Luxury Guide to Vanuatu

5 August 2016

Words by Renae Spinks

A near-perfect set of 80 or so tropical islands surrounded by white sand, coral, crystal-clear water, and palms as far as the eye can see? That is the pinch-me reality of the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. It’s the perfect place to slow down and recalibrate amid the beaming smiles of the Ni-Vanuatu people.

Ni-Vanuatu women splash in the water with a tourist.
Picture: Vanuatu Tourism

Here you can do as little or as much as you like, all within easy reach of your luxury resort. Walk off the beach into the clearest, warmest water you’ve ever seen. Snorkel among corals teeming with fish. Take a kayak tour guided by local Mele Village ladies. Go off-road on a buggy tour or simply sit back and relax on your private stretch of sand. Gourmands can have their fill of French cuisine, Pacific-fresh seafood, and organic beef at the myriad restaurants. Whatever you choose, you’ll feel nourished, body, heart and soul.

At A Glance:

  • Official language: French, English and Bislama are the three official languages.
  • Currency: Vanuatu’s official currency is the vatu (VUV) but Australian dollars are widely accepted.
  • Time zone: Vanuatu is one hour ahead of AEST.
  • Flight time: 2.5 hours direct from Brisbane; 3.5 hours from Sydney. Fly in to Port Vila on the main island of Efate, or Luganville on Espiritu Santo (Brisbane only).
  • Required visas: Visitor visas for stays of up to 30 days are issued on arrival, subject to evidence of an onward or return ticket.

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Port Vila

Port Vila, on the island of Efate, is the capital of Vanuatu and home to some delectable restaurants, including the long-standing L’Houstalet, which serves an eclectic mix of French and Pacific cuisine, including prawns flambe, lobster, pigeon and flying fox (yes, really). For a fresh foodie experience, watch boatloads of just-picked fruit and vegetables arrive to be sold – and sampled – at the buzzing Port Vila market.

A couple check out a pineapple stall at the Port Vila market in Vanuatu.
Picture: Vanuatu Tourism

Just outside the capital, the tumbling Mele Cascades will lift your heart. And for a true out-of-the-movies experience, take a horse-back ride in the rainforest before plunging, horse and all, into the lagoon for a refreshing dip in the sea.

Finish the day at your waterfront villa at The Havannah, a boutique, adults-only retreat at Samoa Bay, 30 minutes from Port Vila.

Espiritu Santo

Have Champagne tastes? Indulge them at the stunning Champagne Beach on the island of Espiritu Santo, where the effervescent lagoon literally bubbles at low tide. For more breathtaking water views, visit the Blue Holes on Santo, where the deep water has been filtered through limestone until it becomes close to pure, creating a luminous blue colour. Santo is also known for some of Vanuatu’s best scuba diving, including the wreck of the SS President Coolidge.

A couple relax on Champagne Beach in Vanuatu.
Picture: Vanuatu Tourism

If it’s barefoot luxury you seek, Ratua Private Island Resort, a 30-minute boat ride from Luganville, is the home-away-from-home for you. It’s surrounded by 60 hectares of tropical gardens and blinding sands, and includes a yacht club and overwater day spa. The unusual eco-villas also entail such configurations as two traditional houses linked by an external corridor; and safari tents all the way from South Africa.

Day Trips

Take an out-of-the-ordinary day trip to Tanna Island, which is famous for one of the most easily accessible active volcanoes, Mount Yasur. Enlist a guide to see its steaming cauldron – and send a postcard from the lip. Or view the smoking mountain at dusk from the black-sand Louniel Beach. You can even see black magic still performed by tribes in the highlands, or join in the Friday celebrations of the John Frum cult.

Tourists stand on the lip of Vanuatu's Mt Yasur volcano.
Picture: Vanuatu Tourism

Equally extraordinary is the island of Pentecost, where land divers hurl themselves at the ground. The ancient ritual, called the Naghol, is practised by men between April and June every year, who jump from tall towers with vines tied to their feet. It is believed to ensure a good yam harvest, fertility and acceptance into manhood. Join in village celebrations, including music, dancing and home-cooked food.

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