An archipelago of over 80 islands that stretch 1300 km, Vanuatu offers the perfect combination of rugged, rarely explored islands and refined luxury. Adventure seekers are drawn to these shores for the diving and snorkelling, the volcanoes to climb (and ash boarding back down), kayaking, fishing and bushwalking to name a few, while world class accommodation offers the opportunity to bliss out drinking mai tais in your eco resort after long days of play.
The islands of Efate, Tanna and Esperitu Santo offer the most refined tourist experiences, there are plenty of wonders to be discovered further afield on the islands of Pentecost, Ambrym and Banks, to name a few.
Enjoy the spectacle of an erupting volcano from your treehouse resort, spend your nights sailing by the stars in a traditional Vaka canoe, scuba dive one of the world’s most accessible wrecks the SS Coolidge or the treasure trove of military hardware in Million Dollar Point. Join us for a fascinating cultural festivals celebrating cargo cults and land diving. Vanuatu is the actualisation of your South Pacific fantasy.
While many similarities bind the people of Vanuatu together, due to vast expanses of ocean between islands and varying levels of exposure to the outside world, diversity of culture can be found across the widespread archipelago. One consistency you’ll find is the openness and friendliness of the Vanuatu people who want to share their way of life with you. Here are a selection of a few of Oceania Expeditions favourite Vanuatu cultural experiences.
Tanna is rich in immersive cultural experiences, sure to leave you spellbound. Tanna’s famed Kastom Village offers a true glimpse into the distant past. Locals in Lowinio Village have steadfastly rejected the trappings of modern civilisation and live according to kastom (customs), lores and traditions of their ancestors. A visit to Lowinio gives you a first hand look into their subsistence lifestyle and the daily life of the tribe. A movie about the villagers at Lowinio called Tanna, was recently nominated as one of the best foreign language films at the 2017 Oscars.
Another cultural wonder on offer in Tanna is the opportunity to experience the power of black magic. For the tribes here, black magic and sorcery are still an integral part of their belief system and sorcerers are both feared and revered members of the community. Your guides will show you kava roots still in the ground and explain the process of extraction and preparation of the intoxicating traditional drink, with the opportunity to try some for yourself.
John Frum – A Cargo Cult
For the past 70 years on a beautiful pacific island, practices of one of the world’s strangest cargo cults have formed a part of daily life. Oceania Expeditions invites you to experience all the wonderful colour, ceremony and strangeness of the movement’s parade and celebration at the annual John Frum Day
The origins of the John Frum Movement are still a contentious issue. Some say a man named Manehevi started moving amongst the people of Tanna, prophesying the white colonists would soon leave the island and abandon their wealth and riches to the people, but for this to happen Tannese people needed to turn their back on all European customs including money. Others suggest John Frum was a kava induced spirit, the manifestation of Keparermun, the ancestral volcano God of Mount Tukosmera. These seeds coalesced with the arrival of American troops during WWII who brought with them magnitudes of material wealth and wielded magic in the way of automobiles, aeroplanes, guns and canned foods. Many believe John Frum to have originated from a soldier introducing himself as ‘John from America’. On February 15th each year, followers in the cult of John Frum assemble in the village parade ground. With U.S.A painted across their chests, they march performing a hybrid of customary dance with quasi military routines, complete with wooden guns. Others build life size aeroplanes out of grass in the hope of enticing their God to return. This astonishing display is not to be missed and Oceania Expeditions has you in the front row as your 10 day 9 night adventure through Vanuatu, centred on the John Frum celebrations.
The Nagol Land Divers
Pentecost Island is ruggedly beautiful and boasts dozens of stunning waterfalls, authentic custom villages, caves and picturesque beaches. It’s also home to the Nagol, probably the most spectacular and dangerous cultural ritual held anywhere in the south Pacific. A huge wooden tower almost 30m high is erected on the side of a mountain between the months of April and July and the men of the surrounding villages take turns leaping off with only vines tied to their ankles. Just before they hit the ground the vines stretch tight and they are pulled backwards, escaping certain death. The land diving is accompanied by singing, dancing, feasting and celebrations.
According to the Guinness World Records, the g-forces experienced by these divers are the greatest experienced in the non-industrialized world by humans. AJ Hacket, New Zealand adventurer and thrill seeker, is said to have invented the modern version of bungy jumping based on his experiences at the Nagol ceremony. The land diving ceremony lasts all afternoon and culminates in the bravest men jumping off the highest platform of the tower.
The main drawcard for divers venturing to Vanuatu is the SS President Coolidge Wreck. This 22,200 tonne luxury passenger liner was commandeered as a WW2 troop ship that was torpedoed and sunk on her stern side. The Coolidge is an easily accessible shore dive off the coast Esperitu Santo, and is a truly unique diver’s playground. One of the most famous dives is to see “The Lady”, a stunning ceramic figure in the first-class dining room.
Dive the Doctor’s office, the Captain’s bathroom, and the galley full of crockery. At night, dive to the Cargo Holds where the flashlight fish will mesmerise you with their flashing light show. The wreck is a captivating mix of luxury passenger liner and military equipment not found anywhere else. Other dives are at Million Dollar Point where the US Army disposed of the entirety of its military equipment at the end of WW2. The ocean floor here is littered with tanks, bulldozers, cranes, forklifts and trucks.
The island of Tanna, home of the ever-erupting volcano Mount Yasur. The mountain is a sacred area for the John Frum cargo cult, whose members revere John Frum, a deified messenger who foretold the bringing of wealth to the island by American forces during WW2 (they believe he resides inside Mount Yasur).
The adventure starts with you boarding a scenic flight to Tanna, taking in almost the entire island chain of Vanuatu along the way. On arrival you make your way to one of the local accommodation houses where you have lunch before being picked up by 4WD and driven to the base of the volcano in the afternoon. Hike up to the crater rim, where you stay until dusk and watch the lava fireworks.
After lunch at the resort, head across the island to visit the amazing natural spectacle of Mount Yasur. Accessible only by 4WD the drive to the volcano takes in many stark and beautiful sites. Crossing the SIWI ash plain its easy to image your on the moon rather than a tropical island! A ten-minute hike has you at the rim of the crater where you can feel the awesome power of earth’s fiery belly. Enjoy the constantly changing colours and patterns of the sky as the sun sets, then delight in the spectacle as molten lava glows and shoot up into the night sky.
The Bay of Islands consists of a beautiful protected lagoon surrounded by a mini-archipelago of islands near Turtle Bay on the east coast of Espiritu Santo. It is the premier sea kayaking destination on Santo and is home to turtles, dugongs and colourful fringing reef.
Paddle your kayak from Turtle Bay up to the Matevulu Crystal River. As the thick jungle vegetation closes in on all sides, the water becomes noticeably clearer until it turns a stunning blue and you reach the Matevulu Blue Hole, a huge natural limestone spring and swimming hole that is a radiant turquoise blue. Swing off the giant banyan tree and play in this magical place before kayaking back down the river and returning to Turtle Bay for lunch.
Vunaspef Village is located in the mountains of south Santo, and is the base camp for the famous Millennium Caves. Reaching up to 60m from where you stand, and 4km long, traversing the caves are an absolute highlight for adventurous explorers in the Santo region. The authentic way to prepare for the caves is to spend a night in a nearby village, engaging with the traditions associated with entering this impressive environment. You’ll be painted with red mud for safe return, according to local beliefs – then the play begins, an action-packed trek involving caving, hiking, bouldering, swimming and climbing through some of the most stunning scenery on earth. Extend your stay to two nights with the villagers, not only taking on Millennium caves but also trekking to giant bamboo forests, remote rivers and magnificent blue swimming pools. As guests of the village and the chief you will enjoy a traditional kava ceremony followed by a lap lap feast for dinner (food wrapped in leaves and baked in an earth oven), followed by singing/dancing and story-telling.
Oceania Expeditions accommodate guests in only the finest resorts in Vanuatu. Here are two of our favourite places to stay.
Ratua is a Private Island with timeless charm and Balinese inspired styling, transport you to a world of your own. Each Villa has its own private beach, the day spa is like a floating room over the turquoise waters of Ratua, you can dine in the Yacht club, relax over a movie in the charismatic cinema, or partake in any one of their activities like swimming with horses, deep sea fishing, heading out to the Blue Lagoon, there’s more than just relaxing on offer if you choose. Ratua is classy, private, romantic and our pick of the country. As a not-for-profit resort, Ratua directs a share of its profits to the ‘One Bag per Child’ initiative, which delivers school bags with stationary and books in it, to local children.
The adults/ couples only Havannah is the only 5 Star resort in Vanuatu, and easily the most polished accommodation in the country. The villas enjoy sweeping views across the shimmering turquoise waters to the neighbouring islands. Divide your time between basking on the sun deck which extends out over the ocean, and cooling off in your private, seven metre, infinity-edge pool, and indulge your senses in an outdoor bathtub. Choose to order room service or have our chef cook a private BBQ for you. You’d never have to leave the privacy of your villa. This is the ultimate in secluded luxury. Please note that all villas accommodate a maximum of two adults only.