Vanuatu, a veritable family-friendly vacation destination – so much to see and do in one small area of the world. Comprising about 82 islands and a hotspot of water activities, there is one thing for certain, you won’t ever be bored.
Vanuatu is part of the Australasian eco-zone and is a popular tourist destination for Australians and New Zealanders. The climate is tropical, with about nine months of warm to hot rainy weather and three months of cooler, drier weather. Hiking, water activities, bird watching, swimming – it’s all here waiting for you.
Due to the tropical nature of the islands, staple foods include yam, taro, banana, coconut, sugarcane, nuts, pigs, fowl, seafood and greens. The traditional dish of Vanuatu is called lap-lap, a pudding type dish, eaten alongside fruit or fish. Some like it; some don’t but you will never know unless you try.
Efate is Vanuatu’s main island, home to the international airport and where Port Vila, the island’s capital, is located. Because of this, it is a major hub of activity. Efate has a lot to offer due to its varied landscape – from the coastline to the countryside, the bays to the lagoons – in reality Efate is the ideal island to start your Vanuatu vacation.
Fun fact: Efate Island was actually christened Sandwich Island by Captain James Cook.
Epi Island is known in particular for its sandy coves, colourful coral reefs and beaches and for this reason the locals are scattered around the coastal areas. Rainforests cover much of the inland areas although there are lakes where you can do a spot of fishing, swimming or bird watching. Coconut plantations are also very abundant in this area due to its fertile nature.
Fun fact: Swimming with sea cows (the local Bondas) is an option on Epi Island.
Tanna Island will give your family much variety in terms of activities including swimming in underwater caves and snorkelling around coral reefs. Mount Yasur, one of the island’s most popular attractions, invites tourists who are volcano curious and wish to walk to the crater rim. You can also experience the traditional culture by visiting local villages and partaking in custom ceremonies.
Fun fact: The island was first discovered by Captain Cook in 1774 who gave the name of his ship to the bay he anchored in – the “Resolution”.
Espiritu Santo Island
Known as the Island of hidden treasures, Espiritu Santo is in fact the largest of the islands of Vanuatu. Diving, snorkelling, lazing on the white sandy beaches, swimming, visiting local villages, fishing, kayaking and more await. And for nature lovers, how about visiting Millennium Cave to view the bat formations huddling inside? Or if hiking is more your thing, Vatthe Conservation area is renowned for its amazing flora and fauna providing great spots for bird watching and forest walks.
Fun fact: “SS President Coolidge” is the largest wreck in the world accessible to divers from shore and is truly an historical moment suspended in time.
Pentecost and Maewo Island
Pentecost Island has developed quite a name for itself for the ritualised land diving known as Nagol every Saturday from April through to June. Nagol sees young boys and men jumping from a tower attached to a vine tied to their legs. The ceremony celebrates yam harvesting and acts as a fertility rite for the men involved. Maewo Island, while extremely mountainous, introduces river and waterfall tours, cultural tours and bird watching trips. It is the wettest of all the islands but also provides the most beautiful waterfalls. Black sand beaches cover the coastal area and this island is still very much steeped in traditions and local customs.
Fun fact: The weekly ritual of Nagol influenced the invention of bungee jumping by New Zealander A.J. Hackett.
Malekula and Ambrym Island
Malekula Island is the second largest in size and is still unique in its customs and tradition. The history of cannibalism is a feature of the island and you can also enjoy watching the local and colourful dances. Hiking and bird watching are favourite pastimes of the island. Neighbouring islands are easily accessible for their beaches, snorkelling and diving. Ambrym Island is also home to tradition and culture – including the Rom Dance and its carvings. Active twin volcanoes are also accessible by guided trek if you wish.
Fun fact: Most of the tours supplied on these islands are eco and cultural oriented.
Banks and Torres Island
Banks and Torres Island are Vanuatu’s northern islands and consist of a number of islands; Vanua Lava being the largest of them all. Active volcanoes appear on Gaua and Vanua Lava although reefs, rivers, beaches, waterfalls and rainforests are also in abundance. Just watch out for crocodiles off Vanua Lava! Or if you fancy a bit of rock climbing, Ra might be your best bet.
Fun fact: The Torres Island is named after Captain Luis Vaez de Torres and the Banks Island after botanist Joseph Banks.
Vanuatu truly has it all. Whether you wish to amble around the streets, enjoy the café scene, visit the volcanoes, visit the local villages or explore the islets – it’s all possible.
Kelly Winder is the creator of BellyBelly.com.au, a doula, writer and mother to three awesome children. Currently she's travelling the world for 12 months with her partner and three children, and hopes to inspire more families to do the same.