Places to Go in Rural Vanuatu (Part 1):

Banks and Torres Islands and Espiritu Santo

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As I mentioned in the introduction to this travel section, I have traveled all over Vanuatu, but usually as part of my work, so I wasn't really looking for places to visit for their own sake or to lounge about. I guess part of the fun of travel is finding one's own places; I presume that people reading this don't want to go where everyone else is, anyway. The following, running from North to South, are a few starting points. I used to give people telephone numbers for reservations, etc. from my 1992 phone book, but I understand that many of Vanuatu's numbers have been changed since I left. Maybe some of the places listed are no longer there, but I checked with a friend who recently was on Espiritu Santo, Malekula, Efate, and Tanna to renew my knowledge of the present situation.

A Selection of Starting Points:

1. Banks and Torres Islands. I toured most of this inaccessible region by ship in 1990, but have only spent nights on dry land at the Local Government guest house at Sola, Vanua Lava Island. I won't say much about this area, except that travel between many of the islands is only possible by small open boats prone to engine break-down; a fellow CUSO cooperant stationed there found the experience truly frightening, and I don't blame him. Trading ships rarely go there because it doesn't pay, and the people are not happy about their exclusion from the rest of Vanuatu's limited money economy. There are regular commercial flights to the area; unfortunately, one result is the wholesale export of coconut crabs from the Torres Islands. Coconut crabs are a slow-growing endangered species of hermit crab (sans shell) that are featured in Port Vila's restaurants. Eat one now, while you are able. ;-(

2. Champagne Beach near Hog Harbour, NE Espiritu Santo Island. I have been to Champagne Beach several times; it is beautiful fine white sand with water so clear it looks "bubbly"; hence the name. If you go, check with Tour Vanuatu to be sure you avoid the days that a cruise ship anchors offshore and disgorges 1200 Australian day tourists. Other days, it is deserted, or nearly so. There is nice snorkeling around the rocks that are marked by a pole a couple of hundred metres out. There is a small charge by the custom owner to use the beach. Due to good old "Melanesian Jealousy", he demands a bit more if you are staying at his neighbour's place, Lonnoc Bungalows.

White Sand Tropical Beach

Champagne Beach on a Non-Cruise Ship Day. Photo ©S. Combs, 1992.

3. Our family took some Canadian friends to stay at Lonnoc Bungalows, around the corner from Champagne Beach, in 1990; we all enjoyed it. These are private bungalows (sago palm thatch roof); be sure to sleep under a mosquito net. Kalmer Vocor runs the place, and he is a bit unique in that he provides the Melanesian Experience, but in a way that is easy for a Westerner to take. The food was excellent. He provides a bus from Luganville for a reasonable fee, or you can rent a car in Luganville (we got a good deal from the Formosa Restaurant, but it may not still rent cars). Kalmer (not a personal friend; everyone in Vanuatu goes by their first name) now manages the Northern Island Stevedoring Company in Luganville; you can probably contact him there for reservations. It is difficult for ni-Vanuatu to comprehend what western travelers want, and Lonnoc does a good job of providing a suitable mix of Western and Melanesian.

Lonnoc Bungalows. Photo ©S. Combs, 1990.

4. On the way back from Champagne Beach to Luganville, wash off the ocean salt at the Matavulu Blue Hole. It's hard for me to explain exactly how to get there, but you turn inland at the well-marked road to the Matavulu Secondary School, then to the right and down the length of a WW II American Fighter Strip, and about 2/3 down the strip, you veer to the left and go down a hill and up to a gate that is often locked. (You'll find it eventually.) You park and walk over a knoll, and there is a beautiful large blue spring with a rope or two hooked up to swing and jump in. I used to imagine the maintenance crews and pilots relaxing there between sorties to the Solomons. If you are adventurous, there is probably still a high rope in a tree across the spring that is accessed by walking along a large horizontal branch - I got to it with the assistance of a Matavulu student with better balance than I, figuring that the worst that could happen would be a long fall into the water, which was my objective anyway. Another pointer you won't get in the guidebooks - the coral banks of the Blue Hole are populated by little black snails with sharp spines on their shells. I know from experience that these spines break off in your feet when you climb out, so wear thongs or runners when you jump into the water.

Me swinging on a rope into a large blue spring.

Swinging into the Matavulu Blue Hole. Note the thongs. Photo ©H. Morgan, 1992.

5. One of the world's great dives is just out of Santo - the President Coolidge wreck. (See Dean Niclasen's Web Site about this dive). A perusal of my log book shows 24 dives on this wreck, and I would go back again any time. I recommend Alan Power's dive operation in Santo for this dive, although I understand he no longer personally dives due to health problems. This is a deep decompression dive ranging from 120 ft. and down, and it is for experienced divers only. It is a shore dive, and Allan has built a nice reef at the 10-ft. decompression stop about 50 metres from shore that is worth just snorkeling at. Alan persuaded the Vanuatu Government to declare the Coolidge a National Park, and dedicated much of his career to showing it to thousands of divers and protecting it from scavengers and souvenir-hunters.

6. Down the coast a couple of hundred metres from the Coolidge dive site is the famed "Million Dollar Point" ("Poen Doti", or "Garbage Point" to ni-Vanuatu), where the US Army dumped all its machinery and stores before leaving after WW II. It's worth a snorkel or dive also.

7. Bokissa Island, a small expatriate-owned island resort near Luganville. The one morning I tried to go there, we woke up to a cyclone, so I've never been. I am told, however, that it is a nice small place with very good diving and snorkeling. They feature a feed-the-sharks dive, if that is your cup of tea, and also boat dives on the Coolidge.

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©Stan Combs, 1996-2000.