Vanuatu has never been at the Top of my 'To Travel' List, but deciding to explore this Pacific Island Nation was one of our best decisions yet!
If you are flying into Vanuatu via an international flight, then your first stop will be in Port Vila on Efate Island. We heard very mixed emotions about this city, whilst it is the main hub of the island it is no where near as big as cities you and I would have ever seen - it's more like a main town!
Staying in Port Vila to get your bearings on the island, and of the culture and lifestyle of the Vanuatu people was the way to go, but deciding where to stay can prove a challenge as there are many options in the area.
Being close to town, but not in the hustle and bustle of the main shops - we decided that Holiday Inn Resort was at a perfect location to explore this forgotten island. The resort was incredibly hospitable and welcoming, and not to mention STUNNING - we put our packs down for our stay in one of their Overwater Bungalows and didn't want to ever leave. I couldn't recommend this place for a base enough, an amazing and relaxing start to an adventurous holiday.
We spent the first three days figuring out the most affordable and convenient way to travel around the island - bus, hire car, taxi, tours? We went onto the main road in town and asked every car rental place the price for their best and most affordable cars, which were all about $120AUD A DAY, for a small 2WD hatchback! It was crazy! That meant we couldn't even explore the off road parts of Efate!
Then Omega Car Rentals saved the day (or 5 days.)
We hired a 4WD Jeep Wrangler and honestly, it made the experience of this island that much better - we were able to visit beaches, off road waterfalls and take chances down muddy 4WD tracks! And the price was a lot more affordable than other 2WD options..
Lololima falls is one of my favourite things on the island, its definitely worth the extra effort to find. If you don't want to pay for a pricey tour and would prefer to have the waterfall to yourself, you can take the backroads around Lololima which will take you to a signed gate that reads NO TRESPASSING. From this point, its not far - just follow the road through the gate on foot unit you read what looks like a 4WD track into the jungle on your left, about 800m from the gate. As you start to follow this track through the bush you will hear the water and you're nearly there. A quick but steep descent (but a well defined track) will take you down to the base of the falls. Make sure you have about 3, 000 Vatu on you to pay the lovely local that lives there! (This is the entrance fee which goes straight back into the community.)
Now explore the waterfall and its many tiers in awe - a truly magical place.
Also, if you're all for supporting the locals like we are, Lololima and Rentapao Riverside are the best waterfalls to visit - these are still owned by the local communities trying to make a living, rather than them being bought out by overseas visitors like other waterfalls on the island.
The next island we visited was the untouched land of Tanna. After seeing images and hearing stories about Tanna being home to the World's most accessible live volcano, we just had to pack our bags and see it for ourselves.
One quick flight from Port Vila later and our small plane was touching down on the White Sands airstrip. We grabbed our checked in luggage and headed for the arrivals gate to find a young man holding a sign which read our names - it was Daniel. After our brief introduction we learned Daniel was there to take us to his amazing bungalow home at Blue Cave - a 1 hour journey by crazy 4X4 roads. We hopped in the ute, (with Mitch holding on in the back of the tray) and set off on our journey to the highly anticipated Blue Cave. In the car Daniel and I started talking whilst he navigated the rough track, and it wasn't long until I came to realise he was the owner of the Cave, and it has been in his family for over THREE generations!
We arrived to his beautiful home with a warm custodian welcome from his family, a fresh coconut and the assurance that we were to make ourselves at home and enjoy. We sat on our balcony sipping our coconuts to an amazing view of sunset and the coastline in front. After settling in Daniel cooked us a traditional fire-cooked feast and we had a chance to talk to his beautiful family around the fire.
The next morning we awoke to perfect conditions - the wind was gentle and off-shore and the sun was out for the first time in weeks, it was time to explore Blue Cave! Daniel showed us the path down from his property to the edge of the cliff, you can either take the small cliff jump or if you're brave enough, you can jump off the 10m entry point. Unlike Mitch I decided to take the much easier entry. A short swim underwater through the cliff wall and there we were, soaking up one of the best views my eyes has ever seen. As we didn't take a tour and decided to go straight through the owner himself, we had the cave all to ourselves, it was an unforgettable experience.
If you ever have an opportunity to head to this part of the world and decide to check it out for yourself, I couldn't recommend staying at Daniel's bungalow home and seeing his cave this way ENOUGH! (Most tours sneak into the cave without Daniel's knowledge and 'forget' to pay him his entry fees.)
Next on the list was Mt. Yasur Volcano, an active volcano you can hike and see up-close and personal! The volcano is constantly erupting which meant we could hear the small explosion sounds in the stillness of the jungle at our Firestay Bungalow home. You can take a tour up to the top of volcano where you can watch the eruptions in action, we decided to give this a miss, purely for budgeting reasons (the tour is a minimum of $120AUDpp, and we just couldn't afford at the time,) if you can however afford it it's definitely worth doing! Instead, Mitch and I stayed with a local village in a bungalow overlooking the Volcano - which was awe-strikingly beautiful, especially at night.
But our favourite part of this experience would have to be the incredible people we met in the village, Mitch and I were the first visitors at this particular Air BNB and the community were thrilled to welcome us. We later discovered we were in fact the first white people to visit their community and witness their lifestyle and culture first hand.
One day at this homestay was definitely not long enough, we will definitely be back to this beautiful part of the world.
Even under terrible circumstances, we absolutely loved our time on Santo! My food poisoning had just started to kick-in so I wasn't being my usual adventurous self (we stayed within close proximity to our Lonnoc beach bungalow for our entire stay on this island,) but we still managed to have an amazing time considering! It was the perfect place to feel sick if there is even such a place - we were able to unwind, soak up the sun and wake up to incredible views every single day. Not to mention the beach itself was STUNNING! If we had more energy we would have definitely kayaked to some surrounding reefs and hiked to the famous champagne beach adjacent - but thats just another excuse to come back to the extremely under-rated Vanuatu!