Port Vila, Vanuatu
Vanuatu is an island nation located in the southern Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is approximately 1,090 miles (about 1,750 kilometres) east of northern Australia, approximately 310 miles (about 500 kilometres) northeast of New Caledonia, west of Fiji and southeast of the Solomon Islands, near New Guinea. Located on Mélé Bay along the southwest coast of Éfaté, Port Vila is the capital and largest city of Vanuatu, as well as its commercial and economic centre. Although Port Vila's British and French influences are apparent, its multinational population includes ni-Vanuatu, British, French, Chinese, and Vietnamese citizens. An active commercial port, the city is home to hospitals, hotels, casinos, markets and shopping districts, a sports stadium, cultural centre, teacher-training institution, campus of the University of the South Pacific, and several meat- and fish-processing plants. The municipality of Port Vila is divided into four wards, Malapoa-Tagabe, Anabrou-Melcofe-Tassiriki, Centre and South.
The area occupied by Port Vila has been inhabited by Melanesian people for thousands of years. In 2004, an archaeological expedition unearthed a burial site with 25 tombs, skeletons and pieces of ceramic pottery dating from 1300 B.C. The Vanuatu Islands first had contact with Europeans in 1606 with the arrival of Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós. Europeans did not return until 1768, when Louis Antoine de Bougainville rediscovered the islands. In 1774, Captain Cook called the islands the 'New Hebrides', a name that would last until their independence in 1980. In 1825, sandalwood was discovered on the island of Erromango, prompting a rush of immigrants that included Catholic and Protestant missionaries from European and North America, as well as settlers looking for land to farm cotton, coffee, cocoa, bananas, and coconuts. British subjects from Australia made up the majority of settlers, but the establishment of the Caledonian Company of the New Hebrides in 1882 attracted more French subjects. The land around Port Vila was converted into the municipality of Franceville in 1889. By the start of the 20th century, the French outnumbered the British, and the two nations agreed to govern the islands jointly by way of the British-French Condominium. During World War II, Port Vila was an American and Australian airbase. The New Hebrides National Party was established in the early-1970s. Renamed Vanua'aku Pati in 1974, the party pushed for independence. In 1980, amidst the brief Coconut War, the Republic of Vanuatu was created.
The economies of Port Vila and Vanuatu are supported by the agriculture, offshore financial services and cattle industries. However, the abundant tropical beauty of Vanuatu has made Port Vila a popular tourist destination for outdoor and nature enthusiasts alike. Renowned for its tropical climate and exquisite, white-sand beaches and world-class fishing, the archipelago is a region of spectacular geographic diversity that includes spectacular volcanoes, mountains and valleys, along with idyllic jungles, rainforests, botanical gardens, mineral springs, and waterfalls. What's more, Port Vila offers easy access to exploring the city, Vanuatu and the offshore islands that comprise this wonderful South Pacific island chain.
Port Vila consists of a diverse blend of Melanesian, Eastern and Western cultures that presents a unique opportunity to discover the people, traditions and history of Vanuatu. Cultural village tours are a fantastic way to meet the locals and experience indigenous lifestyles and customs through storytelling, music, dance, kava-tasting, and a traditional Melanesian feast. The evolution of Port Vila and Vanuatu can be explored during visits to the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and Museum features a collection of historical artefacts from the Vanuatu Island. Additional historic landmarks include Independence Park, the French and British residencies, Supreme Court, Georges Pompidou Building, World War I and II memorials, Tanna Coffee-Roasting Factory, and more.
Vanuatu's verdant canyons, jungle-covered mountain peaks, volcanoes, waterfalls, botanical gardens, mineral springs, white-sand beaches, and rainforests invite a wide array of picturesque, memorable and exciting sightseeing venues for outdoor enthusiasts. Land-based excursions include bird-watching, bicycling and motor-biking, eco-tours, hiking through jungle and rainforest nature trails, horseback-riding at the nearby Sea Horse Ranch or Club Hippique Adventure Park, helicopter or seaplane flight-seeing, dune-bugging the beaches and jungles, 'zorbing' down the hillsides, abseiling down a cascading waterfall, volcano trekking and sandboarding, zip-lining through the jungle canopy, and golfing at the stunningly beautiful Port Vila Golf and Country Club, the only 18-hole championship course in Vanuatu and home to the PGA-sanctioned Vanuatu Open. Picturesque and fun-filled water-based excursions include swimming, boating and sailing along the exquisite coast of Port Vila and Vanuatu, deep-sea fishing for enormous dolphin, marlin, wahoo, dorado, tuna, swordfish, and sailfish, jet-skiing and high-speed jet-boating, stand-up paddle-boarding, surfing, kite-surfing, and parasailing. The archipelago also offers some of the world's finest snorkelling and diving at venues such as the Hideaway Islands Marine Reserves, JoJo Beach Club, Havannah Beach and Boat Club, and Iririki Island.
Due to its compact size, Port Vila can be easily explored in just a single day.
Going Ashore in Port Vila
The ship is scheduled to dock at the Port Vila Pier, a 1.86-mile (three-kilometre) drive from the town centre. Taxis are available at the pier. Please make sure to establish a price before starting any journey.
Shopping opportunities abound in Port Vila, and include local and international clothing, handbags, shoes, t-shirts, and beachwear, artwork, prints and designs, jewellery, handicrafts, ankle rattles, shell or bead necklaces, carvings, carved bowls, baskets, mats, masks, headdresses, and souvenirs. Port Vila features everything from high-class, duty-free shops to souvenir shops and boutiques. Popular shopping destinations here include Mama's Handicraft Market for hand-sewn and painted dresses and sarongs, the Nambawan Market & Café for wholesome snacks, ice cream, fresh-squeezed juices, and a large range of handicrafts, sports and outdoor equipment at the Tour Shop. Health-related items and cosmetics made from tamanu nuts can be found at Tanua Vanuatu, oil paintings, prints and glassware at the Diana Tam Gallery, books at Stop Press, and local and imported food, beer and wine at Au Bon Marché. Unframed and framed souvenir prints and artwork are available at Philippe Metois Photography, perfume, cosmetics, jewellery (including South Sea pearls) and fine porcelain at Proud's, and wooden carvings and handicrafts at L'atelier. Hand-painted clothes, wooden bags and mats are offered at the Hebrida Market Place, and souvenirs and gifts at La Cave du Gourmet. The island is also dotted with little roadside stalls selling local produce, eggs, seashells and old World War II memorabilia. Most markets are open daily, except Sunday. The local currency is the Vatu; U.S. Dollars are also accepted.
Port Vila is renowned for its French, British, Australian, Chinese, Korean, Melanesian, Polynesian, Ni Vanuatu, Thai, Japanese, Indian, American, Italian, and International cuisine. Local specialities include kava, taro, yams, coconuts, manioc roots, lap lap, tulak and nems, along with coconut crab, local seafood, organic beef, fine wine, and tropical fruit. Popular local restaurants include the Flaming Bull Steakhouse, Le Café du Village, Tilly's, Sea View, Roxy's on the Lagoon, La Pizzeria, L'Houstelet, Kanpai Bar & Sushi, El Gecko, Waterfront Bar & Grill, Wild Pig, Harbour View, Paradise Cove, Stone Grill, Elan, Tamanu on the Beach, Ripples, le Jardin des Saveurs, Le Cafe du Village, Aquana Beach Resort, Bungalow: Ate, Au Fare, Beach Bar, Eratap Beach Resort, Au Peche Mignon, Chill, Jill's Café, Officer's, Nambawan Café, Emily's Café and Takeaway, Mangoes Resort, Beach House Bar & Café, Kanpai, Kesorn's Exotic Thai, Island Time Café Takeaway, Crystal's, Vila Chaumieres, Spice Indian, and Aqua on Erakor.
Beyond spectacular views of coral reefs and tropical fish from its seawall, Port Vila offers magnificent views of Iririki and Ifira islands from its harbour, and across to Malapoa Point. Numerous hassle-free, fixed-price boutiques and shops abound on Main Street, and more than 40 restaurants serving the finest international fare make your visit to the city centre a truly satisfying gourmet experience. You can also take a moonlit stroll along the streets or waterfront, stop by a local pub or try your luck at the casinos.
Located approximately 6.2 miles (10 kilometres) from Port Vila, the Mele Cascades Waterfall at Mele Bay is one of the finest and most unique attractions on the island of Efate. A swimsuit under a cover-up, towel and reef shoes are suggested, as there are water-crossings and you will get wet. A waterproof camera is also recommended for the best pictures. Walk up to the falls on cleared pathways through the jungle along series of rock pools with crystal-clear aquamarine water, and step under the 115-foot (35-kilometre) waterfalls for a natural massage. Security personnel posted at the bottom of the falls and before the water crossing are on-hand to look after your belongings, have a first-aid kit and offer assistance with taking pictures. Restrooms, changing rooms, a café and picnic facilities can be found at the bottom near bar. WiFi is available onsite.
Ekasup Cultural Village
At the Ekasup Cultural Village, Futuna islanders talk about and demonstrate their traditional lifestyle at their kastom village. This stunning cultural experience features original local music, colourful costumes and kastom dancing shows. Feast nights include shells of kava, fun-filled entertainment and interesting food.
Wet 'n Wild Zorbing
Experience one of the longest, wildest, most exciting 'zorb' rides anywhere in the world. Brace yourself for the most unique experience of your life; rolling down the picturesque Mele Hills inside a giant, 8.2-foot (2.5-metre) inflatable hydro ball.
Summit Gardens Vanuatu
The largest tropical gardens in the South Pacific, the Summit Gardens feature 11 named gardens spread over 14.8 acres (six hectares). All are distinctly different, and unfolding as you follow the meandering pathways and steps. At approximately 656 feet (200 metres) above sea level, the Escarpment Garden offers breath-taking views over Mele Bay. Within the gardens is the Essential Oils Distillery, which offer an opportunity to observe how oils from sandalwood, Tahitian lime, mandarin, tangelo, ginger, etc. grown at the Summit are extracted, and where the health and beauty products, soaps and candles sold at the Health & Body Shop are made.
Islands of Vanuatu
The Islands of Vanuatu are surrounded by colourful coral reefs, deserted beaches and sparkling, crystal-clear, blue waters. The beaches and islands of Vanuatu are all unique, and each offers something different. Included are quiet lagoons where dugongs wallow, black volcanic sands, white-sand beaches, blue holes for snorkelling, waves for surfing, deep water for diving amongst shipwrecks, and impressive deep-sea boating and fishing.
Hideaway Island Marine Reserve
Nestled on a private coral island just a short boat-ride from Port Vila on Efate's southern coast, the beautiful Hideaway Island Resort features magnificent snorkelling amongst amazing coral, colourful tropical fish and marine life, large clownfish colonies, an onsite PADI dive centre, glass-bottom boat tours with fish-feeding, private bungalows, a coarse-sand beach, swimming, sunbathing, a bar, restaurant, umbrellas, and sun chairs. You can also mail a postcard in the underwater post box.
Underwater Post Office
Located on Hideaway Island, the world's only underwater post office lets you buy a waterproof postcard on land, fill it out and dive into the ocean to mail it. Diving experience is not required.
Michoutouchkine & Pilioko Foundation Art Gallery
Named after its two resident artists, Nicolai Michoutouchkine and Aloi Pilioko, this oceanic art gallery and artists' studio is amazing and wildly exotic, with Pacific bric-a-brac and artefacts, including ornate carvings and masks by the master craftsmen of southern Malekula.
Open round-the-clock from early-Monday through noon on Saturday, the bustling, colourful Vila Market features fruit and vegetables, including coconuts, pawpaws, hughe grapefruit, wild raspberries, mangoes, and passionfruit, along with flowers, firewood, jewellery, woodcarvings, and souvenirs offered by ni-Van women wearing colourful Mother Hubbard dresses. The ladies also cook interesting meals such as herb-coated fish with rice, whilst you watch.
JoJo Beach Club
The JoJo Beach Club offers a romantic escape in a stunning location near Port Vila. Highlights include a couples' massage in the pavilion by the reef, bottle of champagne, snorkelling the coral reef, double-kayaks, Jacuzzi, afternoon tea, private beach areas, pool, lounges, and your own private butler for the afternoon.
Havannah Beach and Boat Club
Located at Havannah Harbour 30 minutes from Port Vila, the Havannah Beach and Boat Club features beachfront powered campsites, gas barbecues, showers and restrooms, snorkelling, beach volleyball, boule, bush-walking, rock-fishing, and marina berths with power and water swing moorings, restrooms and showers.
Accessible day-or-night via a short ferry-ride from Port Vila's waterfront (next to the Grand Hotel and Casino), this green, bungalow-laden island in the Port Vila Harbour is ideal for dinner (try Melanesian Night on Tuesdays), swimming in the pool or at the beach, snorkelling, kayaking, and lovely views of Vila, especially at sunset.
This large playing field with a lovely old grandstand is where the British-French Condominium was proclaimed in 1906, with the ceremonial raising of the British and French flags. For years, daily checks ensured that the Union Jack was flying at the same height as the Tricolour, so neither was upstaged.
Located on the northern side of Independence Park, the French Residency, a white building with a faded red roof, is now the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Located on the eastern side of Independence Park, the British Residency, a large, wooden building, is now the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Located higher up the hill from the World War I Memorial, this grand pink building is the former Joint Court of the Condominium.
Sacré Coeur Cathedral
Located on the main street of the French Quarter is the modernistic Roman Catholic Sacré Coeur Cathedral.
Porte du Ciel
A charming little Vietnamese Roman Catholic church, the Porte du Ciel was designed to be semi-circular in its cross-section.
Georges Pompidou Building
The Georges Pompidou Building is a former French hospital that currently houses several government departments.
Port Vila Waterfront
A pleasant path and grassy area follows the harbour wall behind the busy Lini Highway. Waterfront highlights include splendid panoramic views of harbour activities and moored yachts, a children's playground, seating, and the Nambawan Market & Café.
Located in Port Vila, the World War I and World War II memorials are important monument to those who fought and died in both wars, and offer lovely views of the French Quarter.
Located on Avenue du General de Gaulle, Lookout Point offers splendid vistas overlooking the French Quarter.
Eden on the River
Located 10.5 miles (17 kilometres) from Port Vila, Eden on the River is a must-see sustainable eco-experience that is educational, enjoyable and suitable for the entire family. The property is owned by Joe and Carolyn Ernst, long-time residents of this tropical paradise. This 44.4-acre (18-hectare) property boasts stunning tropical gardens, a small 'Animal Farm' park, numerous exotic fruit trees, and a commercial free-range chicken and pig farm.
Rainbow Botanic Gardens
The Rainbow Botanic Gardens is a peaceful venue with reflective water features, and features wheelchair-accessible pathways that make it safe and easy to walk around the multiple gardens. This protected area is home to numerous bird, butterfly and other species in their natural habitat. Also included are the largest collection of heliconia and gingers in the South Pacific, as well as a captivating array of palms, orchids, anthuriums and tropical plants.
The secluded, beautiful Blue Hole is located just a 35-minute drive south of Eton Beach, just off Efate Ring Road. The Blue Hole has crystal-clear blue water, and is a great way to cool off on a hot, humid day.
Annual Events and Festivals
Melanasian, French and British cultures combine to create the most varied offering of annual events and festivals in Vanuatu. Highlights include the Fete de la Music at the Aliance Francaise, Easter Challenge Fishing Competition, Vanuatu Ocean Swim in June, Vanuatu Golf Open in August, Maewo Special Cultural Festival in September, Kiwanis Horse Race, two-day Adventure Race, Rom Dance, Nagol Festival, Fanla Arts Festival, Pankumo Festival of Circumcision, and local and international acts performing at the Napuan Music Festival in October.
Vanuatu Cultural Centre
Located at Saralana Park in front of the National Parliament and near the National Library and Malvatumauri (Vanuatu National Council of Chiefs), the Vanuatu Cultural Centre is the hub of the island's cultural, historical and artistic life. It houses the National Museum, which specializes in exhibits relating to the culture and history of this group of islands in the South Pacific, National Library, Young People and Women's Project, and a section devoted to contemporary art and music. The Vanuatu Cultural Centre also hosts the National Audiovisual Archives, an updated list of all historical and archaeological sites on the islands, and field research work being conducted by national and international teams of researchers.
Located in a splendid building at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, the National Museum specializes in exhibits relating to the culture and history of the Vanuatu Islands in the South Pacific. Highlights include a large and well-displayed selection of traditional artefacts such as tamtam (slit-gongs or slit-drums), a massive outrigger canoe, ceremonial headdresses, and examples of Lapita and Wusi pottery. There are also photographic displays and videos on traditional ceremonies and legends. Past temporary exhibitions have included the Silver Jubilee Collection and sculptures by Emmanuel Watt, the first local artist to have an international touring exhibition.
Located in the Vanuatu Cultural Centre in Port Vila, the National Library of Vanuatu contains about 15,000 books, and serves as a national repository for rare and special material, and a lending library. Established in 2004, the library possesses two special collections, one devoted to Vanuatu and the other to other parts of the Pacific. It displays about 500 rare items about Vanuatu, primarily a collection of rare books. Rarities and special items include anthropological and archaeological materials, art and art references, autobiographical records and biographies, a large section of works on the languages of Vanuatu, mission histories, oral traditions, cultural, historical and political records, journals, newspapers, and periodicals.
Tanna Coffee-Roasting Factory
Discover Vanuatu's very own 'Taste of Paradise', and experience a culture that has supported Vanuatu's farmers for over 150 years at the Tanna Coffee-Roasting Factory. During your coffee plantation visit, observe the coffee-production process from the tree to the cup, then sample 100% Arabica coffee served with locally-made cakes.
Hot Mineral Springs
Hot mineral springs are renowned in the South Pacific for their relaxing and therapeutic properties. Hidden away in northeast Efate is a natural thermal pool belonging to a local Ni Vanuatu family. Do not be put off by the 'rotten egg' smell of the sulphur; your skin and muscles will surely benefit from the experience. Guests are advised to wear old bathers, as the sulphur is hard on clothing.
Vanuatu lies squarely on top of the Pacific Ring of Fire and has nine active volcanoes; seven on land and two beneath the sea. The most famous and popular is Mt. Yasur, on Tanna Island, due to the easy access to its summit. Standing at the mouth of the crater is an incredible experience. Feel the rumbling earth beneath your feet, hear the whiz of volcanic rock flying through the air and feel the heat from the explosion of fire before you. A tour at sunset or night is the most impressive; the air becomes really cold and windy, and a black, starlit sky makes the lava seems even more vivid. Other volcanoes include Mt. Garet, on Gaua Island, and those found on the islands of Ambae, Ambrym and Lopevi.
Vanuatu day spas have a reputation around the Pacific for their high quality and affordable prices. Many of the top resorts and hotels have their own day spas, but other private day spas offering a wide array of spa treatments abound on the island. Popular Vanuatu day spa locations include the Arom'essence Day Spa Port Vila, Body & Soul Day Spa Vanuatu, Breakas Beach Resort Spa, Essence of Erakor Day Spa, Oasis Spa, Spa Frangipani, and Volcanic Earth Spa.
There are so many wonderful things to see and do in Vanuatu, and guided tours can be the best way to experience the rich history, culture and natural wonders of this vastly beautiful land to its fullest. Family-friendly excursions providing lasting memories include Blue Cave Tours, Dog's Head Walk. Enkahi Discovery Tours, Evergreen Tours, Hone Vaghal Small Nambas Tour at Vao, Malekula Hiking Trail, Manbush Trail Tour, Mangaliliu Nature Walk, Maskelyne Eco-Adventure Canoeing, Millennium Cave Tours, Mount Hope Waterfall Tours, Santo Heritage Tours, Tanna Island Tours, Vanuatu Summit, and Ambrym Trekking.
Port Vila and Vanuatu offer a superb array of outdoor activities. Included are bird-watching, bicycling and motor-biking, eco-tours, hiking through jungle and rainforest nature trails, horseback-riding at the nearby Sea Horse Ranch or Club Hippique Adventure Park, helicopter or seaplane flight-seeing, dune-bugging the beaches and jungles, 'zorbing' down the hillsides, abseiling down a cascading waterfall, volcano trekking and sandboarding, zip-lining through the jungle canopy, and golfing at the stunningly beautiful Port Vila Golf and Country Club, the only 18-hole championship course in Vanuatu and home to the PGA-sanctioned Vanuatu Open. Scenic and exciting water-based excursions include swimming, boating and sailing along the exquisite coast of Port Vila and Vanuatu, deep-sea fishing for enormous dolphin, marlin, wahoo, dorado, tuna, swordfish, and sailfish, jet-skiing and high-speed jet-boating, stand-up paddle-boarding, surfing, kite-surfing, parasailing, and more. The archipelago also offers some of the world's finest snorkelling and diving at venues such as the Hideaway Islands Marine Reserves, JoJo Beach Club, Havannah Beach and Boat Club, and Iririki Island.
Private arrangements for independent sightseeing may be requested through the Shore Concierge Office on board the ship.