The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Category: Vanuatu

Vanuatu: The Experience

“How was your trip?”

That’s the first question out of my friends and coworker’s mouths after “Happy New Year!” when I arrived back in Australia.

In a word: Amazing.

I didn’t really know what to expect when we landed in Vanuatu just after midnight on Christmas Day. I walked off the plane and onto a muggy tarmac and smelled… mud. Good, clean, wet earth. It was an absolutely gorgeous smell, which didn’t translate when I whispered to the English Muffin: “It smells like dirt.”

A van ride down dark streets seen through bleary eyes didn’t do much to acquaint myself with Port Vila, the capital town on Vanuatu. But I couldn’t resist dipping my hand into the warm water of Mele Bay as the boat ferried us and about a dozen sleepy guests over to Iririki Island Resort. On our way to our room, a hermit crab the size of my hand and stars that looked close enough to touch were our welcoming party.

The next day was Christmas on Iririki Island, which we spent listening to a children’s choir of locals sing carols while we feasted on a buffet lunch of every imaginable Christmas dish under the sun (turkey, ham, roast beef, you name it) and had more than our fair share of wine with a lovely couple from Brisbane. The rest of the day was spent tipsily swimming in the ocean and various swimming pools in our resort (as did the majority of the days we were in Vanuatu).

By way of adventure we rented a quad bike from On Wheels, a rental shop run by a couple of friendly Frenchmen (as the French and English were the primary colonizers of Vanuatu before their independence). We used this to do a full loop around the main island of Efate. A short and scary detour down a very steep slope led us to a village full of friendly faces and waves as the two foreigners whizzed through, scaring the pigs, chickens and puppies.

On the Road!

On the Road!

A quick pit stop for a Tusker (the local brew of Vanuatu) and some just-caught-this-morning Yellowfin sashimi at Wahoo Bar led to a delightful conversation with George, the bartender who lived just across the water in a small village on the island of Lelepa. He mentioned that a friend of his does tours of Lelepa by boat, if we were interested. We’d been in Vanuatu for long enough to know that this place hasn’t yet been spoiled by tourism, and that the locals were friendly and trustworthy people who seem genuinely happy for the visitors that flock to their island paradise. So we got George’s number so we could organize the tour a few days later.

Our quad tour of Efate included a stop at a deserted reef spot where were free to snorkel to our hearts content and feed the bold and bright fish that swarmed under the crystal clear waters of Undine Bay on the north side of the island. We also stopped at the Blue Lagoon, an inlet of the ocean that was the deepest blue you could possibly imagine, where we watched local and tourist kids alike swing from rope swings and plunge into the deep blue depths from the highest tree branches they dared to jump from. And a roadside sign for hot springs found us covered in mud just 15 minutes later, then testing our capacity for heat in water that was well over 100F.

Little Piggies, Feeding the Fish, Eton Beach, Mud Pits and the Blue Lagoon

Little Piggies, Feeding the Fish, Eton Beach, Mud Pits and the Blue Lagoon

A couple of days of lounging around had us itching for adventure again, so we called up George and arranged our tour of Lelepa with his neighbor, Terry. We jumped on the boat from Wahoo Bar and jetted directly across the water to a deserted beach made up of broken pieces of reef, where we snorkeled and scared ourselves out of the water by asking about sharks (which weren’t in the bay at all but were suddenly top of mind as we swam deeper). We stopped off at the beach where Survivor: Vanuatu was filmed for more snorkeling and lounging in the sun (which turned out to be a bad idea), then around to a hidden cove where dangling a piece of bread in the water would have fish of all sizes, shapes and colors eating directly from your hand. To close out the tour, Terry took us into the village where he lived, and we met his neighbors who were making cava and going about their business. Seeing their simple way to life brought the complexities of our own into sharper focus, and we talked about how simple life could be if you just didn’t need so much stuff. We finished the day at Wahoo Bar with a couple of Tuskers, salty, sunburned, and exhausted.

On the boat, hiding from bats in a cave, the beaches, feeding fish and cava making in Lelepa village

On the boat, hiding from bats in a cave, the beaches, feeding fish and cava making in Lelepa village

New Year’s Eve was shared with just the English Muffin, fireworks on our hotel balcony and a couple of bottles of Moet. We grudgingly left the following afternoon, vowing to come back and explore more of the islands in the archipelago and return more of the beautiful smiles from the friendly Ni-Vanuautu.

In a word: Amazing.

A Non-Humblebrag

Have you heard of the humblebrag? If you are my aunt/uncle/parent (pretty sure it’s just you guys reading this anyway), I’m going to guess not. So the lovely UrbanDictionary will come to the rescue:

Humblebrag

In an effort not to be an asshole, I am going to do everything in my power to just be overt about my bragging.

Remember that time I mentioned I’m going to Vanuatu for my first Christmas without my family? Well, the English Muffin managed to use his powers of negotiation (he’s very smooth, how do you think he snagged me?) to get us a ridiculous Deluxe Ocean Front room at Iririki Resort, a hotel that takes up an entire private island off the coast of Port Vila. I’m sorry, ARE YOU JOKING?

Just to make sure I’m being as overt as possible about what a brag this is, here are some photos:

Iririki5 Iririki4 iririki3 iririki2 iririki1Yes, that is a jacuzzi on the balcony. Yes, that is the kind of room we have. Yes, that is an amazing sunset over the South Pacific. Yes, this is not humble in the slightest.

I knew spending the holidays without my immediate family for the first time was going to be a difficult one, but looking at these pictures, I have a feeling I’m going to be juuuuuust fine.

I will, of course, make sure I duly report back once I’ve stayed at the resort to let you know what is amazing about Vanuatu and what may not be so awesome.

Until next time, xoxoxo!

The Wizardess

Photo Source: Iririki Island Resort

A New Adventure: Vanuatu!

Absolutely nothing gets me more excited than booking a plane ticket. Well, maybe booking a plane ticket that costs $0 would get me even more excited, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Here’s some background: Australia has this obnoxious tradition of forcing you to use your vacation time over the Christmas holiday so they can close offices. So of your 20 allocated days, usually 3 – 4 are robbed of you immediately, and you must account for these when planning your year’s worth of vacations. In the US, these were “gifted” to us by a kindly CEO – not so much down here.

Because I will have to return to the US late in 2014 for a dear friend’s wedding, I know my vacation allocation is going to be tight. As in, pathetically out of alignment with my travel desires. So I had to look into my options for this week of forced time off, so as not to waste a single vacation day not exploring this corner of the world. 

And after a week of browsing flight deals while waiting for my paycheck to hit, I landed on the destination: Vanuatu. If you’re like me, you may be asking yourself, “Where the hell is that?” Well, here:

Vanuatu MapIt’s a lovely little archipelago in between Australia and Fiji. And if you haven’t heard of it, that means it’s Fiji but emptier. Perfect! It also happens to look like this:

Vanuatu-Tourist-Informatio-Centre vanuatuecosystem vanuatu Vanuatu-Le-Meridien-Resort-420x0Somehow the flight deals to Vanuatu cost a good $400 less than Fiji, and only $50 more than slightly less exotic places like New Zealand, Perth, or Broome (over on the other side of AU). So after a consultation of our finances, the English Muffin and I snapped up the last two “Super Saver Deal!” tickets between Sydney and Port Vila, and are now excitedly planning a seven day adventure between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. It will be my first Christmas without the family, and if this is how it’s done I might never see Mom or Dad on Christmas Day again! Just joking… kinda.

If you have been to Vanuatu and have any suggestions on places to stay, visit, see, eat, etc. please send them our way!

Til next time, xoxoxo!

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