Efate is Vanuatu’s most populous island, has an international airport, and is home to the capital city of Port Vila. Port Vila may be the capital of Vanuatu but that doesn’t mean it’s a metropolis. Probably the only thing to do here – and that’s a must-do! – is a visit to the central market. The produce is wonderfully presented, for the most part super cheap and there are some good eateries that serve typical Vanuatu dishes. For other activities than eating or shopping, it’s necessary to leave town.
A short bus ride from Port Vila is Hideaway Island, a tiny private island and a resort. It’s also a marine sanctuary and has really good snorkeling. Nothing comes for free in Vanuatu though, and the entrance fee to the island (the ferry to and from the island is free or, actually, included in the price) isn’t cheap. But it’s worth it; it’s probably the best and safest snorkeling spot around Port Vila – the island is located in a tranquil bay – and if you’ve ever wanted to send a waterproof postcard from an underwater post office, that’s the place to do it: Hideaway Island has the world’s only underwater post office. As for the service, my postcard still hasn’t arrived. Or maybe the receiver hasn’t checked his letter box in quite some time…?
A tour around the island
Efate has something other islands in Vanuatu don’t: A paved road that leads around the island. This means that it’s possible to drive around the whole island in a day – but how? Public transport is not an option since no bus drives around the island. Actually, it is possible to go by bus, but you’d have to charter one. Quite easy since most vehicles in Port Vila seem to be buses but it’s also quite costly. Renting a car is much cheaper but for every waterfall, beach, traditional dance, etc. you have to pay an entrance fee so the whole thing gets pretty expensive too.
The easiest and, seriously, cheapest option is to go on a tour. We chose Jo Ellen Tours, a small tour operator located in the yellow building close to the central market. All entrance fees, a kastom dance, and a wonderful lunch were included in the price; a real bargain.
The tour starts with visits to a (small) waterfall and the blue hole in Eton. They’re nice but unfortunately we visited on the wrong day: A huge cruise ship was in Port Vila and the places were crammed with people from the ship. Ask your tour operator to go on a day when there’s no cruise ship, it’s worth it.
The kastom dance, a traditional dance adapted for tourists, was fun and much better than expected. I thought I’d feel kind of weird watching these men, all dressed up in traditional costumes, dance, but not at all. It was great to watch and one of the boys was a real entertainer – we laughed so much!
On the north coast of Efate there’s a WWII museum. I expected a building or at least a small house with several rooms and labelled displays. But – we’re in Vanuatu. Things are different here. The museum resembles a roadside stall (because it’s a stall at the side of the road) and the owner is a fast-talking (too fast to understand) old man with a huge passion for his collection. He collects WWII artifacts he finds on the island, mainly Coca-Cola bottles or parts of them, and he does that with such enthusiasm that you can’t help but being impressed by his tiny collection. Oh, and he decorates the bottles with hibiscus flowers. Beautiful.
Lunch was picture perfect. Like a TV ad for holidays on an island in the south pacific (well, that’s where we are). A long table at the beach, a soft breeze, good food, and a band playing local music. It probably can’t get any better.