22 August 2017 | Vanuatu
Jane warm and sunny
Before sailing to Vanuatu from Fiji we spent about a week in Musket Cove. It was a great place to chill out, catch up with friends and set up Ta-b’s “for sale” website. Really looking forward to returning there when Amy and Luke come to visit, and also to enjoy their famous Regatta in the middle of September.
We went to Vuda Point to check out. Whilst there we had a couple of very entertaining evenings with fellow cruising friends before provisioning and setting sail. It was an excellent four-day sail, with our parasail “big red” out for a far amount of the trip, always a bonus.
Vanuatu is an archipelago consisting of 83 beautiful islands, over 300 nautical miles, and spaced within easy day sails. Having gained independence in 1980 Vanuatu is a developing as a holiday destination for tourists. The friendliness of the people and the abundance of cultural diversity boasting coral seas, tropical islands, abundant marine life, volcanoes and rainforests offer something for everyone. Snorkeling, scuba diving and game fishing are very popular. It has a colourful history has been voted twice as the“World’s happiest Place” in the Lonely Planet’s Happy index.
Thankfully there are very few big resorts and these are on the main islands of Santo or Efate. Visiting cruisers are fortunate to be able to access the more remote islands, each unique with their own dialects, traditions, culture and rhythm, with Kava, like Fiji, being drunk at the end of the day. We were always welcomed with open arms into the local life that is still simple and uncomplicated. As there are currently no large charter companies we felt like we had the place to ourselves. The people always have huge smiles and the laughing children “pikininis” are delightful with their open warmth and inquisitiveness.
The local language is Bislama, like pigeon English although each island, like Fiji, has their own dialect. It is impossible to understand when they speak, but lots of words understandable like “Yu wantem tok tok Bislama?” Tankyu Tumas (Thank you so much).
We sailed into Luganville on Santo and took a mooring as suggested opposite at the Aore Resort. What a lovely location, great snorkeling, wonderful ambience and we splashed out and had a few meals out at their terrific restaurant.
While there we also managed to organise a dive on the famous SS President Coolidge with Allan Powers. He knows the Coolidge well; apparently he has spent a year on her with over 25,000 dives. There were all kinds of memorabilia in his home and the boat has a fascinating history. The Americans got too close to their mines coming back into harbour and managed to hit one, luckily the Captain was able to beach the ship and all, apart from 2 of the crew, were saved. Lots of wrecks from WW2 in and around Vanuatu, there was a plane by our boat, but sadly only in pieces around the reefs. There is a site nearby called Million Dollar point where the Americans threw all their unwanted “stuff” into the water after the war rather than give it to the islanders for nothing. Interesting place, but what a waste we felt.
We moved on after getting happily stuck for a little longer than planned the weather being a bit of a factor as always. The trades are southeast, but the guide we had advised that it was possible to go from the north to the south if you followed their route. It worked for us and saved us many miles of sailing and meant that we were able to visit some of the outer, more remote, islands.
We had an interesting sail to Ambae Island, fast and bumpy for the first half and then when we got into the lee of the island flat and we had to motor sail. From there we went down to Pentecote. We had to motor sail most of the way, but it was a good trip and we enjoyed the few days we had in Londot. Sadly the land diving towers had fallen down; which was a disappointment, but the village was delightful. Pentecote is known for its land diving, where the bungy diving idea originated. The young men from April-June climb, up to 30 meters, up a tower made of branches (as you get better you go higher) and then they jump off with only vines tied to their ankles. One man we met had been doing it since he was five, but once he got married stopped. We asked him if anyone ever died, he said "yes, my brother died doing it in 2010" one had to wonder whether that was when he decided to stop.
We had a great sail to Ambryn and were going to stay at the hot springs anchorage, but when we got there the flies chased us out and we ended up in Craig Cove. What a lovely place, made even more perfect when we met Victoria and Elsie who came to our boat in their dug out. They were 13-year-old cousins and wanted to chat. We found out that one of their fathers was the local baker so ordered some bread; which they delivered warm early the next morning. What a treat. He must make quite a good living, as his home was the best in the village. We are talking about a shack, but there were five of them, including one with his oven and one for stores. Victoria gave us buk choy and paw paw and I emptied the boat of more clothes and anything else I could find that the girls may like.
Then it was off again to the Maskelyne Islands and another excellent sail. The anchorage off Lokienuen felt crowded with three other boats as we had anchorages to ourselves most of the time cruising the islands. In the Maskelyne Islands there are three wonderfully friendly villages totaling approx.300 people. In Lutes where we anchored the large school dominates the village. There are around three hundred students and ten teachers, with a lot of children coming from nearby islands with some boarding.
June to August are busy months for festivals in Vanuatu, with the renowned land diving in Pentecost from April to June. Some friends of ours went to the famous ROM festival in July held in Ambrym. It sounded a bit gory with male teenagers coming into manhood by clubbing pigs to death, however the masks and dancing sounded fantastic. Ambrym also have a Yam and Magic Festival in the same month. Sadly we just missed the Arts and Crafts festival at Port Sandwich, but while in Lupe we were invited to the men’s nassara up in the bush behind the village. They performed the Smol Nambas Dance; which involved over a dozen fit young men from the village dressed in traditional nambas, or penis sheath, with Navake nut pods strapped to their ankles. Their dancing tells traditional stories of village life and can only be performed by men who have ceremonially killed a pig. Local females are definitely not allowed to see the dance performed – I wonder why ☺. A tamtam was beaten for timing and as the men stamp their feet the seedpods on around their ankles rattle. The performance was very moving and rhythmical. Lets hope that the young men continue to learn these traditions so that they are not lost forever.
We were there on a Sunday and so I went to church with some friends. First time I have been to church where it was held outside, everyone wearing his or her finest (the women in their Mother Hubbard dresses of bright colours). One of the locals had recently died and we became the guests of honour, at the wake/feast they put on after, it was quite the experience. We got to meet the “Translator family” who have lived on the island for 20 years, they are in the process of translating the bible into the local dialect – what a job. Sadly I did not take my camera so have no pictures.
We also visited the Giant Clam Sanctuary; which the local Chief and Headmaster established in 1991 after noticing that the clam population was disappearing. We were most impressed that this was instigated without foreign or government backing. The locals made a small manmade island; which is only accessible at high tide and is surrounded by the sanctuary. A local took us out in an outrigger and guided us snorkeling around the shallow waters where over a thousand Giant Clams of different species live happily together. They are up to a meter across in a large variety of colours. Sadly I did see a couple of Crown of Thorns Starfish; which are eating out coral reefs right across the South & North Pacific oceans, from the Cook Islands to the Great Barrier Reef. In Vanuatu they are working hard on killing these Starfish naturally for the marine life to eat to protect their reefs.
We felt we had hit the big smoke when we got to Port Vila the main city of Vanuatu on Efate. There were a lot of cruisers there, some who we had not seen since crossing the Pacific so it was good to catch up and share “tall tales” together. Some friends who we had not seen since Marmaris now live permanently on the island, like a lot of New Zealanders, and it was great to get to know the island from a locals perspective.
We wanted to visit Mount Yasur on Tanna. The volcano there has been erupting nearly continuously for the past 800 years and the glow from the strombolian eruptions is what apparently attracted Captain JamesCook to these shores in 1774, earning this fiery volcano the name of the “Lighthouse of the Pacific”. It is one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world and was very much on my bucket list. Only downfall for sailing into Tanna is the fine layer of fine ash that apparently falls continuously onto the boat. A small price to pay I would think, however with the weather sailing down was not going to be possible, so we booked an overnight tour from Efate instead. We though it would be great to fly in a small six seater plane over the volcano before visiting it at sunset and having the luxury of a night on land., the tour had been recommended by various friends. Sadly however the tour was canceled at the last minute and we were unable to book another before we had to leave due to lack of numbers. No problem said our friends, you will have to come back to Vanuatu and stay with us and do another day. What a wonderful thing to look forward to in a few years time.
Time to move onto New Caledonia for a few weeks before returning to Fiji, will update blog next month, but until then, stay happy and healthy. Carpe Diem