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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Vanuatu: The Pacific’s Best Kept Secret


Just a short flight from Australia's East coast (3.5 hours from Sydney, 2.5 from Brisbane and 4 from Melbourne) a holiday to Vanuatu has the perfect balance of resort style relaxation and authentic cultural discovery, and with 13 flights a week with Air Vanuatu and Pacific Blue it has never been more accessible.

Vanuatu offers all the South Pacific island splendor expected – coral reefs, waterfalls, crystal clear turquoise ocean and abundant fresh seafood. Add to that fascinating tribal life, one of the world's most accessible active volcanoes, one of the world's best diveable shipwrecks and according the happy planet index in 2006 the world's happiest people – and it is little wonder the country is a favorite among Australian travelers.

In the cosmopolitan capital Port Vila, you can spend time relaxing and pampering yourself at a range of resorts, eating some of the finest food and fresh organic produce in the South Pacific and shopping in the town's local markets or stores.

Although it may be tempting to sit by resort pools sipping cocktails, Port Vila is also about getting out and about, exploring all the islands have to offer and discovering the captivating Melanesian Culture. There are a range of adventures to entertain all tastes from cultural village experiences and sightseeing tours to abseiling down waterfalls, guided off-road buggy hire, horse riding and cycling. Not to mention diving, sailing, fishing, surfing and all other water based pursuits.

Vanuatu is an easy place to travel solo if you're one who likes to explore and discover a country on your own. In Port Vila most accommodation is located around 15 minutes from the town centre and there are local mini buses which will take you anywhere for approximately $1.25. You can also explore on foot, catch taxis or hire a car.

Port Vila is lively at night time too. There are 68 restaurants and a range of night clubs so there are plenty of options for a romantic meal or night out. Kava drinking is also a popular past time for the local Ni-Vanuatu people and a visit to a Nakamal (Kava bar) for a 'shell' of Kava can prove an interesting start to an evening.

However, if it is real, authentic adventure you are after, getting out to one of Vanuatu's outer islands is a must. There are 83 islands in the archipelago and combining at least one of them with your visit to Port Vila can give you a taste of what remote island life is really like.

The most popular outer islands to visit in Vanuatu are Espiritu Santo and Tanna. Both offer exceptional once-in-a-life time experiences and a chance to see a very different side of Vanuatu.

As one of the world's most accessible volcanoes, the fiery Mount Yasur attracts travelers to Tanna. Standing on the rim of this powerful volcano watching lava explode into the air is certainly worth the trip.

However, there is also fascinating culture to discover with interesting cargo cults such as those that await the arrival of mystical John Frum or the return of Prince Phillip. A visit to a custom village where locals have rejected western ways of life and still live traditionally, offers you a peep into the past. As with all these beautiful islands, there are also amazing landscapes with waterfalls, underwater caves, coral reefs and beautiful Port Resolution to explore.

The water surrounding Espiritu Santo has long been a Mecca for divers and snorkelers and enthusiasts travel from all over the world to explore historical relics from the island's days as an American base in WWII. Popular sites include world's most accessible ship wreck, The SS President Coolidge and coral covered American wrecks and war relics at Million Dollar Point.

However, the destination has recently become much more of a holiday paradise. Air Vanuatu has recognised this potential, launching direct flights from Brisbane and Sydney to Santo in 2007. For adventure seekers Espiritu Santo offers a myriad of activities including trekking to Millennium Caves, visiting villages still living in the traditional way and kayaking from one idyllic island to another.

For those who prefer to relax, they can lay back and take in the surrounding white sands and blue water of this island paradise made famous in one of the most popular books in history, Michener's Tales of the South Pacific. Days can be spent picnicing and relaxing on one of the islands magic white sand beaches such as Champagne Beach or by a blue hole where crystal clear blue water is filtered through limestone and coral to create an idyllic inland pool.

A visit Pentecost Island is also becoming a popular side strip. Every Saturday in April to June visitors flock to the island to see the Naghol Land Diving ceremony. This awe-inspiring ceremony sees boys as young as eight and men build towers up to 20 meters high and jump from them as a show of strength and to encourage a good yam harvest. Villagers dance and stomp their feet below making the atmosphere electric as nervous visitors watch and hope that the diver will survive the dive into the ground below.

With 83 islands there are countless adventure options and experiences in Vanuatu. There are regular cultural festivals and events on islands where you can visit villages and see a totally different way of life, happening so close to Australia.

For further information visit www.vanuatu.travel
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