Joel’s spent the last few months scoping out the gems of Vanuatu to save the rest of us the trouble. Here’s his pick of one of Efate’s harder-to-find natural treasures, its jungle waterfalls…
- Cool off in three stunning tropical cascades on the island of Efate
- Find rope swings, jumping platforms, natural rock spas and caves underneath waterfalls
- Cliff-jump and snorkel nearby
Efate’s Elusive Jungle Waterfalls
Three things are required for formal accreditation as a bona-fide tropical paradise. White sand beaches. Coconut trees. And jungle waterfalls.
Vanuatu, a chain of 83 idyllic tropical islands to the east of Australia, has the first two in spades — however, the third takes a bit more sleuthing to discover.
Luckily, we’ve done the legwork to find Efate’s most refreshing jungle waterfalls where you can cool down and escape the bustle of Port Vila. So when it’s more humid than an orang-utan’s armpit and those white sand beaches are like a solarium turned up to crispy, seek out these shaded oases for a refreshing frolic.
Mele Cascades — The Pitstop Refresher
Just outside Port Vila, past Mele Village and the famous Beach Bar, the Mele Cascades are a cool, tropical sanctuary. A jungle path leads you alongside a series of tumbling falls and azure-blue pools — even on busy days, you’re sure to find a private spot in your own natural spa-bath as the light filters through the forest canopy above.
Keep walking, however, and you’ll find yourself under the crowning jewel of the Mele Cascades — a sheer, 50m waterfall tumbling off the high cliffs above.
Handrails and guide ropes allow you to clamber around the stone paths cut into the streaming water of the lower falls, but wear reef shoes — you’re sure to get wet, even if you’re not a swimmer. After you’ve refreshed your spirit, head down to the café for a refreshing beverage and a tasty pizza overlooking the river.
The Mele Cascades are the closest and most accessible waterfall to the main town of Port Vila, at about 15 minutes out of town. The local mini-bus drivers will drop you at the entrance for 300 vatu (about $3.50). There is a 2000 vatu ($22) fee at the entrance but for that price a local guide will accompany you to make sure you find the best spots and will point out the tropical fruits growing in the surrounding gardens — ask him to see the hilltop lookout, with a view over the coast to Hideaway Island.
It’s about a 20 minute walk from the entrance to the top waterfall and there’s toilets and change-rooms near the gate.
Lololima Falls — The Hidden Gem
Lololima is the hidden gem of Efate’s waterfalls — you’re likely to have this one all to yourself.
Tucked away in the bowl of a remote river valley, water pours out of a narrow chute before fanning out in countless streaming rivulets down a pillowy rock-slope. A couple of calm ponds for soaking lie at the bottom of the main falls, before the river again takes a tumble into the final deep pool and its attendant rope-swing.
You could spend most of a day here, discovering all its hidden treasures: the steps cut directly into the rock that allow you to climb straight up the middle of the main falls; the natural spa pools at the top which offer an infinity-edge to look over the lower falls; the shadowy limestone cave underneath the falls with its flowstone columns and stalactites; and the twisting canyon section in the river above that just oozes tropical serenity.
Lololima is a bit exclusive — on private property in the central part of Efate, you’ll have to get the guys from Vanuatu Ecotours to take you out here. But the upshot is that the numbers of people are limited, so it’s perfect for a romantic escape or when you just need some chill time away from Vila’s crowds.
Rarru Rentapao — The Natural Waterpark
If Lololima is the hidden gem, then Rarru Rentapao is Efate’s natural water-park. Manicured pathways, raised boardwalks and swimming platforms connect a series of tiered cascades and clear pools set in lush tropical gardens. The more adventurous can try one of the rope swings or leap from the high rocks and jumping platforms, while others may prefer to feed the fish or simply laze on the inner tubes in the jade forest pools. Kayaks are also available to explore the more secluded parts of the river.
Either way, make sure you swim across to the little cave under the main falls to sit on the ledge behind the rushing water. Local staff are on hand to show you the best spots, and even prepare some fresh fruit or roasted coconut, while the on-site bar stocks cold Tuskers.
Located on the Rentapao River near Teouma, 20 minutes’ drive from Port Vila, visitors usually access Rarru Rentapao by hiring their own car or as part of a tour, but you can also just negotiate with a mini-bus driver to hire their services for a full day (around 5000-8000 vatu). This is particularly cheap if you can find some friends to go along with you.
The Rentapao River is on the way to Blue Lagoon and Eton Beach, which can be combined to make an excellent day trip.
The entrance fee is 1000 vatu (around $12) and it’s an easy 10 minute walk from the entrance to the main cascade. If you want to spend a bit more time soaking in the tranquility of the river, Vanuatu Ecotours will put you in a kayak and guide you from the saltwater mangrove forests up the river to the cascades and back again.
- Swimming gear
- Reef shoes
- Waterproof camera
How To Get There
Efate is one of the main islands of Vanuatu, which lies on the eastern side of the Coral Sea. It is home to the nation’s capital city, Port Vila, and the international airport. But Vanuatu still feels relatively undiscovered compared to bustling tourist destinations like Bali and Fiji. There are regular flights from Sydney (3hrs) and Brisbane (2.5hrs).
The island is small — you can drive around the whole island, stopping at the main attractions, in a day — so you can base yourself in either Port Vila in the south, close to all the amenities and restaurants, or at a resort on the quieter northern side of the island, and still not miss anything the island has to offer.
Once your hands are pruney from soaking in the waterfalls, don’t miss the Blue Lagoon, feeding the baby turtles at The Reef Zoological park, catching a boat to the nearby Pele or Nguna Islands to spend a night in a local village, snorkelling at Eton Beach or Hideaway Island, or a trip to the produce and handicraft markets on the waterfront in Port Vila.
- Rope swings
- Clambering about in caves and canyons
Half-day trip from the nearby town of Port Vila
Cover photo and final photo by @aesthetics.of.adventure other photos by @henry_brydon