Last year we went on a lifechanging adventure to Vanuatu’s Outer Islands. Everyone’s got a post-pandemic bucket list – here’s why we reckon Vanuatu should be at the top of yours!

Stay up to date with all the latest travel restrictions and COVID safety requirements at vanuatu.travel. You can register your interest in travelling to Vanuatu by following Vanuatu Tourism on Facebook – this is where they’ll announce the latest on border openings.

Dreaming About Vanuatu

If you’re anything like me, your passport is probably sitting in a drawer somewhere beating like that old Jumanji board. It’s interesting how travel restrictions increase our desire to do it. Ahhh, the ol’ we-always-want-what-we-can’t-have thing.

The great news is, we have plenty of time to curl up in bed with a notebook and dig into rigorous adventure planning. We don’t know when the borders will open again, but it’s likely that our nearby Pacific neighbours will be first.

If you’re looking for adventure we promise you that Vanuatu is one of the most underrated adventure destinations in the world. A mere two hour flight from Brisbane, and only three hours from Sydney, it’ll scratch that travel itch and quell that thumping passport. 

We answered the call of Vanuatu last year, and now we can’t stop telling everyone why this nation of islands needs to be the next destination on your list. 

It’s important to support our neighbouring islands, particularly off the back of a global pandemic. Our neighbouring economies need tourism more than ever, and it just so happens that this support looks like dining, hiking, relaxing and exploring in utter paradise. Time to get planning!

The Islands of Vanuatu

We’ve compiled all the important information about each island, so if you already know where you want to go, skip ahead using the menu below. If you’re reading this thinking ‘I don’t really know anything about Vanuatu but the photos look sick!’ then read this bad boy from top to bottom.

 

Efate & Surrounding Islands

Santo & Surrounding Islands

Tanna

Outer Islands

The Banks (Gaua & Rah)

Malekula

Ambrym

Pentecost

Maewo

Efate & Surrounding Islands

With less than 300 ni-Vanuatu living on Moso, 220 on Pele, 500 on Lelepa and under 1500 on Nguna, these tiny islands surround the Havannah Harbour will greet you like a warm embrace. 

Each island has a special something to offer, even beyond the world-class tropical waters full of fish and bright corals (make sure you pack your snorkelling gear!). 

On Moso, you’ll find the Tassiriki community which serves as a base to preserve endangered turtle species in the archipelago. 

On Nguna and Pele islands, you’ll find 16 communities committed to preserving marine and terrestrial enclosures. Nguna is also home to an extinct volcano – a necessary addition on the itinerary for any keen and fit traveller. If you’re interested in a full-day tour, Vanuatu Ecotours offers the half-day hike and afternoon snorkel, which works with local communities to conserve their reefs and forests. 

And finally, on Lelepa, you’ll find Fels Cave, which has a rich 3000 year history, rock drawings and even graffiti from travellers dating back to 1874!

 

Pele Island hike

Where To Stay?

There are so many bungalows available across these islands, from the Bella Bungalow on Efate, the Nakie Women’s Guesthouse on Nguna, to the Serety Bungalow on Pele. 

The bungalow experience gives you a unique insight into village life, and allows you to live nestled in local villages. While you shouldn’t expect any of the modern luxuries from home, what you can expect is incredible hospitality and a commitment to ensuring your experience in Vanuatu is as memorable as possible.

Back to Eden, located in north west Efate, is owned by Aussie locals Alan and Bronnie Prisk, and is a perfect place to set up camp if you’re looking for a little taste of home on your trip. Head over to the restaurant if you’re nearby, or book in for a few nights at one of their bungalows on the water.

Santo & Surrounding Islands

Looking for caves, blue holes and diving hot spots? Santo and the surrounding islands offer it all to the water-loving adventurer.

The full-day journey to Millenium Cave is a real highlight on Santo, involving trekking, caving, canyoning and swimming. This made it onto our itinerary when we visited Vanuatu in 2018. It’s a moderate to difficult experience, so make sure you read up before you book! 

Into diving? Cindy’s Reef, Million Dollar Point, SS President Coolidge (a luxury liner with rooms for over 1000 people!) and the USS Tucker Wreck are diving musts if you’re out this way.

And let us not forget the Blue Holes – the whimsical pools hidden in tropical rainforests across the archipelago, perfect for swimming, floating and dreaming. Our favourite is the offshore blue hole located near Malo, so add that to your list.

Where To Stay?

When you think of flying out to a tropical island paradise, you don’t often think of camping. However, you’re reading We Are Explorers, and we’re all about that stuff, so we’re throwing some beach camping into the mix.

You can bring your own tent to this Harbour Beach camping spot, or rent one on Port Orly Beach. The great thing about this location isn’t just the beach, but the fact you’re pitching right next to a restaurant which dishes up fresh Melanesian-style meals day and night. 

Santo is the island of treehouses, so you can’t go past Port Orly Treehouse or Mahogany Treehouse (modern hot solar shower here!) when you’re visiting. Traditional-style bungalows set high in the treetops overlooking the Pacific Ocean, need we say more? 

Tanna

The volcanoes and ash plains on Tanna Island (and many of Vanuatu’s other islands) are unlike anything you’ve seen before. Sweeping landscapes of ash with rugged volcanic rocks jutting out like white caps on oceans. 

Mount Yasur, an active and respectably young volcano (only 100,000 years old) is accessible by car, all the way to the rim.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can tag this volcano on the end of a three-day hiking trip with Vanuatu EcoTours. While you’re there, make sure you get amongst the ash boarding fun. We assure you, it’s as insane as it looks!

Another island, another pool of blue water to sink your body into. You can swim into Blue Cave or catch a boat, but either way, the magic of this place is sure to enthrall you. If water’s your vibe, the Nazareth Twin Waterfall is also a must see. 

Tanna is most famous for the Yakel Custom Village Tour, which gives you the opportunity to walk through a traditional village and listen to stories about the history of the tribe. You’ll also be able to buy handicraft goods directly from the makers themselves. Check out the Tanna website to maximise your cultural experience on Tanna Island.

 

Joel Johnsson blue cave tanna vanuatu Henry Brydon ocean cave

Blue Cave – Tanna

Where To Stay?

Tanna offers a number of treehouses across the island – the Jungle Oasis (perfect if Mt Yasur is on the itinerary – it’s a short walk away!), the Eco-venture Bungalow and Treehouse (complete with hot spring!) and more.

 

Eco-venture Treehouse – Tanna

Outer Islands

The remote outer islands of Vanuatu are so often overlooked that rarely do visitors get to experience the spirit of these places.

Gaua and Rah, Malekula, Ambrym, Pentecost, and Maewo are a short plane ride from Santo and Efate, and most offer a couple of flights to and from the islands during the week. These are much smaller aircrafts than what you’re probably used to (often only sitting 8-10 people!) so pre-booking is encouraged. You can do this via the call centres

 

An Insider's Guide to Gaua, photos by Ben Savage and Ain Raadik, Ruby Claire, Vanuatu, island, plane view, window seat, ocean, reef, coastline

Flying into Gaua

 

These outer islands, with their grassy runways, limited access to electricity, and small tribes rich in culture, do not have taxis.

Don’t expect to stick out your thumb when you climb out of the plane – instead expect a school of children gathering close by. Your plane likely disrupted their soccer game (the runway serves as a playing field too). Make sure to pre-arrange a pickup through your accommodation host.

We explored the outer islands in 2019 and had the honour of visiting places that often don’t see more than 50-100 tourists each year. If you’re looking for an authentic experience, make these outer islands a key part of your itinerary.

The Banks – Gaua & Rah

The Banks Islands are in the far north of the island chain. 

Gaua was one of our favourite islands, largely due to the fact it has both Siri Waterfall, the highest waterfall in the country (120m), and an active volcano to climb. 

 

An Insider's Guide to Gaua, photos by Joel Johnson, Ruby Claire, Vanuatu, island, Siri Waterfall, rainforest, ferns, plants, green, lush

Siri Waterfall – Gaua

 

The hike up Mt Garat is quite the climb, and involves a rigger canoe ride out to the base. You’re in good hands with the locals from Victor’s Camp, which is where you’ll set up shop should you choose to stay for the evening (it’s a yes from us). 

Located on the river, underneath a banyan tree and overlooking the volcano, there’s no better way to experience this part of the island. At the top of Mt Garat you’ll be treated to sweeping vistas of surrounding islands, hovering out there on the big blue. On your hike out, you’ll swing by Siri Waterfall, before making your way back to town. 

 

An Insider's Guide to Gaua, photos by Ben Savage and Ain Raadik, Ruby Claire, Mt Garet, volcano, island, Vanuatu, steam, ocean

Mt Garet – Gaua

If you’re keen for more volcano goodness check out Rah Rocks on the northern side of Rah Island. Another one of the Banks Islands, it has huge volcanic rocks that have been flung from the depths of a neighbouring volcano hundreds and thousands of years ago. 

 

Rah Rocks – Rah

 

Now the rocks are covered by a large banyan tree, with caves hidden beneath offering an epic three-hour hike. To get here you need to jump on a small plane to the island of Mota Lava, where you’ll need to jump on a tinnie and likely the back of ute. Getting here is a mission, if you choose to accept.

Where To Stay?

If you’re heading out to Rah Island, you won’t regret staying at the Rah Paradise Beach Bungalow. These guys were the first tourism operators on the island 20 years ago, so you can rest assured knowing they’ll keep you well-fed and comfortable.

 

The Best Places to Stay in the Outer Islands of Vanuatu, photos by Ben Savage and Ain Raadik, Ruby Claire, Gaua, Weul Bungalow, hammock, reading, book, woman, palm trees, garden

Weul Bungalow – Gaua


If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, don’t go past Chez Maureen Bungalows. With running showers (equipped with hot water), food cooked by Maureen herself (she was trained at the famous French Bakery) and plug-in-the-wall electricity, this is the perfect place to recharge your body and your gadgets after some time off-grid.

Chez Maureen is located right near Gaua airport as well, making it incredibly easy to get to.

Malekula

Malekula was the first island on our itinerary in 2019, and introduced us to the outer island ni-Vanuatu culture first hand. There are over 30 languages spoken on this small island of 25,000 residents. Each tribe has its own language, and its own kastom practice. 

The Big Nambas and Small Nambas are differentiated by the type of penis sheath they use in their cultural dress. Donning flowers and spears and instruments, these cultural shows will give you a unique insight into Malekula life.

You can’t go past Losinwei Waterfall if you’re looking for a tranquil place to swim and some rock platforms to jump from. It’s an easy walk with light undulations, so it’s nice and accessible if you don’t want to push the whole exercise-thing too hard. 

 

Losinwei Waterfall – Malekula

 

For those who are looking for a more solid trek, the Dog Head Trail (a coast-to-coast traverse in Northern Malekula) and the Manbush Trail (a 4-day trail through rugged, jungle-clad mountains) are right up your alley. 

If you’re after snorkelling close to Malekula, then hop on over to Uri Marine Park or the Maskelyne Islands. The colours and textures of these underwater worlds will have you kicking your flippers in excitement.

Where To Stay?

The Batis Seaside Guesthouse is our accommodation pick in the Maskelyne Islands, a short boat ride from Malekula. It’s easiest to access by flying into Lamap Airport in the southeast of the island. Right on the waterfront, this guesthouse is ideal for families or budget-conscious travellers looking for a community experience. You’ve got diverse marine life in front of you, a cushion of welcoming hosts around you, and a kava bar behind. What more could you want?

 

The Best Places to Stay in the Outer Islands of Vanuatu, photos by Ben Savage and Ain Raadik, Ruby Claire, Maskelyns islands Batis Seaside Bungalow, woman, ocean, accommodation, hut, water

Batis Seaside Bungalow – Maskelyn Islands

 

Another waterfront option is the ‘private’ island bungalows of Nan Wat Bungalows – there are only two bungalows on this tiny island offering the opportunity to rest after some epic hiking on Malekula.

Ambrym

Let us assure you, you’ve never seen ash plains and volcanic craters like the ones expanding across Ambrym Island. Benbow Volcano was once famous for its bubbling lava lake, but after the eruption in December 2018, the lake is no more.

Don’t let this deter you though – the 20km, two day round-trip to the rim of this majestic feat of nature will not disappoint. 

While you’re on Ambrym, take a short boat trip to Ranon at the north of the island, to experience the sacred Fanla Rom Dance and Black Magic Tour. The ‘Rom’, or ‘masked’ dance, is known for its detailed masks, elaborate costumes and lively music. 

Performed by special sorcerers, this dance gives you a unique insight into the magic that’s stitched into the hands of local men. No two cultural shows across the island are alike, so don’t think that just because you’ve done one, you’ve done them all. Check out our guide to maximising your cultural experience in Vanuatu.

Where To Stay?

The Ranon Beach Bungalow is our pick for accommodation on Ambrym Island. Located right on the black sand beach, made from local materials, this traditional-style off-grid accommodation will have you up close and personal with turtles, dugongs and dolphins.

Pentecost

If you’ve ever thought ‘Why the heck would anyone ever bungee jump?’ allow us to introduce you to where it all started. Pentecost Island, Vanuatu. 

As kastom story goes, after quarrelling with her husband, a woman climbs to the top of a nearby banyan tree to escape him. She secretly ties a vine around her ankle so that when her husband climbs up after her, she can launch herself out of the tree and scare him. 

However, as women wear skirts, jumping off tall structures would leave them naked, so the activity is now only practiced by men as a rite of passage. In fact, it’s considered bad luck for women to go near the tower. 

If you want to see this act of courage, you can watch men plummet to the ground from hand-built towers 30m high on Pentecost Island every Saturday from April to June. If you’re planning on heading to Vanuatu around that time, make sure you chuck land diving on the itinerary! 2021 dates are confirmed – check out timings here.

 

Land diving – Pentecost

 

While you’re there, head out on the Waterfall and Reil Cave Tour. Wade through glimmering blue pools under a sea of bats before cooling off beneath a waterfall. Can’t argue with that combination.

Where To Stay?

If you’re sticking to the west coast, Noda Guesthouse is a must (it has access to a generator if you need to charge your cameras!). If you’re on the south of the island, we recommend Panlike Guesthouse, which is close to two local stores if you need to stock up on goodies.

Maewo

Maewo was one of our favourite islands. There’s something about the people and ruggedness of the island that captured our hearts in a really surprising way.

Maewo is known as ‘waterfall island’, a name it certainly lives up to. After flying onto the grassy runway and taking a small boat up the coastline, you can see the waterfalls tumbling from the tropical rainforests at great craggy heights. En route you can squeeze into the Maewo Moon Cave and go for a swim in that deep Vanuatu blue. 

 

10 Things You Need To Know When Travelling Vanuatu's Outer Islands, Ruby Claire, photos by Ain Raadik and Ben Savage, swim, dive, ocean, sunlight, woman, cave, Maewo - Moon Cave

Moon Cave – Maewo

Naone Waterfall, just a short drive from the airport, involves a flat walk through farmland before entering lush rainforest and an oasis of waterfalls. Meander up and down the river, stumble across plunge pools and tiered waterfalls and spend the day basking in the sun. A literal heaven on earth.

 

Naone Waterfall – Maewo

Where To Stay?

Taking the boat up the coastline to Mule Guesthouse was one of our favourite experiences. Sitting on the bow, sea spray slapping our legs, waterfalls to the left, the great big blue to the right. Mule Guesthouse is right at the tip of the island, and you’ll be greeted by generous hosts with open arms. 

Now you’ve got a lay of the islands, it’s time to start building your itinerary. Before you do, we pulled together a list of things you need to know before you go. Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing with you everything we love about Vanuatu, so keep your eyes peeled for all the insights and start dreaming about your first overseas trip!

Until then, follow Vanuatu Islands on Instagram and Facebook for all your dreamy island content.

 

Volcano hike – Ambrym

 

Photos by @henry_brydon, @ben.savage, @ainraadik, @aesthetics.of.adventure and David Kirkland.