I’m a weirdo. Anywhere I visit, I like to come up with a tourism tagline, like “Fiji, the way the world should be” or “Queensland, beautiful one day, perfect the next”. Ok, they’re not my creations, but you get the gist. So, after swinging, zipping, paddling, and bashing our way around Port Vila, morphing from Jungle Jane to an extra out of a Mad Max movie, I knew my slogan had to capture the fun of Vanuatu. I had four days to figure it out.
We arrive at the Ramada Resort Port Vila late at night. It’s warm and humid, and has that smell; that tropical “air” that lingers after a downpour. (One of the girls at work says the word for it is “petrichor”, meaning the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a long dry). Gawd, I love that smell. I lived in Fiji as a kid, so the petrichor brings back memories. I’m keen to see how Vanuatu compares, but right now all we can really think of is sleep. We are transported to our rooms by golf buggy. I like it! Nothing says island resort like a buggy, right? The resort is new, so my Junior Suite is immaculate and beautifully appointed. The air-con is perfect, the large bed looks more inviting than a cold beer on a hot day, and I resist the urge to open the curtains, opting to surprise myself in the morning.
I’m up and at ’em early, and drawing back the curtains, the balcony overlooks the magnificent lagoon. It’s early so there’s a layer of mist over the water. It’s stunning and I’m excited. Breakfast! Our party meets at the resort’s Akiriki Restaurant, an open pavilion by the lagoon. The buffet breakfast is delicious. I learn that every meal here is so tasty because all the produce is organic. Vegetables are grown without pesticides, so lush and bountiful is the earth, and Vanuatu is famous for its world-class beef for the same reason.
We spend the morning at Port Vila township, browsing the market’s fresh produce and handmade wares. It’s a riot of colour. The women wear bright floral dresses, but are camouflaged among hundreds of buckets of flowers so massive and vivid, it’s as if the flowers are on steroids. But it’s the zipline we’re all excited about. Ok, I’m not excited. I’m terrified. Heights are not my thing. But before long I’m harnessed, attached to the zipline (can’t back out now) and yahooing as we soar above the jungle canopy. Vanuatu Jungle Zipline has more than a kilometre of ziplines and two suspension bridges, and if you can relax enough to take in the view, it is such a buzz as you whizz over an 80m canyon and magnificent waterfall.
Tip: Get a GoPro as photos don’t do it justice.
Cocktails that evening find us at the laid-back Banyan Beach Bar, with reggae playing. And later, the food next door at Tilly’s restaurant is outdone only by the glorious sunset. Next morning, we board the Vanuatu Eco Tours bus, a troop-carrier with open sides for taking in the countryside as we tap our toes to more reggae blaring from the speakers. Vanuatuans love Bob Marley, and so do I. I’m in my element, mun! We arrive at a private property where the flora is splendidly lush and Pascal, the owner of Vanuatu Eco Tours, and his 2IC, Bosco, are getting the kayaks ready. You can choose a single kayak or sit back and enjoy the ride in a double kayak with Pascal or Bosco paddling. Not that it’s hard work. It’s a leisurely kayak safari along a freshwater river. Pascal started the business more than seven years ago and points out interesting bits of the landscape and information about the wildlife. It’s a typically warm, cloudless day and we reward ourselves at the halfway point by swimming in the crystal-clear water. Heaven!
Back at the property, kayaks packed away, someone spies a rope dangling over the river. It’s like bees to a honey pot as we all egg each other on to have a swing. It’s crazy how, the older you get, the more fearful you are. But I’ll have a crack at anything, and it’s the most fun I’ve had in ages. I’m screeching with laughter as I let go. Sure, no big deal if you’re eight, but if you haven’t swung over a river since you were a kid more than (cough) 30 years ago, it’s bloody good, clean fun.
Tip: Get someone to record you on slo-mo. Hilarious!
After lunch at the resort, we board the Reef Safari Tour, and moor just off Iririki island. Is the water blue or green? I can’t work it out, but it is crystal-clear so you can take in parrotfish, butterflyfish, clownfish (think Nemo), seahorses and turtles as they eat out of your hand!
Tip: An underwater GoPro is a good choice here.
As if that wasn’t enough, the next day really takes the fun level up a notch. I’m a rev head at heart, and strapping into the off-road buggy, my adrenalin is pumping before we even leave the shop! Off-Road Buggy Adventure is owned by Aussie bloke Frank and his wife and is the best fun you can have on four wheels. The tour takes us off-road, through jungle and, because there’s been rain, on to muddy tracks – hurrah! I don’t know what happens to me when I get behind a wheel, but I become a bloody demon. Luckily, it has been raining for days so as I’m tearing up dirt tracks, I’m doing all I can to manoeuvre my fellow “buggers” into pools of mud. My co-pilot and I are screeching with glee as our mates are covered in mud from our burnouts! Mind you, it backfires a few times and we, too, are plastered with mud – hair, mouth, eyes, everything. Thankfully, the last stop is the most pristine, private, white sandy beach where we clean off in the water.
Tip: Take your licence because you can’t drive without it.
I know I’ve overused the word fun, but I don’t really know how else to describe Vanuatu. It’s a place where you can challenge yourself, be active, overcome fears, act like a kid, and more importantly, get back to nature. Whether you’re paddling on it, driving through it or zipping above it, there’s nothing like Vanuatu’s natural beauty and happy, humble people to remind you what life is about. And if you belly-laugh so hard it hurts, it’s because there’s “So much fun to do in Vanuatu”.
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