Travel review: Vanuatu - a little piece of paradise

Efate is the third largest of Vanuatu's islands.
Efate is the third largest of Vanuatu's islands.
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Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tropical cyclones may not offer the island archipelago of Vanuatu in the South Pacific the best of advertisements to entice holidaymakers, but its climate, warm waters and the sunny smiles of its inhabitants seems more than enough as tourism is very much on the up.

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tropical cyclones may not offer the island archipelago of Vanuatu in the South Pacific the best of advertisements to entice holidaymakers, but its climate, warm waters and the sunny smiles of its inhabitants seems more than enough as tourism is very much on the up.

Having flown a meagre 10,236 miles from Manchester to Brisbane, it was another 1,090 miles to the island of Efate. We landed at Bauerfield airport and stayed at the Breakas Beach Resort on the Pango peninsula where dining is on the beach or around the pool and accommodation is in individual cabins, huts or pavilions.

Efate is a green and pleasant land and the third largest (347 sq mls) of the Republic of Vanuatu’s 83 islands, of which 65 are inhabited. The largest is Espiritu Santo, which was first visited by Europeans in 1606 when explorer Fernandes de Querios landed and claimed it for Spain. Yorkshire’s most famous son Captain Cook first came to the islands in 1774.

France and Great Britain laid claims and in 1906 the archipelago was named the New Hebrides. The independent Republic of Vanuatu came about in 1980 with the administrative, economic and commercial centre located in the country’s capital Port Vila on Efate.

The total population across all of the islands was 252,763 at the last census in 2013, making it 6,000 less than the population of Hull and only half the population of Bradford. Efate has 66,000, of which 45,000 live in Port Vila.

Port Vila is a bustling town with its market as the main focal point selling everything from passion fruit to fish and hand-painted T-shirts. The island women sit on the floor seemingly not too bothered about whether you’re going to buy or not, but with the familiar friendly smile that everyone on the island appears to have.

We explored the island by car and by taxi minibus, with a personal favourite being Hideaway Island in Mele Bay just a few miles north-west of Port Vila. A bumpy dirt track road led us to a very pleasant bar by the bay with a jetty where a small ferryboat took us across to an island that for those who remember the TV series The Banana Splits could have doubled as Danger Island.

Snorkelling in crystal blue waters, witnessing colourful and fantastic marine creatures around coral reefs, was a new but amazing and uplifting experience.

For those who have long since taken things several degrees further underwater, the seas all around the islands of Vanuatu are a major scuba diving attraction. Allegedly the world’s most accessible shipwreck, the SS President Coolidge, was sunk off Espiritu Santo during the Second World War. Divers see a largely intact luxury cruise liner that had been a military ship. They can swim through holds and decks. There are guns, cannons, Jeeps, helmets, trucks and personal supplies, chandeliers, and a mosaic tile fountain. Coral grows around, with many creatures such as reef fish, barracuda, lionfish, sea turtles and moray eels.

Agriculture plays an important role in Vanuatu’s economy alongside tourism and anywhere else in the world you might worry at the sight of a child smiling while holding a machete as they walk along, but here it appears as natural an occurrence as wielding a cricket bat. There are other much more worrying natural disasters that come Vanuatu’s way pretty much annually in the form of cyclones and earthquakes.

Cyclone Pam caused extensive damage in 2015 and during our short stay of around 10 days Cyclone Zena hit and an earthquake took place in the archipelago, so clearly this is not for those who are faint of heart and not somewhere you may wish to spend a couple of days getting to just to find that you are blown away.

Zena was in around third gear as it came through Efate but reports told of it reaching 57mph by the time it hit Fiji. It was only a couple of days earlier, also during our stay that an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale was recorded 250 miles north of Efate and a tsunami warning was issued to all of the islands. Neither the earthquake nor the cyclone caused us any harm, but Cyclone Pam was responsible for six deaths on the island. We saw evidence of some of the destruction to trees that had taken place.

Efate can do nothing about nature, but what it does reaffirm is that smiling is addictive. Without question, it is the faces of the islanders that will remain with you long after you have left Vanuatu. Everyone smiles.

Flights are available from Manchester and London to Port Vila. Breakas Beach Resort can be found by visiting breakas.com

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