A Voyage through Vanuatu

The conditions on our trip from Fiji to Vanuatu threw every kind of weather and wind from every direction which meant we had a four day 540 mile crossing which included our best ever daily mileage of 176 miles followed by a day of flat calm to make up for it.
We cleared in at the capital of Vanuatu, Port Vila but as we arrived on Saturday morning we had to wait in the quarantine anchorage until Monday for customs and immigration to open. Prince Diamond who we had met many times before arrived in quarantine around the same time so as we weren’t allowed ashore until we had cleared, we invited Carol and Brian on board for drinks and nibbles.
While we were in Port Vila we hired a car to visit the sites of Efate. We visited the Cascades waterfalls, Blue Lagoon for a swim and then headed for “Ripples on the Water” restaurant for some lunch.

 

Cascades waterfall on Efate


Mel taking the plunge at Blue Lagoon

The restaurant proved a real test to find and we had to abandon the first attempted dirt track after we got stuck in mud. Mel and David helped to push the car out and off we went in search of a better road. We found another but it wasn’t much better, with huge pot holes and deep hollows, however we did eventually arrive for a very welcome late curry lunch. The next day we spent at Hideaway Bay where David and Mel posted plastic postcards in the world’s only underwater post office. We snorkelled the reef with a guide and lunched at the resort restaurant.

Mel posting her waterproof cards in the underwater post office at Hideaway Bay


Fish life on the reef at Hideaway Bay

Provisioning was a delight in Port Vila as the main supermarket Bon Marche on top of the hill out of town was the best we have seen since New Zealand. We bought french cheeses, good wine, veal escalopes and great steaks at very reasonable prices, plus all the herbs and spices we could use. It was an Aladdin’s cave of food.

The town itself was busy with traffic and rather dirty and run down, but right in the middle was a micro brewery/ pub run by an Australian called Matt. He gave us a tour of the brewery one night followed by some free samples! The beer was the best we’ve had since NZ and we were able to watch Scotland beat Australia and the Lions beat the Maori All Blacks on the big screens. It was Mel’s second rugby experience after watching a game in Australia, I think the complex rules are becoming clearer.

Laundry day on board

After a week or so in Port Vila we headed around Efate to Havana Harbour which was used by the Americans in the second world war as an anchorage and hospital. We anchored off the village and it wasn’t long before the canoes started coming out to find out who we were. We anchored there for the night and the following day David and Mel went ashore to visit a little private museum of World War II artefacts. The main interest being coke bottles from all over America.


An outrigger canoe selling wares from the village garden

 In the afternoon we sailed for the island of Emae and the anchorage at Sullua Bay and the next day sailed on to Revolieu Bay on Epi and on the 24th June we anchored in a lovely sandy bay on Sakau Island which had a deserted village to explore. Here we were able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from passing boats and outrigger canoes returning from their “garden” on the next large island, loaded with produce bound for the main village on an adjoining island.

David and I getting some much needed excercise after days at sea.

Next day, continuing our hopping from beautiful island to next beautiful island, we anchored in Nopul Bay on the north west corner of Ambryn renowned for its magic and witch doctors and we went ashore to find more stores and walked through several villages, stopping to chat with the locals and buy a few bits. David likened it to something from Middle Earth and it had that sort of look and feel. We met many villagers on our walk who were keen to know our names and where we were from. One very large chap introduced himself as Wenceslas, now there’s a name to conjure with. Ambryn has two live volcanoes smoking away peacefully 10 miles south west of our anchorage and although we didn’t make the climb, it’s possible to hike up to the volcano craters and peer in. In one of the small village stores they had reached a new level of sophistication and instead of rough shelving they had somehow got hold of glass and wood display cabinets to make a counter. In one of these display cabinets along side tins of tuna and corned beef were two football trophies for sale. It never ceased to amaze us the strange variety of goods in these tiny stores.

We sailed across a 10 mile channel between Ambryn and the next island going north, Pentecost, famous for its land diving which we were hoping to witness. This strange ancient ritual is carried out each year between April and June to ensure a good yam harvest and entails building a 25m tower out of rough cut poles and installing three jumping platforms at varying heights to which they attach vines.


A land diving tower, they take three weeks to build and need regular maintenance during the season

In the village of Wali we were lucky enough to meet up with Warren who explained that the land diving had finished for the year but that he might be able to arrange it at the French village of Lonton, further along the coast for 9000 Vatu each (about £70.00). He said he would let us know the following day if he could organise it. At 09.30 the following day he appeared on the beach saying it was all OK and could we take him in the boat to the other side of the bay. As we came in to re-anchor a school of dolphins surrounded the boat and a large dugong (sea cow) surfaced not far from the boat, a fantastic sight. We went ashore and walked up to the village where we were told to wait while they got things ready refurbishing the tower and checking the vines.The vines are secured to the jumpers’ ankles. The village then congregated behind the tower and the women bear-breasted and wearing only grass skirts and the men in only penis sheaths chant prayers to the earth god. The jumpers climbs the tower to his appointed platform and offers up a prayer with arms raised aloft and then plunges to earth. The platform breaks, slowing their fall and the springy vines also help them to decelerate but nevertheless the first jumper surprised us by hitting the ground chest first with a resounding thump. We were expecting them to pull up short like a bungy jump but hitting the earth hard is a part of the ritual.

The Village People backing group chanting to the yam gods

Mel being a woman was not allowed near the tower or to touch the vines to avoid bad luck but David and I were permitted to climb the lower tower and swing on the vines. It was a truly awesome experience with three young men diving, put on just for the three of us. We felt really privileged to have witnessed this bizarre ritual.

A landdiver ready to take the plunge wearing only a penis sheath!

David testing one of the vines for strength.

That night at anchor in Wali Bay we saw the sky lit up by the two volcanoes back on Ambryn, the red glow reflected off the clouds made an impressive sight.

From here we sailed up the coast of Pentecost to Lolton Bay where we had read about a “Yacht Club” a pseudonym for a basic restaurant trying to attract yachties and as we had run out of essential beer supplies and were getting low on fresh food we thought we could call in, have a meal and buy some beer. We met Matthew and his wife Mary who spoke French, a lovely village couple who had built and ran the Yacht Club.


The Yacht Club in Lolton Bay on Pentecost Island

 Matthew took us on a tour of the villages in the bay and we agreed to come in for lunch the following day when Mary would prepare some traditional village dishes. We were also told we would be taken to the mysterious cave where the first inhabitant of Pentecost had lived with a chicken and a snake! Just before lunch the next day we were shepherded down a narrow path to meet up with a couple of very old men dressed in loin cloths chanting a song, and beating time with the shells/nuts tied to their legs they sang first to the chicken and then at the entrance to the cave, to the snake. 


The dance and chant to the chicken!

The lead man Patrick told us through an interpreter of the dream he had had one day about the cave and its first inhabitants and he went to the place in his dream where the cave should be and he found it. Inside are a small table, some ornaments, a sand drawing, we were shown where the snake lived up a chimney and the man and the chicken lived on the floor. This very funny experience cost us about 4000 vatu (£35) and I think it’s fair to say we were well and truly had but it was worth it for the fun side.

Patrick showing us the inside of the cave where the first man on Pentecost supposedly lived.

Lunch turned out to be a ten course tasting feast and Matthew explained what each dish was and how it was prepared and all this washed down with freshly made lemonade. After lunch feeling fit to burst we returned to the boat and set sail for a couple of hours to the next island called Maewo where we dinghied ashore to see a spectacular waterfall just behind a small bar which unfortunately was closed. Here we also met an Australian couple Bindy and Colin on “Distracted”, anchored nearby.

The waterfall on Maewo

With stores running low again we made for Luganville 60 miles to the west, a significant town on the island of Espiritu Santo. We arrived after dark and spent some time cruising around looking for a mooring ball off the Aore Resort. Fortunately Nils and Madge, a Dutch couple we met in Port Vila on their boat Un Wind directed us to the spot and we settled down for the night in a very snug place.

Aore is an island on the other side of a two mile wide channel across from Luganville, it’s the best anchorage around but it does mean a rather wet 20 minute dinghy ride to and from town which meant walking around town in wet clothes.

Luganville has one main street down which streams a line of 4x4s intermingled with the smallest taxi cars you’ve ever seen. It has one “supermarket” which was a big disappointment after Bon Marche in Port Vila but it has one of best hardware stores in the South Pacific. The highlights of our stay were a “Brexit 1776” party on board Romano on the 4th July where the Brits hosted Americans and Kiwis. We had 11 on board for the evening, two of the Americans, Andrew and Leslie arrived in their dinghy flying a huge Stars and Stripes on an improvised flagstaff and Mel played “God Bless the USA” by the four Texas tenors on her iPad.


Andrew and Leslie arriving in style for the Brexit 1776 party on Romano

 The boat was decorated with blue and silver balloons and two US flags but we still flew our Red Ensign to remind our colonies of their past!! A great time was had by all evidenced by a few sore heads the next day.
Our next highlight was a really great experience, innocently advertised as a trip to the Millenium Cave. We set off in a minivan which bizarrely had a red and black padded ceiling the purpose of which was to become apparent as we turned off the main road onto a track. The track had once been a road built by the Americans during the Second World War out to the airstrip which had also become part of the track but sadly no one had maintained either since 1945 and we spent 40 minutes being bounced and thrown as we charged on down this track at speed. We eventually arrived at a village, disembarked gratefully and joined another party to make our group up to 10 plus guides. From here we trekked for half an hour on a jungle path to a second village where we were kitted out in life jackets and then started to descend down the walls of a canyon on ladders made of branches nailed together, some of which had long since rotted. 


Descending to the canyon floor

The descent took about 30 minutes and ended at the mouth of a huge cave through which a river ran, this was the Millenium cave, so called because the locals started the venture then to provide funds for three surrounding villages. We were issued torches by the guides and moved down into the cave, waist deep in tumbling water. We gradually picked our way into the cave, in file, our torches picking out swallow nests high up on the walls and deeper into the cave when you grabbed a ledge and your hand sunk into black mush you knew what bat shit looked and smelled like. The cave was amazing with the roof reaching up in parts to 100ft above us carrying impressive stalactites. 


Traditional face painting using red clay before going through the cave

It took us about 45 minutes to pass through the cave into a cavern which opened onto a stony beach at the confluence of two rivers. Here we stopped for the packed lunches we had brought with us after carefully washing our hands in the river. 

Our lunch stop in sight


A well earned rest for everyone

After an hours rest we set off down the joined river which flowed through a deep narrow gorge and swam and bumped our way over rocks, scrambled over huge boulders neatly fitted with iron handholds cemented into the limestone. All this through spectacular scenery alternately scrambling and swimming in the deeper parts for about an hour until we came out at a small beach.


Scrambling and swimming down the river

By now I was exhausted and climbing out of the river, cold, wet through, encumbered by a large kapok life jacket I stumbled up the beach grateful for a rock to rest on. David and Mel seemed to fair much better and I had had to rely on help from the main guide to get me through the more difficult parts of the gorge. The guides had one last little surprise for us, the climb out of the gorge. This was another set of multiple ladders set into the course of a near vertical stream which we scaled for about 200 metres to the plateau at the top and then walked 30 minutes through the jungle to our waiting minivan which then took us back to our starting village. Here the village women had laid on fresh fruit, orange tea and coffee as very welcome refreshments. This would make a very good SAS training day.
We then got back in the van for our shake rattle and roll back to the quay and our ferry to the boat. We all agreed it had been a very special day, very strenuous, amazing scenery, challenging in many ways but one to remember and we had come through.
We went ashore to the Aore Resort one evening to meet up with Andrew and Leslie off Sonrisa when a troupe of women and young girls in grass skirts entered the sea and proceeded to beat the water with their hands to the beat of the drum and the rhythm of a beach dancer bedecked in shells and rattling nuts.

Andrew and Leslie with the parrot at the dive shop

It was getting close to the end of our 30 day visa for Vanuatu but we decided to stay to watch the All Blacks and Lions decider match with some Kiwi friends and Andrew and Leslie in the local hotel on their wide screen TV. A just draw resulted after an exciting match so honour was satisfied all round and the Americans in the party were a little wiser about the rules and the passion the game raises.
In the previous days we had ferried 30 jerry cans of water in the dinghy from the dock at Paul’s dive base to fill our tank before leaving for the Solomon Islands and made several long dinghy trips to the supermarket and fruit and veg market, so we were ready for the off.
The following morning we went ashore to check out at customs, and paid a visit to the duty free shop to spend our last few Vatu. Fully provisioned in case we found little before reaching Honiara we set off for the Island of Nendo on the southern end of the island chain.

This was posted on the notice board at the immigration office and sums up work in Vanuatu very nicely.

It was getting close to the end of our 30 day visa for Vanuatu but we decided to stay to watch the All Blacks and Lions decider match with some Kiwi friends and Andrew and Leslie in the local hotel on their wide screen TV. A just draw resulted after an exciting match so honour was satisfied all round and the Americans in the party were a little wiser about the rules and the passion the game raises.

Gathered in the Espiritu Hotel to watch All Blacks v Lions rugby.

In the previous days we had ferried 30 jerry cans of water in the dinghy from the dock at Paul’s dive base to fill our tank before leaving for the Solomon Islands and made several long dinghy trips to the supermarket and fruit and veg market, so we were ready for the off.
The following morning we went ashore to check out at customs, and paid a visit to the duty free shop to spend our last few Vatu. Fully provisioned in case we found little before reaching Honiara we set off for the Island of Nendo on the southern end of the island chain.

 

One thought on “A Voyage through Vanuatu

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey. So glad to see Melinda having a great time and experiencing another part of God’s great world.

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