Ever booked a trip to somewhere you know nothing about because you saw it on TV once, and thought it looked pretty cool?
No? You should try it … you might just find yourself in one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever visited.
Our trip to this unassuming nation in the South Pacific represented Part 2 of our globetrotting honeymoon, following 8 days of island hopping in Fiji, and while memories of the place will forever be tarnished by our plane crash we still have plenty to look back on with fondness.
Despite being listed as one of the least developed countries in the world, Vanuatu has previously been ranked the happiest region on the planet (think about it for a second … then consider the true importance of wealth. It puts things into perspective, right?).
On face value that fact would be difficult for some to understand, given that Vanuatu’s poverty in comparison to its Oceanic neighbours to the west and south is as clear as the blue sea that surrounds it. The untarmacked roads in Port Vila (the capital) … the rugged wooden buildings … the bare-basic street markets – they all point towards a nation on its knees.
In 2015, when Cyclone Pam slammed into the main island – destroying pretty much everything in its path – the country was indeed on its knees, but if you ignore the physical evidence of that natural disaster you would hardly know it.
Each and every one of the locals we came across were friendly, helpful, and perhaps most importantly, always smiling. A smile makes a huge difference to those around you, and it made a huge difference to our stay.
Before leaving home we had quite a few people question Vanuatu as a honeymoon travel choice. “Vanu-where-to?!”, they would say, almost in disgust, “Why are you going there?”.
But we wanted something different for our once-in-a-lifetime holiday. Somewhere with character. Somewhere unique.
We found it. And we love it.
Having seen the sheer beauty of the 80-strong archipelago on a TV programme in the UK (Mutiny – Channel 4), we added it to our bucket list from that footage alone and quickly agreed that there was no time like the present to tick it off. Talk about taking a punt…
It turns out that Vanuatu is a popular destination for natives of both Australia and New Zealand, with direct flights from Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland making it an easy (and reasonably cheap) getaway for families and couples. But for honeymooners from the UK? Not so much! We enjoyed watching the surprise on people’s faces when they heard English accents telling them we’d only flown in for 5 days.
We arrived in October, as the wet season was peeking around the corner, but like in Fiji the sun shone for us when it mattered most.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to find a route to Tanna’s Blue Cave from Port Vila within our timescale (which looks incredible, by the way), but our eyeballs were still treated to some truly amazing sights in the Pacific heat.
Over the last eight years we’ve travelled to over 20 countries together, and few (possibly only New Zealand) boast natural beauty to rival Vanuatu.
On what the locals call their ‘Splash Tour’ around the east coast of Efate, we stopped off at Roundabout Cascade Waterfalls before moving on to two of our favourite spots – Crystal Blue Lagoon and Eton Beach (both around a 30-40 minute drive from our hotel, Iririki Island Resort – a 5-star resort occupying a small isle in Port Vila harbour).
Crystal Blue Lagoon, with its popular rope swings, is one of Efate’s tourist hot-spots and can get pretty busy. Time your visit well … the earlier the better to avoid the cruise ship crowds!
We weren’t able to ‘splash’ about at the cascades due to heavy rain the night before, which to be honest wasn’t a huge disappointment, but the Lagoon was indeed crystal blue, and had a rope swing…
Cue a belter of a belly flop!
Mrs Fox forgot to wipe the GoPro lens while filming this unfortunate event, hiding most of the action, but I think you still get the idea…
After another couple of failed attempts to copy a back-flipping Vanuatu rope swing pro, we settled for a more sedate swim around the lagoon before moving further along the coast to Eton Beach, where a fresh water stream meets the sea.
Rock formations form a barrier between the beach and the ocean, but when the tide comes in through the gullies, it comes in at speed and creates a natural lazy-river.
Who needs a rubber ring and a water park when you have all that to enjoy?
Following another night of drinks and live music back on Iririki island, we enjoyed some of what turned out to be our final day in Vanuatu (it wasn’t meant to be our last day)…
We booked ourselves on a day tour to Mount Yasur, one of a few live volcanoes in Vanuatu, and it was pretty incredible.
We flew over the smoking, lava-filled monster during the hour-long flight from Port Vila to Tanna, which was memorable in itself, but later in the day we found ourselves climbing up to its ridge.
Making our way across Tanna on the back of a pick-up truck was a highlight – slicing through the forest on dirt tracks and taking in the stunning scenery – and as we approached the volcano we could hear its rumbles.
Those rumbles continued as we stood in its shadow, in a huge ash field which continues to gather remnants of planet Earth’s insides, and they grew louder as we got closer.
When we reached the summit our guides told us not to run when the volcano growled, as the molten rock that fired hundreds of feet above us (yes, we could see it), often lands where tour groups walk.
Thankfully, the ridiculous health and safety regulations sucking the life out of the western world were not in play here, and we got as close as we could to the edge while listening, smiling, and then pooping our pants when the thing exploded 100m beneath us.
That part of the day will remain in the memory as one of our best holiday tours anywhere in the world … in a country so many people living north of the Equator would (unfortunately) snub in a second.
Shame about the journey back…
Broaden your horizons beyond the TV. Make the on-screen footage a personal memory.
Dream. Travel. Smile
Thanks for reading … JF