the coast line between Baofatu & Onesua, it’s stunning and you’ll want to stop and snap photos. The jagged volcano coastline looks almost otherworldly and similar to something out of Jurassic Park, sans a muscular Chris Pratt or Sam Neill….if you’re into the silver fox look.
Due to Cyclone Pam in March 2016, It was pretty common to come across sections of road that had simply washed away, been blocked off, flooded, as well as deep pot holes 30-50cm wide. So you really do need to have your wits about you and pay close attention.
BLUE LAGOON is another must visit! With a shimmery natural blue lagoon, there are 2 large swinging ropes which locals and tourists alike made use of. There is a 500 vatu / $6 entrance fee.
PARADISE COVE is yet another resort that kept popping up on my ‘to eat list’. But was probably the most disappointing of all. The Teouma Prawns w/ chilli, ginger & lime 2800 vatu/ $35 had a mild kick from the chilli with a sweet note. But when I’m gravitating more towards the coconut rice over the prawns, we have a problem. Sadly Julian didn’t fare any better with his Seared Poulet Fish Fillet 2700 vatu/ $34.
Put me behind the wheel of a fast car and I love the thrill and adrenaline but take me more than 5 metres off the ground and I turn into a cowering baby. With that said, the VANUATU JUNGLE ZIPLINE is a necessity! Overlooking Mele and Hideaway Island you get unsurpassed views and at a minimum of 40m to a maximum height of 80 metres, the vista is simply breath-taking. The guys are a laugh, yet super professional, all whilst wearing thongs and blasting ‘Coco Jambo’. Be careful on the drive up to the Zipline, this was where we busted a tyre.
LE CAFÉ DU VILLAGE was another decent find. The Chicken & Mushroom Pie 2400 vatu /$30 was a huge portion of tender chicken, mushrooms in a thick creamy sauce encased in pastry. Probably not great for those that are averse to cream… i.e. ME!
Julian went with the safer option and one that we returned for a few days later. The Vanuatu Beef Burger 1800 vatu/ $23. One of the better burgers of the three I tried on the island. The bread was a lot denser than the others but the beef was a loose grind and seasoned well. And the onion relish added some sweetness. But note: cucumber DOES NOT BELONG ON A BURGER! 3.3/5 pickles.
I’m a serial grocery shopper addict. My idea of heaven would be to trawl overseas supermarkets for goodies. Au Bon Marche is one of two supermarkets in Vanuatu. I picked up a few packets of chips, Vanuatu made chocolate & peanut butter. And we were both taken with the bakery section. Opting to make our way back down to the city with our spoils and hang out at our favourite coffee joint the LAVA LOUNGE. And that’s when I discovered that the bread in Vanuatu is pretty shit.
A few extra notes – while probably a little extreme, Dengue fever and malaria outbreaks aren’t uncommon, so it’s best to bring adequate insect repellent. Hats and sunscreen are a definite must. You’ll practically live in shorts or a swimming costume so don’t pack anything too heavy. If you have a sensitive stomach I’d probably avoid drinking tap water, it is safe to drink but as a foreigner you may be more susceptible to bugs. I arrived back in Sydney, only to make a pit stop at a medical centre a few hours later > cue a stomach virus that lasted 2 weeks.
Our home away from home at Nasama was the perfect base to launch into our adventures, staff were very helpful, answering all our questions ad nauseam. Everyone was incredibly friendly, from the bus drivers to people in the street.
I think out of everything we’ll remember the Vanuatu smiles…
Some happy snaps borrowed from Juan Juliano!