Vanuatu. For so long we had dreamed about one day going to Vanuatu. It always seemed so far away, almost unreachable. From Europe, it really is a bit (no; much) too far to be considered a good destination for a two week holiday. From Australia or New Zealand however, it’s only a few hours flight away.
Traveling in Vanuatu
We knew Vanuatu was going to be a bit expensive, especially the internal flights. Nevertheless we wanted to visit as many islands as possible, at least five or six. Once we had a look at Air Vanuatu’s prices however (they’re fixed and you can find a price list online), the list got shortened to only three islands.
There are other carriers than Air Vanuatu but they’re not much cheaper and if you fly to the country with Air Vanuatu, they give you a 20% discount on all their internal flights. However, you only get the discount if you book directly at an office or at the airport.
The day we arrived in Port Vila there had been a fire in Air Vanuatu’s main office and the next day their computer system still wasn’t working. It was a Sunday and, as we found out, on Sundays the pacific islands practically shut down so we had no hopes of being able to book a flight that day. We tried again on Monday and look – everything was working again.
Our plan was to visit both Ambrym and Tanna. The next flight to Tanna was already booked out, as were many return flights. We could have spent just two days on Tanna in order to have enough time on Ambrym for the volcano hike since there are only a few flights a week to that island. Two days would have been enough time to visit Mt Yasur, the volcano on Tanna, but not enough to do anything else. And the price, even with the discount, was way too high. So our list was down to two islands: Ambrym (the reason why we came to Vanuatu in the first place), and, well, Efate.
Of course we do regret a bit that we didn’t go to Tanna. However, from what we’ve heard, I think we wouldn’t have enjoyed it very much. It seems to be way too touristy. After all, Mt Yasur is the most accessible volcano in the world and you can practically drive to the crater. Not fun.
Island hopping in Vanuatu sounds great in theory but in practice it’s not that easy. Flights are often booked out (no wonder with these tiny planes…), there are no daily flights to most places, and, considering the distance, the flights are very expensive. The ferries are cheaper – still not cheap, though – but they often run late, are very slow, and are probably not for the fussy traveler. If you don’t mind all that and have enough time on your hands, then the ferry might be an option. Another way to travel between islands is, of course, by boat. We’ve tried that one and we definitely do not recommend it. At all. Why? Read about the worst boat trip ever in the previous post.
Efate is the only island with a paved road that leads around the whole island. Most other islands don’t have paved roads at all. There, the only way to get around is either on foot or by 4WD. If walking is possible, then it’s a great option. You meet people, walk through villages and can get a feeling for the way of life of Ni-Vanuatu. Cars are very rare on the islands (fuel is incredibly expensive) and it’s perfectly normal to walk, even long distances.
Public transport only exists in cities. In Port Vila, there are dozens of buses (more than normal cars, it seems). They don’t have fixed routes or schedules, they just cruise around town and pick up passengers and drop them where they want to go. Basically, they’re like taxis, but way cheaper. On other islands, you have to charter a 4WD if you really need a car and that’s pretty expensive unless you can share with other people.
As it’s not easy nor cheap to get from island to island in Vanuatu, choose your destinations well and be prepared to be flexible. And do go to Ambrym, it’s really worth it!