Less than four hour’s from Australia’s east coast by plane, Vanuatu is an unforgettable place of unspoiled ancient landscapes and an absolute paradise for families, writes Aleney de Winter.
While the swimming is sensational and the turquoise water is a snorkeller’s dream, there is so much more to discover in Vanuatu. For our little family the nation’s capital, Port Vila, on the island of Efate, proved to be picture perfect for an extended weekend getaway.
With so much to see and do and only a few days to explore, we found a round island tour was the best place to start. Our tour saw us swimming at beautiful Eton Beach, visiting secret snorkelling spots and villages, watching a fire walker braving the heat and even paddling up the Epule River in an outrigger canoe. This was a huge day of fun that saw us returning blissfully exhausted to our lagoonside accommodation.
Morning saw us wake refreshed and ready for a swim with the colourful fish right at our doorstep before a delicious tropical breakfast and time for more educational pursuits with a visit to a cultural village.
Vanuatu offers the perfect blend of sunshine, sand and smiles for a happy family break
After giving us time to recover from the heart-stopping welcome of spear wielding tribesman leaping noisily from the undergrowth, the village chief and his friends offered us a fascinating insight to the culture and traditions of the indigenous people of Vanuatu. While we listened to tales of the islands often brutal history, our son ran off to happily play with the local kids.
At Mele Cascades we took a guided walk through lush tropical jungle to the top of the stunning falls before enjoying a refreshing paddle in the natural waterholes. If you’re feeling less energetic it’s also worth simply relaxing in the gardens to watch the local children splash noisily about.
Much of our time in Port Vila was spent in town people-watching and doing as the locals do - enjoying life at a leisurely pace. The Ni-Vanuatu are a beautiful people - their strong sense of community and culture offers a spirit of friendliness that extends to visitors, and in particular to children. The Port Vila market, where the Ni-Vanuatu women gather daily in their brightly coloured smocks to sell fresh fruit and vegetables plus a fabulous array of jewellery, carvings and costumes was our top spot to meet and mingle with the lovely locals.
Port Vila has some great family-friendly resorts offering a full range of excursions and plenty of in-house kid-friendly activities to be enjoyed with the attentive and doting local resort staff. And there was plenty of time for mum and dad, as we found ourselves getting plenty of breaks over meals as they queued up for their turn to entertain our besotted toddler.
Vanuatu offers the perfect blend of sunshine, sand and smiles for a happy family break, and with so much still to see our next trip will definitely be a longer one.
• A visit to a cultural village like Ekasup is a great way to learn about the history and culture of the indigenous people of Vanuatu through demonstrations of local customs, traditional medicine, hunting and cooking plus extraordinary tales of the past.
• The Nambawan Cafe and Moonlight Cinema is located on the water in the heart of Port Vila. Sunday night is children’s film night and a great spot for a bite of pizza and open air movies.
• The Seahorse Ranch offers fun-filled kids camps that include riding lessons, trail rides, games, and even swimming with horses. There is even a Pony Baby Fun session for smaller kids (ages three and up).
• A cruise on Havannah Harbour on the timber sailing ketch Coongoola is a must. With plenty of stops to paddle and snorkel at secluded beaches plus a visit to a turtle conservation rookery, it’s a trip parents and kids will love.
• A Melanesian feast is something not to be missed. These massive banquets of traditional dishes coupled with spectacular displays of local custom dancing are a feast for both the eyes and the belly.
• Fifteen minutes from Port Vila is Hideaway Island - a fantastic spot for snorkelling right off the beach. It’s also home to the world’s only underwater post office where kids can snorkel to post one of the special waterproof postcards.
• Port Vila’s Secret Garden is a quirky place featuring acres of tropical botanical gardens with fruit bats, snakes and lizards and fascinating local customs and stories for kids.
• A day trip to Tanna Island’s Yasur Volcano will amaze. Nowhere else in the world can you stand on the very edge of a live volcano to see nature’s pyrotechnics in action. Older kids can ‘ashboard’ down its steep slopes on a volcanic surf tour.
• For those with more adventurous and older kids, a trip to Pentecost Island, about an hour from Port Vila is the birthplace of bungee-jumping where locals jump out of tall wooden towers tethered by the ankles. Definitely a spectator only sport.