This information is based on my 10 trips to Port Vila, including seven when on dive trips. My most recent trip was in May 2010.
The currency is the Vatu (vt). As of May 2010 there are about 84 vt to the Australian dollar (about 90 vt in March 2010) and 75 vt to NZ$ and 100 vt to US$. The vatu appears to be tied to the US dollar and is at parity with it. Therefore, divide costs by 100 and add about 10% to work out Australian dollar cost.
You can change money at the airport or at banks in the town. You can also change at a number of money changers. These include Goodies (two outlets in main street) and 7/11 (three outlets in main street). The 7/11 outlets used to offer the best rates (in 2007) but in 2010 Goodies was better.
Do not change at your hotel as the rate is far below the changers or even banks (you will be ripped off - 75vt to A$ and 90vt to US$).
There are a large number of ATMs in the main street and even a bit further afield.
Therefore, just take Australian (or US or NZ) dollars and exchange or use your normal bank account. Cheapest option is cash (in May 2010 you got about 84vt to the dollar compared to about 80.5vt using an ATM or about 81vt using a credit card) but safest are ATMs and cards. Most credit card transactions have a surcharge of about 5%.
You can now use your mobile phone in Vanuatu so long as you make sure you have international roaming set up by your home carrier. This makes it a lot easier to organise trips and restaurant meals etc. Only use SMS to contact home as it is very expensive to call.
Uses the same plugs as Australia and New Zealand and is 240 volts (although experience shows that it may be less and charging time for torches and batteries takes a lot longer than at home).
Air Vanuatu flies six times a week from Sydney and three times a week from Brisbane. In August 2007 a new flight will be introduced that goes Sydney - Port Vila - Santo - Brisbane and then returns Brisbane - Santo - Port Vila - Sydney. I presume that these two flights will replace one of the Sydney and one of the Brisbane flights currently running. The times of these flights vary, and some are more convenient than others (at least two flights from Sydney arrive very late at night or very early in the morning).
They also fly three times a week to Auckland and Nadi (Fiji). One of the Auckland flights may actually be carried out by Air New Zealand. All these flights are in a Boeing 737-300.
There are also three flights to Noumea in New Caledonia using their Aerospatiale ATR-42 turboprop. Their flight map shows they fly to Honiara in the Solomon Islands but this is not shown on their timetable.
The Air Vanuatu flights from Australia are code-shared with Qantas, so if you book with Qantas you actually fly on the Air Vanuatu flight.
Air New Zealand
They have one flight a week using an Airbus A320 from Auckland.
They fly an Airbus A320 three times a week from Noumea.
They fly three times a week from Nadi. I am not sure, but these may be the same flights as the Air Vanuatu ones.
The Solomon Airlines does not fly to Port Vila but they operate two flights a week using an Embauer 170 jet from Brisbane to Santo. One goes Brisbane - Santo - Honiara - Brisbane and the other Brisbane - Honiara - Santo - Brisbane. Not sure if this still runs in 2010.
Pacific Blue flies to Port Vila from Sydney. They fly Thursday and Sunday. They fly from Brisbane on Wednesday, Saturday and Monday. Flights back are the same day. Flights from Sydney leave at a good time in the morning and return in the evening. In May 2010 we used our frequent flyer points to travel to and from home. Good service on a plane only 30% full.
GETTING TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT
Most organised trips include transport. This is the best option. Taxis and buses operate meeting all flights. The fares from the airport to each hotel is regulated and shown at the airport on signs. It varies depending on the distance from the airport.
From the hotels in town you can walk to most restaurants. However, if you are out at Le Legon or Le Meridian it is a bit further. You could walk from Le Meridian if fit. There are taxis galore during the day but harder to find at night. There is a good bus system using mini-buses. The standard fare appears to be 150 vt per person no matter the length of the trip. They run all day and well into the evening (Kelly and I caught them many times on our 2010 trip as we we a bit out of town. Just look for one and hail it. Ask if they are going where you want to go.
There is now a huge amount of accommodation in Port Vila and nearby. This is a great increase on only a few years ago. It is all quite good. There are hotels, resorts, motels and self contained units. I will only include in this article accommodation likely to be used by divers (since that who this web site is aimed at).
For people planning to do a lot of dives, I would suggest The Melanesian or Irriki (depending on your budget). For groups on dive holidays, The Melanesian or Hideaway Island would be best. For people with non-diving spouses planning to dive most days, The Melanesian or Irriki. If you are only planning a few dives, then any of the accommodation and for familys, I would suggest that Le Legon followed by Le Meridian are the best.
This is very reasonably priced accommodation in the main street. It is a 10 minute walk to town, 5 minutes to the main dive shop. It is at the top of a small hill but it is not too bad walk (I have stayed here a number of times and we walked most places if possible - needed the exercise to wear off the food and beer).
|The swimming pool area of The Melanesian||Michael tastes kava|
This has a large number of rooms. Some are multi roomed. The normal rooms have TV, fridge, double bed and single bed, chairs and a small verandah that overlooks the pool area.
The beds are comfortable, the showers hot and strong and it is very clean.
There is a good pool, with tables around it and a bar next door.
An excellent continental breakfast of cereal, bread/toast, pastries, juice, fruit and tea/coffee is included in the tariff.
|Kelly and Michael with the traditional dancers||Music from bottles!|
There is a restaurant for lunch and dinner and also a new (in June 2007) Thai restaurant. We did not use any of these except for the following. Three times a week they have a cultural night with kava tasting, singing and dancing. This is free and held around the pool. In conjunction, they have a barbecue which cost 2,000vt. You can eat as much as you want. It was a good feed with chicken, sausages, steak salads, bread and dessert as well as tea and coffee. The show was very good and went from 6 pm till 8 pm. Recommended.
This is my preferred place to stay with a diving group.
This is located to the east of town and is within reasonably walking distance, although you have to climb a small hill. It also has great grounds and appears to have a small golf course as well.
Accommodation is mostly in rooms but there are some overwater bures. It has a casino as well and is on the same lagoon as Le Legon but further up it. Water sports are available.
Again, families and kids should have a great time. A bit easier to get to town if you want to eat out a bit.
This is located out past The Melanesian and is not within easy walking distance. You will really need to catch a bus (100vt per person for any trip) or taxi (at least 500vt to town).
However, as this is a fully contained resort, you may not even want to come to town many times. If you think that you may want to eat out a bit and look around, then perhaps one of the places closer to town is better.
The accommodation is a large number of bures. These are located on a lagoon. It has excellent grounds, including a 12 hole golf course, water sports, a fantastic pool (a number of pools actually). Kids would have a great time here.
Located right in town, this was the location of the British Commissioner during the New Hebrides days. It is accessed via a punt type ferry that runs 24 hours a day. Accommodation is in cabins, about 10 of which are over the water. It is a fairly steep island so if you have someone who is a bit less mobile, I would not recommend this spot.
It is a very nice place, with a small beach and water sports available. There is a pool with a great view over the harbour.
There are a number of restaurants, including Micheners. This is very nice but is also quite expensive (mains 2500vt to 3000vt - A$29.80 to A$35.70 with a seafood for two being 10000vt - A$119!!). Kelly and I had a meal here on the first week anniversary of our wedding and it was only reasonable considering the cost. Cannot say that I would ever go there again.
If you have the money, this is probably the place to stay.
This is located quite a way out of town, further than any of the above places. It also needs a ferry to get to from the shore. I do not think that it runs 24 hours a day. Any plan to go to town would probably require the organising of a taxi as when I went to the landing spot, none were seen. You could walk to the main road (about 500 metres away) and catch a bus.
This has quite basic accommodation from what I have been told and while suited to groups of divers, may not be a place some people will like. You are also basically captive once there, so virtually all meals would need to be eaten here.
Kelly and I stayed here in May 2010. It is a little out of town towards the airport on the main road. It has 10 self-contained apartments and a bungalow. It is run by an Australian couple Beth and Tony. The prices are very good, we paid A$510 for the week. Our apartment had a double and single bed, a new bathroom, a small kitchen and a small balcony looing over the main road.
For stays of more than a few days, the sheets get changed twice a week, you get new towels each day and the room is tidied up. We only had breakfast and lunch in the apartment and did no cooking.
Although it is a bit out of town, the Harbourview Chinese Restaurant is only about 200 metres away and within 15 minutes walk there are two more places to eat (Tillys and Moorings) and within 20 minutes walk there are The Office and Anchor Inn. It is not too bad a walk, we sometimes caught a bus there or back, depending on how we felt. It is about 30 minutes to the markets.
There is a supermarket (Au Bon Marche at Manples) seven minutes walk towards the airport. This not as good as the one to the south of town, but it had all we neeeded. See below for details. There is also a small Chinese store, the Lam Store, next door. This has Tusker at the best price I saw in Port Vila (200 vt each or 4350 vt for a 24 pack). It also sells chips, peanuts, soft drinks and bread sticks (excellent).
On our trip here, as we were diving each day, we were picked up by Nautilus so it did not matter we were out of town a little. When we returned from diving it was about lunchtime, so we made lunch and spent the next couple of hours reading, sleeping or writing up our dive logs.
Beth and Tony will arrange collection from the airport (1000 vt) and will take you to the airport for free when you are leaving. You even get a free orientation to Port Vila when you arrive.
There is also free wireless internet so you can keep in touch (or update this page like I am doing right now). They also have a barbecue and table so you can cook outside if you want.
All in all, a great place to stay and I can thoroughly recommend it.
Photos to come once I get home.
There is not a huge range of beers available in Port Vila bars. Most sell Australian beers such as Victoria Bitter (VB) and Crown Lager and maybe a few others. However, the best bet is to drink the local beer, Tusker. There are a couple of different types, including one super strong 7% version, but the best bet is to stick to the normal one. Just ask for a Tusker. It comes in draught at some bars but is mostly on bottles.
Tusker is a very good beer, I quite enjoy it (and I hate beers such as VB and Tooheys New). However, you may occasionally get a bad one in some of the more remote locations due to age or storage or leakage. Make sure you have a bottle opener as they are not twist tops.
As well as purchasing from bars and hotels, you can purchased beer from the larger supermarkets (see later) or the huge bottle shop located in the main street, at the southern end just before the Waterfront bar. Here you can purchase cartons of Tusker (but no real discount - only save 5vt each bottle) or in smaller numbers. The cost here was 180 vt (A$2.15) each in 2007 but I did not go there in 2010. I suspect it would be 200 or 220 vt.
We purchased a few so that we could have some beers on our balcony at the hotel and not pay the exorbitant cost from the mini-bar.
The same bottle shop has a huge selection of wine. A lot of it is from Australia and New Zealand and was very reasonably priced, not that much more than you would pay for it back in a small bottle shop in Australia. You can also get beer and wine from each supermarket and most Chinese shops. Note that takeaway alcohol is not legally available from noon on Saturdays till Monday morning. However, if you enquire with a bus driver, you will probably be able to find a place who will sell to you.
There are a number of supermarkets in Port Vila. The best ones are all called Au Bon Marche. There is one on the southern side of the markets, another past the far northern end of town (at Manples near Coral Motel) and another past The Melanesian. This later one was one of the best supermarkets I have seen outside a major Australian city (far better than some I have encountered in western New South Wales). It has a great selection of things and most items we very well priced.
We purchased some cut meats (about twice Australian price), cheese and bread rolls to make our own lunch after some dive days. The one at Manples only sold meat prepacked in vacuum sealed plastic, but it was good. You can also purchase cans of drink, chips etc. Coke was 120vt (A$1.45) a can,
There are a few small shops that sell soft drinks and bread and chips if you want a snack.
In the main street near the centre of town there are the markets. These are open every day (except I think Sunday). There are hundreds of vendors selling fresh produce. You can purchase some fresh fruit here as well as other things like home grown roasted peanuts (great for afternoon beers - 20 to 50 vt a small bag) and home made kumara chips (sweet potatoes made like normal cold chips - excellent with beer - 100 vt a big bag). There are also banana chips and taro chips.
They also sell artefacts, kava roots and more.
This is well worth visiting just to see what is available.
Also see the accommodation section.
This is located at the southern end of the town's main road proper, just before it starts the climb up the hill towards The Melanesian. It is an open air place, with an island roof over the main section. It serves excellent steaks and is reasonably priced. Lots of local expats eat there, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, so make sure you book on these nights.
We went here twice and had garlic bread (very good) and T-bone (1900vt - A$22.60) and fillet (2250vt - A$26.80) steaks. I also had the beef rips at 1700vt (A$20.25). The T-bone was as good as a steak as I have had for a long time and the ribs were huge and excellent. Tusker beer was 400vt (A$4.80) a handle. Was highly recommended but in 2010 we were told it had changed operators and gone downhill. The locals do not seem to think it is much good now.
Harbour View Chinese Restaurant
This is located way down past the northern end of town. From the centre of town it is about a 30 minute walk (40 to 45 minutes from The Melanesian) and the last bit is up a slight hill. Go past Chantillys Hotel (very, very fancy) and you will see it up a street that angles off to the right.
There is a very good view of nearly all Port Vila and the harbour. You can eat inside (with views) our outside. We had an excellent meal. Costs were 330vt for mixed entree, 1000 to 1500vt for mains and 380vt for Tusker bottles. The cost for two with a few beers each was a total of 5150 vt (A$61.30). We have now eaten three times here, all great meals. Highly recommended.
A bus back to town costs 150vt each.
This is located on the southern side of the markets right on the water. It is up the stairs. This place serves pasta and general dining but we went here for a pizza. There were many types to choose from and they were very good and excellent value. We ordered the smallest size and had some left over which we took home for next day's lunch.
Garlic bread pizza was 380vt (A$4.50) and pizzas were 1400 to 1800vt (A$14.80 to A$16.70) with Tusker 450vt a bottle. The two meals we have had here were both excellent.
Again, well worth eating here.
The Office (Kellys)
It is located just past the northern end of the main street, past Anchor Inn. We did not eat at the steak restaurant here in 2007 as the steaks were a bit more expensive than the Waterfront. However, in 2010 we had a meal here. My T-bone was excellent, but Kelly's Beef and Reef was not so good she said. The one thing that turned me off ever going back there was the fact that a Tusker cost 550 vt and a soft drink 400 vt. This is more expensive than the Tillys Restaurant. Not worth it.
This is located in the main street opposite the new Sebel Hotel. It had a good menu but we did not eat there.
Located in Chantillys Hotel, on the southern outskirts of town, It is about 15 minutes walk from the centre of town. The restaurant is very fancy looking but the prices quite reasonable. Kelly and I had our third wedding anniversary dinner here. The outdoor seating overlooks the water and you are kept entertained by small fish schooling in the lights.
Kelly had a main of eye fillet with blue cheese sauce (2900 vt) while I had an entree of French onion soup (800 vt) and another entree of coconut prawns (1300 vt) as a main. Beers were 450 vt. An excellent meal, with great service and in a classy place.
Moorings is located just north of the town, a bit past Chantillys Hotel. We had a beer here a couple of times when walking back from town. We also watched the first match of the 2010 Rugby League State of Origin match here after dinner at Tillys. The next night we ate at the restaurant.
|The Anchor Inn looking out towards the harbour||Dinner on the waterfront at Moorings Hotel|
The restaurant is an open sided place with lots of tables. We decided to eat out on the waterfront. There are some tables here. We ate at the MCC Pavilion (the Moorings Cricket Club) which is a wooden platform. I had a nice green beef curry (1950 vt) and Kelly carbonara pasta (1600 vt). Tuskers are 400 vt a handle.
There are numerous places to eat for lunch. As well as all the hotels and dinner spots mentioned above, you could try the chicken place in the main street, the burger place near Goodies near the northern end of the main street, the burger and chicken place under Chill (very good) as well as the many other cafes.
You can also purchase items from the supermarkets and make your own rolls. We did for days when we did not get back from diving till late lunch time and when we did not feel like rushing out to order lunch.
As well as the hotels, restaurants mentioned above, you could try the Vanuatu Club, one street behind the Post Office a little to the north. Cheapest beers in town at 280vt (A$3.35) a handle (at least in 2007). Also, the Anchor Inn (Yacht Club) right on the northern end of the main street is the best place in terms of prices and location with Tuskers at 400 vt. It is a great place to look over the water. This has been totally done up between 2007 and 2010 and has a great covered area. It also has snacks like chips and hamburgers. We also watched South Sydney play in the NRL live on TV.
This is the oldest and largest operator in Port Vila. I have used them every time I have dived in Vila. They are located in the main street, about a quarter way up the hill at the southern end of town. The shop is right on the water and the boat is tied up right out front.
They offer a pick up and return from your accommodation. Dives leave about 8 am so the pick up is normally around 7:30 am or so, depending on your location. Once at the shop and after the formalities of the first day, it is a matter of putting your gear on board the boat and setting up your tank.
The boat was a slow thing but it was a cat and quite stable, especially in the waters of the harbour and Mele Bay. However, in larger seas out on the edge of the bay, it used get quite rough as the boat is a little nose heavy. However, this boat was sunk in the cyclone that hit in 2015. They have replaced but I am not sure what with.
Guides are provided for all dives. Unfortunately, their standard mode of operation is sometimes quite restrictive and aimed at the inexperienced diver. I can understand this as in a week of diving in May 2010, Kelly and I were the only customers they had who I would even consider to be competent divers. Some of them amazed us with how hopeless they were, even divers doing an Advanced course had no idea how to put their gear together. So I can somewhat understand Nautilus's policy, but it should be relaxed for experienced divers, especially those travelling with a dive shop or club.
Even if you are very experienced, they will not let you dive without a guide. In addition, their policy is "no decompression" and "no below 40 metres". On one dive the guide stated "no deco" and "I am not going below 40 metres".
|The old Nautilus dive boat||Large billboards advertising Tusker beer|
Mi Wantem Tusker = I want a Tusker
Bia Blong Yumi = Beer for you and me = Our beer
Well, I went well below 40 metres and into quite a bit of decompression. Nothing said. Funny thing, this same guide was later diving the SS President Coolidge with us and did every dive as a decompression dive and went below 40 metres on all but the first day. All the guides are excellent from my experience, although the non-Ni Vanuatu guides are turned over pretty often (probably every three months or so). In 2010 two of the British instructors came with us when we dived the Qantas Sandringham flying boat as they had never dived it in the 2.5 and 6 weeks they had been working there.
Luckily, on all the dives I have done with them, we have basically followed the guide but went to the depths we wanted to and stayed as long as we wanted to.
Spare air is hung under the boat at the deeper six metre deco bar and the shallower three metre deco bar.
Two dives are done on each trip, with the surface interval spent on the boat. Tea/coffee is provided as well as ample chilled water and cake or biscuits after each dive.
They have washing tubs on site and if you are diving later in the week, you can leave your gear in their secure locker.
This is owned by the couple who used to run the dive operation at Hideaway Island. They have a small tinnie. I have no personal knowledge of what their operation is like and I do not know any friends who have used them. They are located on the waterfront near the northern end of town.
Limited to those who are staying on the island. Not sure of their boat as we never saw it on the water. From all reports, they dive closer to the island except for some dives on the wrecks of Port Vila.
In 1991 I went on a day trip using this operation and it was a highlight of my trip. In 1995, 2007 and 2010 I again decided to use them. The operation is owned by Peter Whitelaw. He has been in Port Vila for more than 25 years.
Peter owns a trimaran that is moored in a new small man-made harbour in Havannah Harbour. This is located on the northern side of Efate, the island that Port Vila is located on. Peter offers up to two dives on the trip but it is also very suitable for snorkellers and even people who want to just have a day out on the water. See later for prices.
You get picked up at 8 am or so depending on your accommodation. You travel in their mini-bus to Havannah Harbour. This used to be a rough 45 minutes trip once you left town. However, the road out of town is now sealed all the way to havannah Harbour and will be sealed all the way around the island by the end of 2010. The trip now takes about 35 minutes.
|The Golden Wing||The shade area on Golden Wing|
You transfer to the yacht via a small rubber ducky and once on board, you head off out towards Hat Island. Havannah Harbour is where Survivor Vanuatu was filmed in about 2005. Normally sails are hoisted and you sail all the way, but sometimes the motor is needed due to lack of wind. In June 2007 we motored for the first bit and then sailed to Hat Island. As you sail, morning tea of tea/coffee and croissant is served and you set up your dive gear. It is normally very smooth on the way.
It takes about 90 minutes to get to the first dive spot from the time you arrive at Havannah Harbour.
There are a number of dive sites at Hat Island and which one is used will depend on winds and sea conditions. There is very good snorkelling here. After the dive the boat is moved to a small beach off the mainland. This was where the Survivor females had their camp. Lunch is served here (in 2010 we were running a bit late so lunch served at Hat Island before we moved). Lunch varies, but on my last trip it was chicken wings and rice and salad as well as bread. Soft drinks (200vt) are available for sale as well as beer (300 vt?) for non-divers.
After lunch you and go for a swim or snorkel.
|Hat Island||The beach near Pauls Rock|
About 2 pm the boat is moved the short distance to Pauls Rock. This comes up to about five metres and is another excellent dive and snorkel location. Peter has been feeding the fish here for years and the bones from lunch are used.
Once diving is finished, you sail back to the mooring and have afternoon tea on the way.
You arrive back at your accommodation at about 5:30 pm or 6:00 pm.
The basic cost of the trip is 8,500vt (A$100) which includes transport, morning and afternoon teas, lunch and the use of snorkelling gear. Excellent value.
For divers, add 2,000vt for each dive if you have your own gear. It is 1,500vt to hire gear. Therefore, for 12,500vt (A$145) you get two dives and all of the above. This is cheaper than two dives at the dive shops in Port Vila and you get sailing, lunch and a tour thrown in. Amazing value. Note that this is 2010 pricing and could change at any time.
I strongly recommend one day on this operation, even if you are not a diver. Everyone I have ever told to use them has come back happy!
You can book by phoning them or going to their office which is just on the corner of a laneway and the main street about 50 metres north of the Post Office.
See the diving index page for more information about the dives at this location.
This is actually Moso Island which is in Havannah Harbour and is where some of Survivor Vanuatu was filmed. Therefore, to do a dive with them you have to do the same bus trip of about 45 minutes each day. It might be worth doing for one or two days but it would get tiresome.
They also have accommodation but I do not know anyone who has actually been there or used them. They have an office in the main street of Port Vila, towards the northern end of town.
Go to the Port Vila Index Page for more information about some of the dive sites around Port Vila.
TOURS/OTHER THINGS TO DO
There is a very nice golf course as well as the smaller ones at Le Legon and perhaps Le Meridian. The proper course is located north of town and you could get a taxi there.
There are a number of car rental agencies in Port Vila. These include Budget, Avis and a local operator. We used Budget and found them very friendly and helpful. They are all located on the street behind the Parliament House but they have offices in town and at the airport (not always staffed unless you have made prior arrangements).
All cars are very expensive to hire. We ended up hiring a small vehicle for a day so that we could drive around Efate (note that the road around the island is finally being sealed and should be finished mid-2010). The cost was 8000vt (A$95) and this did not include reducing the excess (your travel insurance will normally cover this). We also hired one on our return from Santo when we had a five hour layover between flights. We got this for 4000vt. This let us do some more sightseeing as well as store our bags safely in the boot (you cannot on-book your bags or book in early).
Note that you drive on the right side of the road in Vanuatu.
Port Vila Tours
You can tour Port Vila township by walking if you like. As well as walking along the waterfront, take the street next to The Melanesian and go up beside the Parliament House and walk along parallel to the main street. At the roundabout past Budget, turn left and follow this road. This will take you up behind the main section of the town.
|Port Vila from the War Memorial|
If you get a map from your hotel, you can visit the Catholic Cathedral (great on a Sunday to hear the singing) as well as lots of Government buildings. The Courts used to be here as well but two days after we walked past them in June 2007, an arsonist burnt the historic Colonial buildings to the ground.
There is also an excellent lookout at the War Memorial which Reserve Bank.
There are some operators but we did not use.
There are quite a few operators, all based around the Waterfront Bar. You can book in town at any of the tour places.
There is at least one operation out past the golf course.
Buggy/Quad Bike Tours
You can do various tours while driving dune buggies or quad bikes. There are short and long trips and all are escorted. It looks like fun but is quite expensive.
ROUND ISLAND TRIPS
There are a multitude of operators offering trips around Efate. This is a full day trip and some go to custom dance villages, some offer lunch, some morning tea. Make sure you are comparing apples with apples when looking at prices. Prices range from 6500vt (A$77) up.
As we had diving commitments that meant we could not do an organised tour as we would not be back from our dive till after the tours leave. Instead, we hired a car and did our own trip. The following is a brief description of what we saw and did.
From Port Vila, it used to be better to drive in a clockwise direction around Efate as it means that you got the worst bit of road over in the morning when fresh as well as letting you swim at the Mele Cascades. The road used to be dirt from Mele Cascades for about 90 kilometres till you are back to the south-east of Port Vila. However, the road is being sealed at the moment and will be completed by the end of 2010. What has been done is excellent. Care is required for those not used to driving on dirt roads as it can be quite poor in spots.
These magnicient series of cascades and a waterfall are located to the north of town just at the base of the very steep climb to the top of the hill. It costs 1000 vt (A$12) to enter. You will need at least an hour here and if the weather is nice, a couple of hours would be good so it may be something you leave to do on a separate day.
|The waterfall at Mele Cascades||The view of Mele Harbour from Mele Cascades|
Hideaway Island is in center
The track to the waterfall takes about 20 minutes to walk and while not too steep, it has small sections that are slippery when wet and may be hard for less abled persons. The water is a azure blue colour and sometimes can be crystal clear. You can swim anywhere you like. There are some fantastic spots to choose from and you can get a good massage from some of the cascades.
There is also a small picnic area at the bottom so bring some food and drink for after the walk. There are toilets here as well.
This was a major American base during World War II as the harbour is so protected and large. You end up driving along the edge for quite a while and there are a number of spots where you can drive to the water's edge.
Here the locals have set up stalls on the side of the harbour. They have a turtle hatchery where you can see and hold baby green and hawksbill turtles.
They sell shells and old Coke bottles. The most entrepreneurial of them is Noai. He sells Coke bottles that he has dug up from a US war tip. There are bottles from 1942 and 1943 from Coke factories in San Francisco, Portland, Oakland and places in the deep south. Prices vary (SF is cheapest) but range from 1000 vt.
|Noai's stall||Kelly and the road roller|
Noai will also take you to where there are old US wartime machinery. This is just up a track adjacent to the school. There is a bulldozer and a road roller. We gave him some money for his time in taking us there but he did not ask for anything.
WWII Water Reservoir
This is located about 2.5 kilometres past the village and is said by them to be a swimming pool but it is in fact a water tank. We did not see it on the day we went there as it was raining heavily and we were preoccupied with the dirt road.
World War II Museum
A Ni-Vanuatu Eric runs a museum along this section of road. It is signposted. We went in and paid 300vt each but it was not worth seeing. There was only a few artefacts such as bullets, helmets, oxygen masks, Coke bottles and a bomb rack. He also has a couple of crashed Vought F4U Corsair aircraft that he will take you to. One is in the inter-tidal zone and the other is out further requiring a paddle in a canoe. You can snorkel this one. We would have done this but the weather was atrocious and we had had enough water for the week. He charges for this, perhaps 1000 vt per person from memory.
Note that you have some change for all of these local encounters as they appear not to carry any change (perhaps deliberately) and give Coke bottles or shells in return.
Unless you are stopping to snorkel the plane wreck, forget it.
World War II Airstrip
At the far north-eastern corner of Efate there are the remains of a World War II airstrip. This was called Quoin Hill Airstrip. You can see the still cleared and mostly flat runway which angles across the road. There is also an aircraft parking bunker on the left and a concrete pillar on the right.
This is right at the turnoff for Beachcomber Resort.
Well, I do not know if I would call it a resort, as I did not see any real evidence of accommodation apart from a couple of old looking buildings. Anyway, it took us almost four hours to get here and it is about half way around the island in terms of distance. There is this place and another place to stop for lunch adjacent. There are also a couple more a bit further down the road.
It is a short drive of a kilometre off the road to the main building. This has a small dining area inside as well as some tables outside. We had a hamburger with the lot (1400vt - A$16.70) and spaghetti bolognaise (1500vt - A$17.80) and a Tusker each. Not the greatest meals but okay considering where we were.
This was a Saturday and there was a small band playing island music.
There is an outdoor swimming pool and an indoor spa. The spa is filled with naturally occurring hot water. We were going to have a swim in this (since the weather outside was decidedly cool and wet) but on testing the water temperature, I found that it was way too hot and perhaps 50ÂșC. This would definitely scald you, so I am glad that I tested it first.
There are a few islands that are visible off to the north and north-west.
Eastern Side of Efate
This is a lot rougher than the western and northern sides as the predominant winds appear to come from the east or north-east. The seas were quite rough and there is a fringing coral reef along nearly the whole coastline. The road follows the water's edge for a short distance before going a bit away from the sea.
There does not appear to be a huge amount to see on this side of the island. There is an old abandoned magnesium mine and wharf at Forari.
Past here the road comes back near the coastline before cutting across a section of cape. There are some small villages, some blue holes and a few real estate sub-divisions along the way.
Southern Side of Efate
At Rentapao River we headed off the main around island road by turning left. It is signposted something like Bluewater Resort. This follows the coast very closely. A bit down the track there are some very nice protected beaches. These are inside the fringing reef and there is ample place to park and picnic. This would be a good spot to stop and have a few beers if you have a cooler bag that you could use to keep them cool from the morning.
A bit further along is the remains of the boiler of the SS St Francis which was wrecked at sometime. You can just see the boiler from the road across a property.
Near the old abandoned White Sands Golf Course there are lots of small resorts. Some of these are quite fancy, but it is quite a way out of Port Vila.
We ended up back at the hotel at about 5 pm. We had spent about 7 hours on the road and could have easily done it a lot slower if the weather had been nicer and we wanted to stop for a swim or a look-around.