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Vanuatu

Vanuatu (previously known as the New Hebrides Islands) is an archipelago nation consisting of 83 islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean, north of New Zealand and east of Australia.

Understand

History

The prehistory of Vanuatu is obscure; archaeological evidence supports the commonly held theory that peoples speaking Austronesian languages first came to the islands some 4,000 years ago. Pottery fragments have been found dating back to 1300–1100 BC.

The first island in the Vanuatu group discovered by Europeans was Espiritu Santo, when in 1606 the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós working for the Spanish crown, spied what he thought was a southern continent. Europeans did not return until 1768. In 1774, Captain Cook named the islands the New Hebrides, a name that lasted until independence.

During the 1860s, planters in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoa Islands, in need of laborers, encouraged a long-term indentured labor trade called "blackbirding". At the height of the labor trade, more than one-half the adult male population of several of the Islands worked abroad. Fragmentary evidence indicates that the current population of Vanuatu is greatly reduced compared to pre-contact times.

The British and French agreed in 1906 to an Anglo-French Condominium. Challenges to this form of government began in the early 1940s. The arrival of Americans during World War II, with their informal demeanor and relative wealth, was instrumental in the rise of nationalism in the islands. The belief in a mythical messianic figure named John Frum was the basis for an indigenous cargo cult (a movement attempting to obtain industrial goods through magic) promising Melanesian deliverance. Today, John Frum is both a religion and a political party with a member in Parliament.

In 1980, amidst the brief Coconut War, the independent Republic of Vanuatu was created. During the 1990s Vanuatu experienced political instability which eventually resulted in a more decentralized government. The Vanuatu Mobile Force, a paramilitary group, attempted a coup in 1996 because of a pay dispute. New elections have been called for several times since 1997, most recently in 2004.

European settlers released several saltwater crocodiles on the island, although today's population on the island officially stands at 2 or 3 medium-sized individuals on the Banks Islands and no breeding has been observed. Despite its proximity to Papua New Guinea, crocodiles do not naturally occur on Vanuatu.

Climate

With such a large north-south area, Vanuatu has all the tropical variances possible. From hot and humid in the north, to mild and dry in the south. The Capital Port Vila on Efate can expect 27°C in July to 30°C in January. Nights can drop to 12°C. Humidity from December to February is around 82% and 70% around July.

Rainfall from January to April is around 300mm per month - for the rest of the year around 200mm per month. The Banks Islands in the top North can receive above 4,000mm of rain in a year, yet the southern islands may receive less than 2,000mm.

Cyclones are natural phenomena to understand and respect. Mainstream tourism facilities are solidly built and experienced in cyclone management. Cyclones appear (in varying degrees with plenty of warning) on an average every couple of years from December to March. By following instructions given by the local authorities, you will be in no danger. Yachties commonly avoid cyclones from Nov through April. There are no effective cyclone holes for any size of ship in Vanuatu. Yachties typically leave to north of the equator, New Caledonia, New Zealand or Australia. There is a small boatyard in Port Vila with haulout facilities for yachts.

Tourism peaks in the months of July to December. The months of January to June are the quietest. Experienced travellers take advantage of these tourism troughs to travel, as airlines, accommodation providers and other tourism related businesses discount heavily during this period.

The months of January to June are a little more humid, but cooled by the occasional tropical downpour. The added bonus is that in this period, tourism numbers are low. You have more opportunities to mingle with locals and aimlessly do your own thing instead of being rushed by the crowd (except when cruise ships are in Port).

Culture

Vanuatu retains a strong diversity through local regional variants and foreign influence. In the north, wealth is established by how much one can give away. Pigs, particularly those with rounded tusks are considered a symbol of wealth throughout Vanuatu. More traditional Melanesian cultural systems dominate in the central region.

Holidays

  • January 1: New Year's Day
  • February 21: Father Lini Day
  • March 5: Custom Chief's Day
  • Easter (in accordance with the Gregorian calendar)
  • July 30: Independence Day
  • October 5: Constitution Day
  • November 29: Unity Day
  • December 25: Christmas Day
  • December 26: Family Day

Regions

The islands of Vanuatu are grouped into six geographic provinces, the names formed by combining the first syllables or letters of the major islands in each.

Matthew and Hunter are uninhabited islands South East of Aneityum. Aneityum people believe that the islands are in their historical territory. Aneityum appears to have provided the ancestors of the people of New Caledonia and there are cultural links particularly with the Loyalty Islands.

Cities

  • Luganville
  • Port-Vila - capital

Other destinations

  • Epi Island
  • Espiritu Santo - is Vanuatu's biggest island and often called a divers' Mecca. It boasts great ship wrecks for scuba diving, delightful beaches, coconut plantations, jungle and traditional villages where young men still engage in age-old rituals to celebrate their coming of age, and where women are provided with special places to stay for the time they menstruate. Champagne Beach can compete with any other beach in the South Pacific, and is therefore one of the most popular places to go.
  • Malekula - is a good place to dive into the divers cultural traditions of indigenous peoples of Vanuatu. This is a place where stories of cannibals and spirit caves come to life and a good chance to watch the ritual kastom dances of the locals, in this case the Small Nambas and Big Nambas people.

Get in

Visas

A long list of countries are exempted from visas [1], which includes all Commonwealth and EU Member countries. All visitors must have a passport valid for a further 4 months and an onward ticket. On arrival, you will be allowed an initial stay of up to 30 days, extended one month at a time for up to 4 months.

By boat

  • Vanuatu's main ports are Port-Vila on the island of Efate and Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo.
  • Various cruise lines including P&O Australia operate regular cruises through Vanuatu waters.

Subsequent 11 night cruises explore the Banks Islands, then the isolated islands of central Vanuatu, depart from Port Vila via Tanna island to New Caledonia on 19 Oct.

By plane

The main international airport is in Port-Vila (IATA: VLI):

Port-Vila's runway is crumbling and in poor condition despite attempts at temporary repair. As of 2016, Qantas has withdrawn its code shares for all Air Vanuatu flights to Australia; Air New Zealand has also pulled out of Port-Vila. Virgin Australia suspended service to Port-Vila twice in 2016, but has resumed advertising flights to Brisbane (BNE).

Some alternatives to Port-Vila include:

  • Air Vanuatu flies directly from both Sydney and Brisbane to Luganville.
  • Qantas offers an Air Vanuatu codeshare for weekly flights to Santo.

Get around

Airplane

There are a few charter airlines, these are Unity Airlines, Sea Air and Air Safaris, however the national airline Air Vanuatu operates the domestic network.

Within Vanuatu, several companies provide boating service between the islands. These include Fresh Cargo, Ifira Shipping Agencies and Toara Coastal Shipping.

By bus

In Port Vila the buses are mini vans seating about 10 people, which largely traverse the main road and go and stop where you would like them to go. Wave at them to stop one heading in the direction you want to go. They are plentiful within the city and outside the city you can usually arrange for a bus to meet you at a particular time. If one looks full, just wait for the next one. The buses are used by locals, but are very friendly, cheap, and easy to use by tourists. Fare is usually calculated per person. The cost is usually 150 vatu per person anywhere around Port Vila. If you are travelling a longer distance, the fare may rise to 300 - 500 vatu per person.

Taxi

Taxis are plentiful within Port Vila. Fare is calculated per taxi.

Talk

There are three official languages: English, French and Bislama. Bislama is a pidgin language – and now a creole in urban areas – which essentially combines a typically Melanesian grammar with a mostly English vocabulary. It is the only language that can be understood and spoken by the whole population of Vanuatu, generally as a second language.

It is a mixture of phonetic English woven in a loose French sentence structure spoken with ‘local sound' producing some comical outcomes e.g., ladies brassieres or bathing top is called "Basket blong titi"; no offense intended. An excellent Bislama dictionary is available from good book shops: 'A New Bislama Dictionary,' by the late Terry Crowley. Some common Bislama words/phrases include:

  • Me / you - mi / yu
  • Him / her / it (neither masculine nor feminine)
  • this here - hem/ hemia
  • Us /we / all of us - mifala / mifala evriwan
  • You / you (plural) - yu / yufala
  • I do not know/understand - mi no save
  • See you later / ta ta - Lukim yu/ tata
  • I am going now - ale (French derivation of allez) mi go
  • One/ two / three - wan / tu / tri
  • How much (is that) - hamas (long hem)
  • Plenty or many - plenti
  • Filled to capacity / overfilled - fulap / fulap tumas (too much)
  • Day / evening / night - dei / sava (literally supper) / naet
  • Hot / cold - hot / kol
  • What / what is that - wanem / wanem ia (literally wanem here?)
  • Why / why did you - frowanem (for why?)
  • Please / thank you / sorry (very sorry) - plis / tangkyu / sori (sori tumas) - sorry too much
  • Do you know - yu save (pronounced savee)

In addition, 113 indigenous languages are still actively spoken in Vanuatu. The density of languages per capita is the highest of any nation in the world, with an average of only 2000 speakers per language. All of these vernacular languages belong to the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian family.

See

Vanuatu is not on the average traveller's destination wish list. Except perhaps for those with a love for scuba diving, as divers have discovered the underwater treasures of this South Pacific archipelago a long time ago. However, even if you don't plan on touching this country's bright blue waters, it's a colourful mix of traditional Melanesian culture, friendly people, beautiful tropical beaches, active volcanoes and all the modern day facilities you'll need to have a great time.

The many islands rimmed with perfect sandy beaches offer lovely Pacific views. The Bank Islands boast great beaches combined with rugged terrain. On the largest of the Banks Islands, Gaua, you'll find the Siri Waterfall, which gets its water from the country's biggest crater lake: Lake Letas. Head to the island of Tanna to see Mount Yasur, the world's most accessible active volcano. A tourist favourite, Tanna is also home to waterfalls and men in penis sheaths and grass skirts. If you get the chance, stay to witness one of their ancient festivals or rituals.

Efate is the place where most travellers will begin their encounter with Vanuatu and home to the country's friendly little capital, Port-Vila. It strives to bring the best of the archipelago together and is the go-to place for fine wining and dining.

Other places well worth visiting include Aoba Island (known for the crater lakes on top of the large volcano that defines the islands) and Pentecost (the spiritual birthplace of bungee jumping). Last but not least, the active volcanoes, lava lakes and local villagers' artwork are a good reason to stay in one of the traditional style bungalows on Ambrym.

Do

Buy

Money

The local currency is the Ni-Vanuatu vatu (VT). (ISO currency code: VUV). There are notes for 200 VT, 500 VT, 1000 VT, and 5000 VT, while coins include 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 VT pieces.

Credit and debit cards on the major networks (Cirrus, Maestro, etc.) are accepted by many businesses in town.

ATMs are available in Port Vila, and include the Australian banks ANZ and Westpac. The National Bank of Vanuatu has a branch at the airport and is open for all flight arrivals. Otherwise, banking hours are from 8:30AM to 3PM.

Tipping and gifts

Tipping is not expected in Vanuatu, nor is haggling or bargaining; it is not the custom and only encourages a "master-servant" relationship. However gifts are very appreciated and the exchange of gifts for services rendered fits well into the local traditions (western governments have a hard time coming to terms with this practice as it is interpreted as bribery and corruption. But in the Melanesian culture, this practice is a normal way to do business...well the White Man introduced that "Cash" stuff).

A bag of rice to a village chief may be received with gratitude and dignity, but to offer triple the value in cash may be regarded as patronising, plus it will artificially inflate the price for the next traveller; set wrong expectation, and rapidly destroy the genuine spontaneous friendship so easily given to you.

A nice gesture is to give phone cards or a T-shirt, or school pads, pens, etc., for the children. Plenty of kids here! We naturally don't recommend lollies and the like as it only encourages junk food dependency plus giving cash to local men may often be spent at the Kava bar and of no benefit to his family. If you have to give cash, ensure it is given to women, preferably mothers who generally control the family budget. The introduction of Poker machines has certainly not helped the situation considering these places are for the most part frequented by local people (mostly men) who can ill afford to waste their small wages in this way.

Shopping

There are two market areas along the foreshore in Port Vila. The main market sells mostly food, and you can find all kinds of local produce there. Further north, near the beach, there is a row of grass-roofed market stalls that sell clothing, bags, sarongs and other items.

The woven grass bags and mats are widely available and very attractive.

Eat

There are many restaurants and eateries in Port Vila, ranging from up-market places catering to tourists and expats, to more low-key establishments. The approximate cost of lunch would be around the 1000-1500 vatu range, depending on where and what you eat. Some examples of prices:

  • sandwiches, around 450-600 VT
  • bacon and eggs, 750 VT
  • burger with fries or salad, around 1000 VT
  • main meal, e.g. steak or seafood, 1200-2000 VT
  • large, fresh-squeezed juice, around 500VT

Lap-Lap

The traditional dish which you will most likely be offered once during your stay is a root vegetable cake called lap lap. Essentially this is either manioc (cassava), sweet potato, taro or yam shaved into the middle of a banana leaf with island cabbage and sometimes a chicken wing on top. This is all wrapped up into a flat package and then cooked in hot stones underground till it all melts together into a cake. The best place to pick up some of this is at the food market in the town centre and should cost you about 100 vatu.

Tuluk

This is a variation of lap lap with the cake rolled into a cylinder with meat in the middle. It tastes a lot like a sausage roll. You can find these again in the market (usually from mele village people) but they will be served from foam boxes to keep them warm.

Steak

Vanuatu's meat is renowned in the region. At the airports you will see signs reminding you to pack the 25kg of meat permitted to other nearby island nations. The reason the meat's so good is that it's all naturally grown, with no feedlots or other problems of westernised mass production. The result of this is that the steaks are very good indeed.

Seafood

As you may expect from an island nation, seafood is a common option and the quality is generally excellent. Reef fish are commonly found in restaurants, along with many varieties of prawns, lobster and the delectable coconut crab.

The coconut crab is only found in parts of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, and has been declining in numbers so rapidly that it is now a protected species in most areas. There is a minimum legal size requirement in Vanuatu of four centimetres, but the creature can grow to over 8 cm in length with a leg span of up to 90 cm. The crab gets its name from the fact that it climbs palms to cut down and eat coconuts - nothing to do with the flavour.

Drink

Kava

Kava is a local drink, made from the roots of the plant Piper methysticum, a type of pepper. Kava is intoxicating, but not like alcohol. Its effects are sedative. Some travellers have experienced a hangover from its consumption.

Kava is consumed in private homes and in local venues called Nakamal. Some of the resorts also offer kava on occasion for travellers to try.

Kava is served in a "shell" or small bowl. Drink the whole shell-ful down steadily, then spit. It's handy to have a soft drink on hand to rinse with afterwards, as the taste of kava is strong and not very pleasant.

It is worth noting that the kava available in Vanuatu is generally a much stronger variety than the kava found in other pacific islands such as Fiji, where it is comparatively mild. Four or five large shells in a typical kava bar will leave the inexperienced drinker reeling (or worse) after a couple of hours, and it can take a day to recover.

Good advice to experience kava as pleasantly as possible is to go with an experienced drinker and follow their lead, take the small shells, and stop after an hour and a half. It's quite easy to find a local kava drinking buddy, just ask around your hotel and you'll find volunteers - maybe at the cost of a shell or two.

Kava bars (or Nakamals) are normally dark places with very dim or no lighting at all. This is because bright lights and kava intoxication do not go together well - so be careful with flash photography, which may not be received very well in such venues.

Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages are also widely available. Resorts, bars, and restaurants serving tourists have a wide range of drinks available. The local beers are called "Tusker" and "Vanuatu Bitter".

Sleep

There is a choice of all levels of accommodation.

Resort

  • Le Lagon is the most popular and largest of the resorts. It has been operating for over 30 years. It offers substantial discounts for children, as a result there are lots of kids here during the Australian school holidays.
  • Iririki Island is an exclusive resort situated in Port Vila's harbour. It used to be "adults only" but since 2006 it has areas that allow children. A ferry runs back and forth to the main downtown area.
  • Erakor Island Resort is situated on an island in the lagoon, close to Le Lagon. A free ferry takes you to and from the island.
  • Poppys on the Lagoon is set on the shores of Erakor Lagoon and provides superior self-contained accommodation. The resort is designed to take advantage of the cooling breeze of the South Pacific trade winds.

Mid-range

  • Paradise Cove Resort has immediate access to a very fine reef for snorkeling. Will cost about AU$20 one way to get to/from Port Vila. Note that nature may enter your bungalow in the form of ants or spiders.

Budget

When visiting other islands or villages outside of the cities, there are many small guest houses that charge around 2000 VT per night and offer full service (meals, laundry, etc.).

Many of the motels in Port Vila and Luganville also fall into the budget category, with prices around 2000 VT per night. There are a number of websites which list such motels.

  • Friendly Bungalows on Tanna Island is located 6km away from Mt Yasur Volcano right on the quiet secluded sand beach of Lowelkas Cove, on the other side of the island from the airport.

Volunteering

There are many charitable organisations and NGOs operating in Vanuatu, and a strong community of volunteers in the area. If you are interested in volunteering in Vanuatu, the following organisations place volunteers there:

Other work

Many people from overseas work in Vanuatu, either running their own businesses or employed by others.

Generally speaking, work permits are only available for positions where there are not enough ni-Vanuatu to meet demand.

Stay safe

Vanuatu is, on the whole, a safe and friendly environment. You are unlikely to encounter any trouble unless you do something extremely provocative, though crime rates are said to be increasing, particularly in Port Vila at night. Take the same precautions you would anywhere else.

There are no seriously poisonous snakes, spiders, or insects on Vanuatu. However, there are various poisonous aquatic animals that you should beware of if you are swimming, snorkeling, or diving in the area. The most dangerous of these is the stonefish. Saltwater crocodiles are present, but the likelihood of an attack is minimal.

Stay healthy

It is advisable to be immunised against Hepatitis A and B and typhoid fever before visiting Vanuatu.

Malaria is endemic within some areas of Vanuatu, but not Port-Vila. If you are venturing outside the resort areas, check with your doctor before you travel. Malaria may not be endemic but you may come in contact with mosquito carriers and visitors from outer islands who have malaria - particularly in the wet season and at the hospital. Dengue Fever is also mosquito vectored in Port Vila and elsewhere particularly in the wet season. Be familiar with the symptoms as there is no cure all for Dengue and Malaria symptoms are intermittent leading to misdiagnosis. Many local clinics in the outer islands can test you for Malaria - so find out where they are. Malaria preventative drugs have side effects which can cause problems in the sun, scuba diving, general stability and digestion.

Tap water in Port Vila is clean and potable, but is best avoided elsewhere. {check with local consumers}. Bottled water is not available outside the main cities. Fizzy drinks but not beer may be available outside the main cities. In 10 years of travelling and living in remoter areas of Vanuatu this writer only heard of one yachtie getting Giardiasis after using local water {with permission}. However the water supply situation is getting more acute due to tourism, cattle raising, rapidly rising population etc. Doctors used to treating common traveller problems are available in Port-Vila and Luganville. Any more serious problems may require some form of medical evacuation.

Be careful of any small cuts, scratches, or other sores you receive while travelling in Vanuatu. As in most tropical areas, small sores can easily become infected if you don't practice proper hygiene. Most of these things require common sense. However the Sea Water in Vanuatu will not heal your cuts, regular wetting will make the situation tragically and rapidly worse requiring intravenous anti-biotics and possible amputation. Iodine solution does not work and is alleged to make the situation worse. Mercuro-Chrome [Cumulative Poison] and Gentian Violet are better.

Respect

Throughout Vanuatu, and especially outside of Port Vila in the villages, life is strongly influenced by "kastom" -- a set of traditional customs and taboos that apply to all kinds of matters. Be aware of this, and respect locals' requests with regard to "kastom".

When visiting villages, women should dress modestly, wearing clothes that cover the shoulders and knees.

Christian religion is very strong. It seems common to invite and welcome visitors to attend local church services on a Sunday

Revealing and sexy clothing (especially wearing beach wear in the capital) is not advisable, as over 100 years of missionary work has had its effect on the perception of what is considered as respectable attire in the islands. Regardless, it's considered disrespectful to the local people and can be interpreted by some indigenous inhabitants as an invitation for sex.

As Vanuatu is not a ‘fashion conscious' place no-one will notice or care if you were wearing the latest from 'the Paris Collection' or not. You are best off bringing a practical tropical wardrobe such as light cotton summer clothes that are easy to hand wash, a ‘sloppy joe' pullover and a lightweight waterproof wind jacket. If planning to go to the outer islands, bring a good flashlight (with spare batteries, you will use them!), lightweight, walking shoes, sandals or good thongs (flip flops/croks) for wet weather and old clothes.

Tip: When exploring the outer islands take all the older clothes you can carry, wear them and give them away to the islanders when you are finished wearing them. You and your children will be aptly rewarded in other ways. Instead of dumping your worn clothes in a charity collection bin at your local shopping centre and never knowing who really receives these (if they ever do...), your children will interact with the very people who would be the recipients of those clothes (most NiVanuatu people buy these second hand clothes from shops in Port Vila).

Sharing and giving is a natural course of daily life in Vanuatu. The T-shirt you give to one person will be worn by all his friends as well. Three T-shirts on top of each other will be their winter outfit.... You will provide them things that are hard for them to obtain, save them the expense of buying clothes (basic wages are quite low in Vanuatu) and you will depart with priceless memories, plus have more in your luggage for purchased local arts and crafts

Communicating With NiVanuatu people:

  • In Vanuatu, the display of anger, displeasure or irritability at a person or situation will reduce the recipient to a stony silence with a lack of co-operation or empathy to your point of view. Please be patient as it is a waste of time complaining. It will have no bearing on the outcome. And if you are verbally abusive, you will generate one of three responses: Smiling, subdued laughter, or a fist in your face.
  • Don't ask a question with the answer built into it. Locals will always agree in order not to contradict you. "Is this the road to X?" will generate a Yes. Try: "Where is the road to X..?", and you might get a different answer.
  • Be aware that in the islands, direct eye contact or raised voice level contact may be interpreted as intimidation. A local person's voice level combined with body language may be directly opposite to Europeans. He or she may nod agreement with everything you say in order not to offend you but may not have understood a word you have said!
  • If you're in a bus and people on the footpath are turning their backs to you, don't be offended: They're simply letting the driver know that they don't require him to stop. There are few bus stops in Vanuatu, and those that exist don't get much use.
  • If you see men or women holding hands, it's not what you think. Men hold hands with other men, or women with women, because there is no sexual connotation attached to it. However, you will very rarely see a man holding a woman's hand in public because this would be considered as a public exhibition of sexual relations.

Photography

The Vanuatu people are a delight to photograph, friendly, co-operative and photogenic especially the children who are simply gorgeous. Yes, they love to be photographed but please do not offer to pay to photograph local people as this will quickly discourage spontaneity and encourage commercialisation. Always ask before taking photos of local people.

In some cases, some people may be reluctant to be photographed for reasons that you may never know. It is prudent to enquire as to the fee for photographing cultural festivities as they are sometimes very high. The reasoning behind this is they put on the show, people take photos and make money selling these photos of their show - so they want to be paid accordingly (makes sense). Shooting an exploding volcano at night calls for min 800 asa setting and a tripod is essential for good images.

Connect

Telephone

The international country code for Vanuatu is +678. To dial overseas from within Vanuatu dial 00 followed by the relevant country code and phone number.

Emergency phone numbers: Ambulance (22-100); Fire (22-333); and Police (22-222).

Vanuatu has GSM mobile coverage in Port-Vila and most GSM mobile phones roam seamlessly. You can buy special visitor SIM cards from TVI [2], which offer considerable discounts over roaming charges. Available at any post office.

International Roaming from New Zealand and Australia is available. Telecom Vanuatu has a package called ‘Smile Visitor' which consists of a sim card with a pre-purchased credit. This can be purchased at the Vanuatu Telecom Office in town. Telephone: +678 081111. Email: info@smile.com.vu

Or with the new player's Digicel, giving Telecom some overdue competition. Digicel have made themselves very visible, and can be found everywhere. They have a bunch of different cheap plans for you.

Internet

Internet cafes can be found in Luganville & Port-Vila. You may also find that some post offices will also provide some kind of Internet facilities, and can be found on the main streets in Port-Vila and Luganville as well as on Espiritu Santo.

Postal services

Postal services to mainland Europe can take up to 7 days. You can send letters and postcards from mailboxes in the streets, however the incoming postal service can be patchy, especially for parcels, so don't rely on people sending you things while you're staying in Vanuatu.

IN THE LAST limping year of my first marriage, I joined The Caretaker Gazette. Escape lay before me. I could pore over the listings, imagining myself going somewhere, anywhere across the world. There was a cattle station in the middle of Australia — they didn’t need a house-sitter so much as a field hand who would accept payment in room, board, and adventure. There was a cliff-side home in Vanuatu that described diving from the back yard into the blue ocean, the friendly locals, the lack of any sort of transportation except bicycles and crappy motorcycles. I sent a few emails, hoping a positive response would be that which galvanized me — this time — into finally leaving for good.

Several years before the Caretaker Gazette, I had gone to Burning Man for the first time. In 2004, it was a white, wide expanse of salt flat, with a strange and bustling city plopped in the middle of it, and there were fewer articles about celebrities in dust storms. I was supposed to go with a friend, who was also my husband’s best friend (although in retrospect, it seems obvious that she was in love with him), but she got pregnant at the last minute and didn’t want to risk hauling a high-risk pregnancy to the middle of the Nevada desert, so I went alone.

Burning Man changed my life. My marriage had completely deadened me; I spent most of my time feeling miserable, but just assumed this was how marriage was supposed to be. Clearly, you just loved someone and stayed with them forever, no matter how unhappy you were. The trip to Black Rock made me realize there really was more in the world than what I was settling for: There was art, there were other people that saw lightness in the world instead of nonstop emotionless logic, there were people who listened to me and let me speak. Still, the idea of leaving what was already a 5-year-old marriage, with a man that I genuinely did love most of the time, felt insane and terrifying.

I had never been an adult without my husband — we got married when I was nineteen, and I moved directly out of my mother’s house in with him. I had never paid a bill or done a single adult chore that wasn’t tied up in our marriage. He was thirteen years older than me and hated to travel, while I had been going on trips since I was born. We negotiated that I could travel twice a year without him. Unfortunately, part of the deal was that he was resentful and sulky no matter where I went or how long I stayed.

Two years after my first trip to Burning Man, I filled out an application for low-income tickets to the event. They provided a certain number of low-cost tickets for anyone who could prove genuine financial hardship. We were encouraged to be honest and creative in our application. I sent a book of photos I had taken the previous year, with an essay that contained the phrase: “Please help me get to Burning Man so I can find a way to leave my husband.” They gave me the ticket.

Another trip into the blinding desert and I felt my heart loosen up a little bit more. When I got back, I wrote and obsessively read books about women traveling alone: Dervla Murphy, Rita Golden Gelman, even Eat Pray Love. I wrote a letter to Elizabeth Gilbert telling her that I related to what she described of her first marriage and how hard it was to leave when you were the only one who felt like something was wrong. She wrote me back. “Oh no, not you too!” I read stories of breaking away, of falling off mountains, of cycling through Afghanistan, always, always, alone…but I had no idea how to be alone.

I joined the Caretaker’s Gazette, and read the ads gingerly. I touched them and flitted away, like touching a sore tooth, too scared to go back and see what possibilities they might raise. I told my husband I wanted to leave, but I had nowhere to go. He begged me to stay. I stayed. Everything was the same.

One night, we were sitting on the couch watching TV, and suddenly, words leaked out of my mouth without my knowing they were coming. “I want a divorce.” Later, I told people that we broke up by accident because it wasn’t planned. It had just happened — although I had been thinking of nothing else for years.

I found an apartment — my first — and moved out, then six months later, I got in my car and started to drive, crisscrossing the country from Chicago to Oklahoma City to Amarillo, Texas. Everywhere I went, I tried on the freedom of this new life and took notes: The library in Slab City was currently unoccupied, and if you lived there, you could get your water from the gas station in Niland. You could sleep in your car behind the truck stop chapel outside Albuquerque and nobody would see you from the road. There was a small restaurant hiring at the edge of Cape Breton Highlands park, and they didn’t require experience. I drove through the flatlands of Kansas at 90 miles per hour, cursing the boredom, and just when I thought I couldn’t take another minute, saw the Rocky Mountains of Colorado rearing up in the distance. I had to buy snow chains to cross Donner Pass and repaired a tire in Vail. I traveled and traveled, and with every click on the odometer, I left my old life.

There were suddenly so many options, so many lives that I could try, that I stumbled over myself to find and hold them. The fear that had weighed down my shoulders for so many years was finally gone. I felt as light as a bird. I could fly anywhere that I could find. More like this: Why travel is the best answer to divorce

Vanuatu: Far Flung Places Travel Guide

Simon Proudman

The only current detailed guide to the islands of Vanuatu, with invaluable information not just on the main islands, but also the more rarely visited outer islands. Including maps and detailed listings.

Learn how to travel around, find the best places to visit, stay and eat for a memorable holiday in these islands of fire and beauty.

Includes a guide for Cruise Ship passengers to make the most of their short stay.

Accompanied by a selection of stories about places, events and people in Vanuatu which will transport the armchair traveller to this incredible Pacific nation, while giving more background and details for the intrepid visitor.

In the Pacific Ocean lies the islands of Vanuatu, one of the world’s best kept secrets. Find out why it has won ‘Happiest Nation on Earth’ not once, but twice.

- See an active volcano erupting while standing on the edge of the crater.

- Relax in resorts, eat great food, watch fire dancing, and drink the local kava.

- Swim on white sandy beaches with waters that fizz like champagne.

- Dive and snorkel the world’s most accessible shipwreck, larger than the Titanic.

- See the water musicians of Gaua.

- Discover the history and culture, including carvings, art and World War II relics.

Far Flung Places Guide Books provide up-to-date listings on travel, accommodation, attractions and food. Accompanied by a selection of stories, which give more background and details of the destination, including:

* Experience the John Frum Celebration Day

* Surfing down a Volcano

* Living by solar power and bartering in remote village

* The incredible water music on Gaua

* Detailed guides to climbing volcanoes in Tanna, Gaua, Ambrym and Ambae

and much more...

“All the places you are likely to visit are there, and the updated inside information is invaluable, for an unbeatable price”.

Caravanistan (The Silk Road Travel Guide) Book Review

Lonely Planet Vanuatu & New Caledonia (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Vanuatu & New Caledonia is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Stare into the volcanic cauldron of Vanuatu's Mt Yasur; eat snails by turquoise coves on New Caledonia's Ile des Pins; or discover traditional tribal culture, all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Vanuatu and New Caledonia and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Vanuatu & New Caledonia Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, politics, food, drink, tribal culture, environment, arts, architecture. Over 45 colour maps Covers Vanuatu, Port Vila, Mt Yasur, Efate, Ambrym, Ouvea, Malekula, Espiritu Santo, Luganville, New Caledonia, Noumea, Grand Terre, Ile des Pins and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Vanuatu & New Caledonia, our most comprehensive guide to Vanuatu and New Caledonia, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet South Pacific for a comprehensive look at all the region has to offer. Looking for a guide for Rarotonga, Samoa, Tonga or Fiji? Check out Lonely Planet's Rarotonga, Samoa & Tonga and Fiji guides for a comprehensive look at all these islands have to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

Lonely Planet Vanuatu & New Caledonia (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Vanuatu & New Caledonia is your passport to all the most relevant and up-to-date advice on what to see, what to skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Experience true island-paradise on the black-sand beaches of Vanuatu, go to a kava bar with the locals, or have an underwater adventure in the world's largest lagoon; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Vanuatu and New Caledonia and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Vanuatu & New Caledonia Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries show you the simplest way to tailor your trip to your own personal needs and interests Insider tips save you time and money and help you get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - including hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, and prices Honest reviews for all budgets - including eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, and hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer and more rewarding travel experience - including customs, history, art, literature, music, dance, architecture, politics, wildlife, and cuisine Over 34 local maps Useful features - including Month-by-Month (annual festival calendar), Diving, and Travel with Children Coverage of Port Vila, Noumea, Santo, Tanna, Ile des Pins, Mare, Lifou, Ouvea, Pentecost, Ambrym, Grande Terre, Malekula, Epi, Efate, Maewo, Gaua, Baie d'Oro, and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Vanuatu & New Caledonia, our most comprehensive guide to Vanuatu and New Caledonia, is perfect for those planning to both explore the top sights and take the road less travelled.

Looking for more coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's South Pacific guide for a comprehensive look at what the whole region has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet and Jayne D'Arcy.

About Lonely Planet: Started in 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel guide publisher with guidebooks to every destination on the planet, as well as an award-winning website, a suite of mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet's mission is to enable curious travellers to experience the world and to truly get to the heart of the places they find themselves in.

TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards 2012 and 2013 winner in Favorite Travel Guide category

'Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other.' - New York Times

'Lonely Planet. It's on everyone's bookshelves; it's in every traveller's hands. It's on mobile phones. It's on the Internet. It's everywhere, and it's telling entire generations of people how to travel the world.' - Fairfax Media (Australia)

Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu

J. Maarten Troost

With The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Maarten Troost established himself as one of the most engaging and original travel writers around. Getting Stoned with Savages again reveals his wry wit and infectious joy of discovery in a side-splittingly funny account of life in the farthest reaches of the world. After two grueling years on the island of Tarawa, battling feral dogs, machete-wielding neighbors, and a lack of beer on a daily basis, Maarten Troost was in no hurry to return to the South Pacific. But as time went on, he realized he felt remarkably out of place among the trappings of twenty-first-century America. When he found himself holding down a job—one that might possibly lead to a career—he knew it was time for him and his wife, Sylvia, to repack their bags and set off for parts unknown.Getting Stoned with Savages tells the hilarious story of Troost’s time on Vanuatu—a rugged cluster of islands where the natives gorge themselves on kava and are still known to “eat the man.” Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles against typhoons, earthquakes, and giant centipedes and soon finds himself swept up in the laid-back, clothing-optional lifestyle of the islanders. When Sylvia gets pregnant, they decamp for slightly-more-civilized Fiji, a fallen paradise where the local chiefs can be found watching rugby in the house next door. And as they contend with new parenthood in a country rife with prostitutes and government coups, their son begins to take quite naturally to island living—in complete contrast to his dad.

Vanuatu Country Study Guide (World Country Study Guide)

Ibp Usa

Vanuatu Country Study Guide (World Country Study Guide)

The South Pacific Islands of Vanuatu (Travel Adventures)

Thomas BoothA

Vanuatu, a cluster of 13 large islands and 80 small ones in the southwest Pacific, 1,300 miles east of Australia, has had a kaleidoscopic past. Formerly known as the New Hebrides, it was administered as a British-French Condominium, referred to as "pandemonium" and the events surrounding independence in 1980 had Gilbert and Sullivan qualities. Then there are the languages they speak: French, English, 105 indigenous tongues, and the wonderful common language, Bislama. The islands of Vanuatu, formerly called the New Hebrides, stretch in a north-south direction for 500 miles, and have a land mass of 6,500 square miles. Some of the small islands are coral atolls, the larger ones are volcanic in origin, and the terrain ranges from forest-covered mountains to grassy uplands to tiny reef-enclosed islets. Port Vila on Efate has a population of 15,000 and it's here most of the foreigners live and most of the holiday activities happen. Port Vila may be the prettiest capital town in the South Pacific and there are many things to do, other than sitting quietly on the sea front watching the blue bay roil up from schools of mullet. Food, as we've discussed, is one of Vila's most obvious attractions. Simple strolling in this compact bougainvillia- and frangipani-garlanded town is another. Away from Port Vila conditions change rapidly and, other than two or three resorts at a distance from town, the island reverts to elemental Melanesian life style. Next in importance after Port Vila is the town of Luganville, called Santo, a town of 5,500 on the south coast of the biggest island in the group, Espiritu Santo. In distant regions women still wear fiber mats or grass skirts, some of the men like the Big Nambas wear penis sheaths, which polite Victorian explorers had great difficulty describing and contented themselves with mentioning the women's skirts. Some Malekula men still pierce their nasal septa and insert pieces of wood or bone. Thev encourage the tusks of hogs to grow in a full circle, unpleasant for the pig. And they communicate with the ghosts of ancestors by drinking kava. The island of Tanna has a population of over 20,000 and most of them still live their lives according to custom. They still practice circumcision rites, the ceremonial killing of pigs, primitive marriage ceremonies, dancing with painted faces, and the drinking of kava. The author takes you from island to island, illuminating the local culture on each one. Details are here on the places to stay, the things you must see, how to get around and how to make your trip to these islands unforgettable.

VANUATU Country Studies: A brief, comprehensive study of Vanuatu

CIA

A brief yet detailed report on the country of Vanuatu with updated information on the map, flag, history, people, economics, political conditions in government, foreign affairs, and U.S. relations.

Searching for John Frum: Quest for the True Story of the John Frum Movement: Is it really a Cargo Cult?

James Thomsen

Searching for John Frum (Article)As we garnered information about our upcoming trip to Vanuatu we learned about a group of people on Tanna that worship an American. We were amazed and intrigued and put it high on our list of things to search out. What we could not anticipate is how much the followers of the John Frum Movement touched our hearts.The people of this South Pacific Island live much as they have for centuries in homes of woven pandanus walls, palm roofs and earthen floors. They eat what they grow in their gardens or catch in the sea. The villages have no electricity. Many people on Tanna cherish their traditional way of life and practice ancient customs. They call themselves Kastom. Missionaries began to arrive more than 150 years ago. Many were eaten. They persisted and now there are followers of the Catholic, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon and Anglican churches. For one hundred years the people were not allowed to practice their traditional customs. Then sometime during the 1930s John Frum appeared to a handful of chiefs on Tanna and told them to ignore Christianity and go back to their Kastom ways. These 4500 words describe what we learned about the John Frum Movement, often called a Cargo Cult.The AuthorsJim and Katie Thomsen live and travel aboard their sailboat, Tenaya. They enjoy sailing to remote areas and delving deeply into the local cultures.

Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Violent crime in Vanuatu is low, but petty crime is prevalent. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Do not visit beaches or other isolated areas alone. This is particularly important for women. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.

Demonstrations

Public disturbances occur on occasion. Avoid demonstrations and closely monitor local developments.

Transportation

The islands of Efate and Santo have paved roads. Roads in all other areas are unpaved or dirt tracks. The speed limit is 50 kilometres per hour.

Taxis may be hailed on the street and are metered. Minibuses are also available.

Most inter-island travel is by air or sea. Boat services between Vanuatu’s islands are often unreliable, and seaworthiness cannot be assured. Do not board vessels that appear overloaded or unseaworthy.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

You are encouraged to register with the High Commission of Australia in Port Vila in order to receive the latest information on situations and events that could affect your safety.

Tourist facilities and services are good but limited outside Port-Vila.

Sharks are present in the waters off Vanuatu, particularly around the islands of Espiritu Santo and Malekula. Seek advice from local authorities before swimming.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, food and water can also carry diseases like hepatitis A. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in the Oceanic Pacific Islands. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis and malaria.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria throughout the year in the whole country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss the benefits of taking antimalarial medication and to determine which one to take.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities are limited. Doctors and hospitals may demand immediate cash payment for health services. There is only one decompression chamber in Vanuatu, located in Port-Vila, Efate. Many of the popular diving sites are located on other islands, and it may take several hours to reach facilities in the event of an accident. Serious injuries may require medical evacuation to Australia or New Zealand. Emergency evacuations may cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Laws

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Alcohol may not be purchased between Saturday and Monday (except in hotels or restaurants) or during elections.

An International Driving Permit is recommended.

Culture

Always ask permission before photographing locals.

Dress conservatively, behave discreetly, and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities, especially in areas outside beaches and hotels.

Money

The currency is the vatu (VUV). Australian dollars are accepted at most shops, restaurants and hotels in Port-Vila. Traveller's cheques and major credit cards are accepted. Automated banking machines (ABMs) are available at the ANZ and Westpac banks.

Climate

Vanuatu is located along an active volcanic line, which causes frequent earthquakes and tidal waves. Earthquakes have caused landslides and structural damage to buildings and bridges on the island of Efate in the past.

There are several active or potentially active volcanoes in Vanuatu. Seek the advice of local authorities before venturing close to a volcano.

The rainy (or monsoon) and typhoon seasons in the South Pacific extend from November to April. These storms can result in significant loss of life, extensive damage to infrastructure and limited essential services.

During a typhoon or monsoon, hotel guests may be required to leave accommodations near the shore and move to safety centres inland. Travel to and from outer islands may be disrupted for some days.

Consult our Typhoons and monsoons page for more information.