The Enchanted Vanuatu Trip
When I was choosing a cover photo for this blog, I found it impossible… Vanuatu offers so much excitment and none of my photos are capable of capturing the beauty it holds and the impression it has left on me.
I will follow the route I have taken for introducing Vanuatu.
Arrival — Port Vila
We are welcomed with cosy temperature and pleasant sunshine. The first thing we did upon arrival is getting local currency. The exchange rate was 1 AUD : 75 VT at that time. It takes ages waiting in the queue at the bank. A friendly suggestion — use ATMs instead for getting local currency, it is much faster. If you really need to exchange currency at the bank, remember to take your ID with you.
The sea star set my mood for the vacation. Compared with the Sydney’s sea stars (image on the right), Vaunuatu sea stars grow much bigger in size (I highly suspect that it is because Sydney is so cold in winter that the sea star has to consume its body fat for maintaining body temperature. I am kidding! 😛 The sea star is a cold-blooded animal) and can be easily found and collected at the sand beaches. While in Sydney, I only found sea stars attached on rocks, so it took me some effort to gently detach it from the stone.
Revere the volcano — Mount Yasur volcano
Full of anticipation, we followed our guide on our trip to explore the volcano right after arriving in Tanna. I highly recommend hiring a local guide for the volcano visit at least, since the guide will not only spare your time of researching and planing, but most importantly, guanartee your safety on the way to the volcano. I will explain why…
It was the first time, I saw a volcano — ALIVE.
Almost unbelievable that the hot, molten core of the Earth could settle itself so peacefully with the tranquil ocean and lush trees. Though it is only 361 m above the sea level, Mount Yasur volcano has been active for more than 800 years and fertilizing the surrounding vegetation.
The image on the right is meant to capture what an experienced local driver regards as “a good road.” It didn’t create an unforgettable impression on me until I realized it is the truth! 😱 (based on Tanna’s road conditions). Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of how poor the road conditions were, as everyone in the car was gripping on the handles tightly and breathing carefully to avoid adding any extra imbalance.
Now you have experienced the same hardships as we did on our way to pay respect to the volcano, and it’s time for the reward!
Volcano on the way
We took a different path when climbing the volcano. The adventurer in the video must have been daring and seeking a new challenge. Being first-time visitors, we circled the mountain and followed a well-protected, easier path.
After another half an hour of , we finally reached the destination. Climbing the volcano is much easier than sitting inside the car. It takes around 10 minutes to reach the optimal point of observation.
Am I on Mars?
There was no sign of life within the range of my eyesight. Blackened, burnt stones; drifting ash; and the fierce wind. No greenery, no water — can hardly convince myself that I am somewhere on the Earth.
At the heart of the Earth
When I stood at the edge of the volcano, gazing into the entrance of the Earth's core, I grasped the meaning behind the words:
“When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
In this case, the abyss also asserts its presence, revealing its power through the fiery, red-hot sparks and the thunderous sound (recommending to watch with the sound).
The ash is slowly rising and dispersing after the eruption echoing the power of the burst.
Embrace the culture — Yakel Kastom village
Since gaining independence in 1980, many people in Vanuatu still choose to maintain the traditional lifestyle. Yakel village is one of those who choose to follow the old style.
The people of Yakel village lead a relatively self-sustained life. They construct their own houses and make their clothing using local trees and grasses. They cultivate banana trees, raise pigs and chickens, and even have their own fish ponds. Their primary food sources are bananas and taro, with pork being consumed only during festivals.
Despite their traditional way of life, they maintain a connection with the outside world through the sale of cultivated goods and the development of tourism. They typically dress in traditional attire, but when they need to travel to town, they adhere to the government’s dress standards.
Despite the fact that the population of Vanuatu is only 300,000, there are up to 145 languages spoken there. During our visit to Yakel village, our guide (who also served as our driver and organized the entire trip during our stay in Tanna) communicated with the village guide using the local language of Tanna.
The village guide communicated with us in English, leading us on a short tour around the village, narrating its local history, and answering our questions. According to him, he is the only one who returned to the village after pursuing education, which enabled him to speak English. I noticed there were several young children who were eligible for education but were not receiving any, including the beautiful girl in the photo below who looked amazing with a red flower. I felt a sense of concern and hope that I could help them more. This urge serves as one of the motivations for this blog post — to let more people know about this amazing place and hopefully support them more.
The hand-made necklaces and statues are very interesting. They are much cheaper to purchase at the village than in town. The traditional loincloth shown in the photo above might be a good (unexpected) gift for male friends. I bet they will not recognise its purpose at the first glance.
Animal lovers’ paradise — The Reef Vanuatu Zological
If you are an animal lover, I highly recommend visiting The Reef Vanuatu Zological. Situated near the seashore, the zoo offers a unique experience with its animals and the ocean view.
The zoo isn’t as big as one might typically anticipate, but the scenery is amazing. Following the zoo guide and wandering inside, it feels more like a resort with the relaxing and peaceful ambience, in contrast to the crowded and children-filled playgrounds with incessant screams that you would normally encounter in other zoos.
As mentioned by the zoo guide, all the sea turtles in the facility had been rescued from the ocean. Among them, some have fallen ill due to mistakenly ingesting plastic products from the ocean, while others were too young to defend themselves against predators.
The cocount crab has a very scary size, which can grown up to 1 meter! Well, apperantly, their size is not scary enough for someone who regard them as delectable dish; due to human huanting, the cocount crab is threatened to extinction.
Quick question: which godness is born from a clam shell?
Majority of the animals in the zoo can be found elsewhere across Australia or other nearby countries. It is kind of suprising that there are not many wild animal in Vanuatu, the country that has abundant forest resouces (around 36% of the land are forested).
Must visit — Dona Cascade Waterfall
The Reef Vanuatu Zological, Dona Cascade Waterfall, Blue Lagoon, and Eton Beach (which will be covered in the later section) are all in one line for the one-day tour in Vila. For convenience, we hired a local guide who drove us all the way, allowing us to fully enjoy the trip without worrying about travel planning.
As the second stop on our one-day tour, we arrived at Dona Cascade Waterfall around 11:40 am (we had begun the trip from Ramada resort at 10 am). Depending on your fondness for waterfall views and snorkeling, you can easily spend a few hours there. For us, we devoted 1 hour due to our tight schedule.
We were amazed by the initial cascade we encountered while following the trail, and to our surprise, there were many more as we walked further! In total, there are five pools to swim in. You can also climb on top of the waterfall or snorkel around it. Despite the turbulence caused by the waterfall, the pool remains relatively tranquil, offering a serene environment with plenty of small fish to observe.
Just Jump! — Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon is a must-visit place, no matter whether you can swim or not. I would recommend swimming in this most easily accessible natural blue hole in Vanuatu. Even though I cannot swim, I was still encouraged by the ambience and scenery, and borrowed a life jacket from the ticket seller and jumped into the water. Kids were amused by my “swimming gear,” and borrowing Jay’s comment: “You look like a rotating hot dog ” as I was kept turning uncontrollably up and down due to the overpowering life jacket. It took me around 10 minutes to learn how to control my balance and begin swimming around.
One thing I regret is that I didn’t climb onto the tree platform and grab the rope to jump into the water, since the water splashes with every jump, symbolizing great bravery and the expression of freedom and relaxation.
Well… Next time, I will learn to swim without a life jacket.
The highly praised — Eton Beach
Although Efate is an island with many accessible beaches, Eton Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the island. Surrounded by a natural barrier of rocks, the water is very warm and clear. We arrived at Eton Beach around 4:30 pm. Given that our visit occurred during Vanuatu’s winter, we expected darkness to set in around 5:30 pm. The water was still surprisingly warm, even when compared with Blue Lagoon and Dona Cascade Waterfall that we visited ealier around noon time.
In addition to the beautiful and relaxing view, the abundance of cute sea creatures also left me with unforgetable experience!
While we were walking barefeet on the sand, we spotted a few fast-moving, sand-colored animals: the sand crabs! It took me quite a few attempts and sprints to finally capture one. These little creatures move incredibly fast, and their camouflage color is truly a masterpiece of evolution!
I used to walk on Sydney’s beaches a lot, but I’ve never found these cute creatures on the beach at all! I blame the ruthless seagulls; they are fierce enough to steal food from innocent people (trust me, if you sit in a cafe around Circular Quay, you’ll experience something similar to what’s described in the image on the right), let alone the to hunt fragile sand crabs.
The video below is the best wild sea creature-themed video I have ever taken so far! I tried filming various hermit crabs, but this one is the most talented when it comes to being filmed.
Wake up, hermit crab!
A journey through memories — Return
Reluctantly, we returned to Sydney after 4 days’ stay in Vanuatu, a truly an amazing place (if you do not agree with me after this post, it is my fault). The stunning and easily accessible ocean views, the exceptional volcano experience, the exotic yet incredibly hospitable local culture, and the breathtaking reefs all make Vanuatu an absolutely fantastic tourism destination. I am hopeful that my travel has contributed to the local development, and perhaps has helped people who live in the village with their livelihood, or has supported the staff of the Zological to rescue more sea turtles.
If you happen to be planning a trip, I hope this post introduces Vanuatu as a potential destination.