Geography of Malekula

People keep insisting that a map of Malekula looks like a sitting dog, so I'll use the analogy in my description of locations on the island. Malekula is the second largest island of Vanuatu, next to Espiritu Santo. It has several small inhabited islands off its coast: Uripiv, Norsup, Rano, Wala, Atchin, and Vao Islands run up the East coast from the dog's neck. Toman Island is off the front foot, Akhamb Island is off the mid-South Coast, and the Maskelyne Islands are under the tail (most of their population is on Uliveo Island).

The island is mostly surrounded by a narrow coastal plain, with an incredibly rugged interior, which is made up of very steep ridges carved by deep creek and river valleys. The upper part of the neck is relatively flat all the way across and provides a channel of physical communication between the east and west coasts. The east and south coasts have several moderate-sized rivers, of which the largest is the Pankumu, located half-way down the dog's back. The only river of any size on the west coast is the Brenwe, which drains from the dog's chin.

I'm not a geologist, but the island's centre seems to be of volcanic origin, although there are no active or inactive volcanoes on Malekula. Almost the entire coastline is ringed with fringing coral reefs, with few beaches. The island is periodically suddenly uplifted, with much of it lifting a metre on August 11, 1965 and a previous uplift about 250 years previous. The reefs grow to the new low tide mark, accounting for the coral-based coastal plains. A good spot to see the "steps" of coral reef that have grown as the island lifted periodically is at Unmakh Village coastline near the tip of the dog's chin.

During the dry season from May to October, the Trade Winds blow incessantly from the South-East. Rain also comes from this direction during the November to April rainy season. Accordingly, the east coast is wetter than the west, and the south coast wetter than the north. The driest area is the top of the dog's head and its face, i.e., the north and north-west coasts. Malekula is definitely in the Hurricane zone, but has been fortunate enough to avoid direct hits in the last few decades. Wet season is hurricane season. Temperatures in Lakatoro range from 23 to 33 degrees Celsius.

Except for the coastal plain, which is largely covered with coconuts and cocoa, Malekula is covered with rain forest. Wildlife is limited. The only terrestrial mammal that wasn't brought with man is the flying fox. The other mammals are small rats, dogs, cats, pigs, horses, goats, and cattle. Bird life is limited. There are lots of different fish on the reefs and beyond. There are no dangerous land animals, insects, or reptiles. The only snakes are small constrictors. In the sea, there are poisonous sea snakes that leave you alone if unprovoked, stinging lion and stone fish, stinging cone shells, and of course, sharks. I have never seen a shark over two metres, but have heard reliable first-hand accounts of 6 metre sharks. Vanuatu's last shark fatality was a small boy taken off the west coast of Vao Island in March or April, 1987. My family swims in the ocean here, other expatriates don't. You pays your money and you takes your chances, depending on how much you are attracted to water sports.

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©Stan Combs, 1995.