Country guide: Vanuatu


Vanuatu comprises 83 islands, a wonderland of waterfalls, volcanoes, jungles and white-sand beaches, where visitors are treated to  excellent snorkelling and diving, authentic local performances and luxury resorts. Bronwen Gora goes island hopping.

Tourists and locals enjoying the clear waters of Vanuatu. Credit: David Kirkland

Located in the Pacific Ocean, a three-hour flight from Port Moresby, Vanuatu is a popular tropical holiday destination, renowned for its spectacular snorkelling and diving experiences.

Vanuatu—which means ‘the land that has always existed’—comprises 83 islands, which form a Y-shaped archipelago stretching about 800 kilometres.

The main islands are Espiritu Santo, Efate (location of the capital Port Vila and the country’s major international airport), Tanna and Pentecost (site of the Pentecost jump ritual). Inspiration for the Hollywood movie South Pacific came from Espiritu Santo, which is Vanuatu’s largest and oldest island. It has the highest population of all Vanuatu’s islands. It is blessed with immense natural beauty and as such is the location of Vanuatu’s greatest number of natural sights.

Vanuatu subtropical climate means there is no truly bad time to visit. The islands have almost endless sunny days. Summer (November to March) averages  28° C (82° F) and winter (April to September) about 23° C (73° F).

Getting around

The capital, Port Vila, is a small city and, while there is no public transport, the network of private buses and taxis is plentiful and convenient. The buses, denoted by a ‘B’ on the number plate, can be flagged down anywhere.

Travelling between islands is primarily via domestic airline. Charter flights are also available. Two ferry boats: Vanuatu Ferry (contact the main office in Port Vila on Au Bon Marche 2) and Big Sista operate regularly between Port Vila and Espiritu Santo.

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Diving inside the SS President Coolidge. Credit: David Kirkland

The sparkling clear waters of Efate Island’s Blue Lagoon, a one-hour drive from Port Vila, make for one of Vanuatu’s most popular day trips. The bright blue swimming hole is surrounded by lush gardens complete with a rope swing. Mele Cascades on Efate’s eastern side is another must-see, a stunning waterfall destination usually packaged into half-day tours, with a stop at a coffee plantation first.

Snorkelling in Vanuatu is spectacular, the warm shallow waters surrounding the islands teeming with vibrant corals. Take a tour with Sailaway Cruises to one of the best snorkelling spots, Havannah Bay, located half an hour north of Port Vila.

Swim in Espiritu Santo’s famous Blue Holes, natural freshwater pools bubbling up through limestone. In fact, the east coast of Espiritu Santo features more of these blue holes than anywhere else in the world. For an even more exotic experience, take a short boat ride off Espiritu Santo’s coast to Malo Island to visit its own stunning blue hole.

Champagne Beach is covered in such fine white sand it has become Vanuatu’s most famous shoreline strip.

Vanuatu special

Scuba diving and volcanoes top the list of special things to see and do. Many of the world’s most accessible, active and visually stunning volcanoes are found within the archipelago. Make a beeline for Ambrym Island ( to see the twin volcanic peaks, Mount Marum and Mount Benbow. Getting up close and personal, though, is only for the adventurous, as the crater hike is a 10–12 hour round trip.

Tanna Island, a quick flight from Port Vila, is home to the more easily accessed volcano Mount Yasur. It’s fully active, so take the short trek to the edge of the crater to see the view of bubbling lava.

Scuba diving here is second to none thanks to not only the natural corals but also a plethora of World War 2 wrecks, including the virtually intact and easily accessible SS President Coolidge troop carrier. Other legendary sites are Million Dollar Point where tonnes of US army equipment was dumped at war’s end, and, for sea life, Chails Reef and Tutuba Point.

Jungle-inspired tours are also a big drawcard in Vanuatu. Efate-based company Eden on the River can fill your entire day with jungle-driven activity, from zip-lining through the tree-tops and scrambling over suspension bridges to more sedate strolls through tropical gardens.

This is an excerpt of the story ‘Country Guide: Vanuatu’, which was first published in the September-October edition of Paradise, the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini.

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