Vanuatu: Off the beaten track
Vanuatu is one of the most spectacular island countries and has so much more than just luxurious resorts.
Vanuatu is perhaps one of the most popular island destinations for Australians and New Zealanders. The archipelago’s untouched reefs, empty beaches, tropical climate and a wide range of resorts are just a four-hour plane trip from Brisbane.
But to make the most of this stunning gem amongst the sprawling Pacific, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu’s largest island, must not be missed. Santo is a 4,000 square-kilometre playground for tourists, complete with refreshing blue holes, crystal-clear beaches, historic remnants of WWII, ancient caves, coral reefs and an abundance of aquatic wildlife. Although Vanuatu’s high humidity and stifling temperatures will make you want to do nothing more than lounge about with a favourite book in hand, visiting Santo’s underrated attractions is the only way to make the most of this island paradise.
From world-renowned diving locations to hiking hotspots, we’ve got you covered to ensure your next trip to Espiritu Santo is one you will not forget.
Once you step onto the powdery, glistening sands of Champagne Beach, the mystery of its name will immediately become clear: at low tide, as each wave meets the sand, the water fizzes as fresh water rises to meet saltwater, causing it to bubble like fine champagne. The world-famous beach is frequently visited by cruise ships, meaning there is a slight chance you may be sharing the beach with a crowd of Aussies. However, Champagne Beach generally remains a secluded paradise where local children play, cattle wander and Ni-Van women sell sarongs in a makeshift market just near the pearlescent sand. Just next door is Lonnoc Beach, a beach just as peaceful and picturesque as its neighbour, while both shores offer views of the mountainous Elephant Island. Champagne Beach can be accessed via dirt road or boat and is a one and a half hour drive from Santo-Pekoa International Airport.
The Millennium Cave lies in Santo’s mountainous inland region, just 45 minutes from Luganville. A short walk from the Cave is the small village of Vunaspef, where the Millennium Cave tour begins. This spectacular journey will last around five hours and will test your senses and your body’s capabilities, with vertical climbs, canyoning, a trek through a pitch-black, kilometre-long cave, and river swims. The Millennium Cave tour is hazardous at times; however, a tour guide is matched with each group and provides safety equipment. Traversing the Millennium Cave is truly an experience that will not be forgotten – the cave is a natural, untouched wonder of Vanuatu and the experience offers a rare glimpse of the country’s local culture and majestic natural elements.
Where: Vunaspef Village, Espiritu Santo
Cost: 7,000 vatu or $83 per person
More info here
NANDA, RIRI & MATEVULU BLUE HOLES
Espiritu Santo’s blue holes are the most cherished of places for local Ni-Van’s. Blue holes are truly a reminder of our natural history, as they are formed by gradual weathering and erosion which allows fresh water to rise to the surface. The blue holes’ limestone-rich cavern allows a deep blue colour, while the fresh water makes swimming in these blue holes a surprisingly cooling experience. The Nanda, Matevulu and Riri Blue Holes all lay within minutes of each other and are a perfect place to stop for a quick swim while exploring Santo’s luscious coastline. To gain entry to any of these picturesque blue holes, a small fee must be paid, which directly goes to the local village to improve local infrastructure and improve the Ni-Van’s quality of life.
Nanda, Riri and Matevulu Blue Holes
Where: East Coast Road, Natawa, Sanma Province, Espiritu Santo
Cost: 500 vatu ($5) per person (includes a complimentary drinking coconut)
More on Santo’s blue holes here
For those looking for something a little more luxurious, Ratua is a small, private paradise protected by the surrounding Aore and Malo islands and is just a 20-minute boat ride from Luganville. Ratua Private Island Resort is the pinnacle of tropical bliss: secluded villas, fine-dining just centimetres from the water and colonial-inspired bars and communal areas make Ratua a truly unique gem of Vanuatu. The resort offers horse riding, crab hunting, turtle watching, fishing, petanque, kayaking, snorkelling, swimming with horses and so much more. Despite its colonial and Balinese style, Ratua stays true to the local culture of Vanuatu and channels all profits to the Ratua Foundation which helps local children receive a proper education by providing them with books, water, and electricity.
Where: Ratua Island, Sanma Province, Espiritu Santo
Cost: $465 per night
More info here
DIVING: PRESIDENT COOLIDGE AND MILLION DOLLAR POINT
For diving enthusiasts, Espiritu Santo is the ultimate destination. Among many others, Espiritu Santo is home to one of the most celebrated dive wrecks in the world: the SS President Coolidge. Just off Million Dollar Point, the Coolidge is perched upon coral reef after it was damaged by mines in 1942 and is home to an abundance of sea life such as barracuda, lionfish and sea turtles. The Coolidge has been named one of the top ten wreck diving sites in the world by The Times newspaper and sits in relatively shallow water for such a large ship.
For those not so keen on tackling a ship, just metres from the Coolidge lies a maze of abandoned American vehicles, boats, trailers and debris at the appropriately-named Million Dollar Point. The WWII memorabilia was dumped in the late 1940’s after a deal to sell the used goods to Vanuatu locals fell through. Today, aquatic wildlife has made this abandoned mess their home and vibrant coral now covers the historic wrecks.
Where: Canal Road, Palikoulo, Sanma Province, Espiritu Santo
More info on the Coolidge here
(Featured Image: Ratua Private Island Resort)