Close and affordable, Vanuatu is a fantastic destination for families who love immersing in traditional culture. Discover five great Port Vila attractions for kids in this article
I’d been planning to visit Vanuatu for the Melanesian Arts & Culture Festival, which is held in a different country every four years, for what felt like forever. As it’s known as a family-friendly destination, I thought I’d take my five-year-old son along for the ride.
While I am blown away by the sight of elaborately dressed dancers from remote villages from across Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, West Papua, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and the Torres Strait Islands performing at the event, I soon come to realise that the kind of ‘touristy’ cultural experiences I would likely have scoffed at BC (Before Children) are all young kids really need.
Discovering traditional culture in Vanuatu
Ekasup Cultural Village
Oliver clutches my hand tightly as we make our way along the jungle path, following closely behind a young, bearded man carrying a large conch shell. Dressed in a long grass skirt with a cluster of brown and white feathers in his hair, he blows the shell repeatedly to alert the villagers of our impending arrival. Suddenly there is a rustle in the bushes behind us, followed by the noise of a man crying out aggressively. We turn to see a warrior following us menacingly. Oliver squeals and scurries ahead, as I giggle at the theatrics. Soon we come to a gate where we are greeted by three men who must decide whether we are friend or foe. Thankfully, we pass the test, and one of them slowly removes a palm tree leaf, allowing us to enter.
It’s fair to say that arriving at Ekasup Cultural Village in Vanuatu had not been what I’d expected, and I’m impressed with the flamboyant welcome. The attraction, just a few kilometres from the capital Port Vila on the island of Efate, provides a fun introduction into traditional culture and history. As the chief leads us through the recreated village, he explains how societies work and shows us how bones and shells are used as fishing hooks, how to make arrows and spears, and delights Oliver with demonstrations of traps designed to catch wild pigs and chickens.
Independence Day at Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu
Our visit coincides with Independence Day, which is celebrated with great gusto at Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu. The day begins with a flag raising ceremony, with staff members joined by their children to sing the national anthem. Afterwards, they place weaved crowns on our heads, and a little boy hands Oliver a Vanuatu flag, which he keeps to take home for show and tell at pre-school.
A special Melanesian lunch is also held on the day, with engrossing cultural performances. We are both transfixed by the dexterity and precision of dancers from Penama Province, who hop in and out of clapping bamboo poles in a movement that is reminiscent of schoolyard hopscotch. The Resort also hosts a weekly Melanesian night with traditional music, which ends up being a rollicking good time, with parents and grandparents up dancing with local kids wearing grass skirts. My heart melts when I see an older boy take Oliver’s hand and lead him around in circles as they do the limbo, crawling underneath the pole at the end. Seeing the fun is he having is my favourite moment of our week-long holiday.
We soon get to know other families at the Resort who we encounter by the large pool each afternoon, and the kids look forward to playing together at the water park and the kids’ club, which is basically a room full of toys, puzzles, books and board games (aka Oliver heaven), with a small playground conveniently located near reception.Reserve your stay at Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu!
Melanesian Feast and Fire Show at Erakor Island Resort
The weekly Melanesian Feast and Fire Show at Erakor Island Resort is also a great opportunity to experience traditional culture, even if you aren’t staying there. While Oliver oscillates between grumbles of “It’s a bit boring” and cries of “That was a really cool trick!” and longingly eyes the nearby Robinson Crusoe-esque playground throughout the performance, there are some parts of the show — like the finale fireworks — that get a big thumbs up. “That fire nearly went to the moon!” he exclaims when a firebreather shoots flames high in the air. The experience feels more intimate and enjoyable than similar shows I’ve seen in at other South Pacific resorts.
The Resort is just a short boat ride across Erakor Lagoon, which is a bit of a novelty for kids. Oliver becomes obsessed with the starfish that can be seen in the shallows, counting them from our table the deck at mealtimes. “That one has the most spikes,” he says as he points to one below. The 49-room Resort oozes island vibes, with signs warning of falling coconuts, a pool with a slide, and an activities desk in a thatched roof hut where you can book tours throughout the island.
Eden on the River
One day we embark on a trip to Eden on the River, which proves to be a magical place around 30 minutes’ drive south of Port Vila. While Oliver refuses to don a harness to tackle the series of suspension bridges over the river, he surprises me with his eagerness to slide down a natural rock waterslide into the cool emerald-green water in an inflatable tube. One of the staff, Kasu, helps us navigate our way to the kid-friendly rock pools a little further down the river, even picking Oliver up and carrying him on her shoulders over the mossy rocks. The attraction also has a mini golf course with obstacles built from volcanic rocks and tree trunk tunnels, and a playground made mostly out of car tyres.
After a barbecue lunch, Oliver feeds the resident lambs, and we take a kava tour around the farm. Our guide shows us how the traditional drink, made from the root of a kava plant, is prepared differently in different parts of the country. “That looks like slime!” Oliver cries when he sees the finished product, much to my embarrassment.
Reef Explorer tour with Watersports Port Vila
Another day, we enjoy a semi-submersible boat tour with Watersports Port Vila from Port Vila to Iririki Island, in Vila Bay. “Maybe we’ll see a whale!” Oliver says optimistically as we board the 12-passenger Reef Endeavour. While cetaceans remain elusive, we do see zebrafish, parrotfish, sea cucumbers and at least half a dozen clownfish. Towards the end of the one-hour tour, we are offered the chance to feed the fish, which quickly swarm the boat. “That one’s got the hiccups!” Oliver says, pointing.
Visting Vanuatu With Kids
Like many other South Pacific holiday destinations — especially post-COVID — some of the facilities in Vanuatu are a tad rundown, and repairs are still underway after the nation was hit by twin cyclones in March 2023. But holidaying in Vanuatu is substantially more affordable than many other places offering similar experiences, and it needs our tourism dollars more than ever.
Things here also happen on island time. While it can be frustrating at times, it’s best to be patient, go with the flow and remind yourself it’s all part of the South Pacific’s charm.
Family-Friendly Restaurants in Port Vila, Vanuatu
Located on the seafront at Port Vila, Nambawan Café is a great option for a casual bite, offering a ‘Rugrats’ menu and free WiFi for customers. Nearby Rossi Restaurant has a small plastic playground which is a winner with the littlies. The Beach Bar Vanuatu at Mele Bay is a wonderful place to watch the sunset as the kids play with local children on the calm, sandy beach, with a free circus show on Sunday nights. Reefers Restaurant & Rum Bar, overlooking the water at Port Vila, is a lovely spot to take in the view, with great food.