In many ways, Vanuatu is like stepping into the land that time forgot. Here, everything is on island time, and that forces you to wind down…fast!
Still quite underdeveloped but also unspoilt, this is not a foodie’s paradise, but it is most certainly a paradise for the nature lover.
Lush green landscapes, brilliant blue waters and natural attractions combine with the most temperate climate and sweet natured people to make this a wonderful place to recharge.
Staying in a resort means you will have fabulous amenities, friendly service and most definitely a great sea view, as we did at Iririki Island resort. There will be fabulous cocktails by the pool, and glorious sunsets but you will be stuck with the limited offerings of resort food.
As usual, we longed to find a local experience that would give us a taste of traditional food.
Islander food is simple fare, usually chicken, beef or fish, served with rice, taro, manioc or sweet potato, and salad, maybe with a subtle sauce.
Le Marche de Port Vila is a central gathering of family run market stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as market kitchens set up by local cooks, happy to share their particular speciality. Walk around and have a close look at what everyone is eating before you make your choice then take a seat at one of the picnic tables and wait for your meal to be served up. It’s a cheap and filling fresh feed of home style cooking that will hit the spot.
In the centre of the market, there are ‘take away’ meals served on banana leaves, including the local tuluk – a parcel of tapioca dough filled with shredded pork and vegetables and cooked in banana leaves – kind of like a large steamed dumpling and strangely satisfying when you just want a snack. Wash it all down with a local lime juice drink!
The touch of French influence is apparent here, with restaurants like L’Houstalet and Villa Chaumiere serving traditional French dishes, with some local specialties like flying fox and coconut crab (an endangered species that is not always available).
We did have coconut crab and lobster at L’Houstalet, a restaurant that proudly promotes its 40 year history on the island, but is definitely stuck in a time warp, with a decor that feels like the 70s. It’s a bit daggy, and not cheap but still draws the customers in for its famous dishes.
Also originally a French restaurant, Au Faré, a traditional style hut by the water, has bizarrely turned into the best place in town for a pretty good wood fired pizza. The pizzas emerge from a pizza oven in the shape of a turtle – only in Vanuatu – and the hotch potch menu also offers steak Tatar, carpaccio, pasta, big salads, steaks and coconut prawns which is a sign that they are trying to please everybody from the locals, to vacationers and the cruise ship visitors that blow into town for a quickie. It’s a good place for a casual dinner and a beer or cocktail by the waterfront.
Cocktails on the beach at dusk is a must do in Vanuatu and the Banyon Beach Bar will fulfil your every cocktail wish, with a serve of Sunset.
An overnight visit to see the Mt Yasur volcano on Tanna Island had us staying at the brand new boutique Rockwater eco-resort. It’s worth a mention for the amazing setting. Inspired by the volcanic rock and coral of the island, the whole resort has been designed using natural materials and the open air restaurant retains sand as its floor. They serve a simple but suitable dinner menu for the traveller and a delightful tropical continental breakfast with an unbeatable view. The Rock Suite villas are constructed around the existing volcanic rock, with pebbled floors and the feeling that you are staying in a cave. They overlook the landscaped gardens and the beautiful sea coast. The vision behind this resort is extraordinary as it has been developed using the attributes of the island with a deep respect for its local people and, while it is a continuing work in progress, it is a most stunning place to truly unwind.
No trip to Efate, the main island of Vanuatu, is complete without visiting The Cascades waterfalls, the Blue Lagoon and boating the waters of this island paradise. Be prepared with a packed lunch and snacks though as there are very little options for take away while you are touring.
So while Vanuatu may not be high on the list of global foodie destinations, it is definitely worth spoiling yourself in this unspoilt slice of tropical heaven …and let’s face it, when you’ve got great cocktails and a stunning seaview, well, you don’t need much more on holidays!