A Quick Spin Around Northern Vanuatu
We’re just getting back into our normal routine after having Cate’s parents Chris and Rosaleen on board for a couple of weeks. They were great guests and we thank them for carrying up parts, mail, videos and other goodies from the civilized world.
We covered a lot of water in the two weeks they were aboard and managed-I think-to show them some of the treasures of this little paradise in the Pacific. They had never been to the tropical South Pacific, so had no expectations of how things ought to be.
Shortly after landing in Luganville on the Island of Espiritu Santo, we whisked them off to the lovely little Aore Resort, where Moonshadow was lying a few yards off shore on a mooring. It just happened to be Wednesday, which is “Island Night.” A couple “shells” of good, strong Vanuatu kava, a few drinks, a buffet of local cuisine and some Kastom (traditional Vanuatu) dancing quickly shifted them into island mode.
Early the next morning, we set sail for Ambae Island, fifty miles to the East. Beating into some fresh southeast trade winds and two-to-three meter swells produced some very green complexions and a bit of mal du mer in the tummies of our guests. In a few hours, we were in the lee of Ambae, looking up at the 4000+ foot volcanic cone and gliding along in gentle blue seas. Landing a four-foot mahi-mahi helped to round out the day and square out our evening meal.
With plenty of afternoon light, we negotiated the shallow pass over the sunken rim of an extinct volcano into the lush and beautiful Lolowai Bay. Lolowai is the Bali Ha’i village in James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, and every bit as beautiful and exotic as it is depicted in the book and the film.
We had heard a report that a large saltwater crocodile had drifted down from the Solomon Islands and found it’s way into Lolowai Bay. Once inside the bay, we saw what appeared to be a large, bumpy log floating on the calm water. As we motored closer, the log began to slowly move. As we got even closer, it moved faster and eventually dove to safety. Strangely, we all lost interest in an afternoon swim in the lagoon.
The next day, after a leisurely morning, we made the short hop across to the rugged Maewo Island, and our favorite spot in all of Vanuatu, Asanvari Anchorage. The two cyclones that hit Vanuatu earlier this year had done some damage to the Asanvari Yacht Club, but the rest of the area was as beautiful as ever.
We spent five relaxing days there, hiking, diving, spear fishing, reading, and hanging out with the villagers. Chief Nelson, the goodwill ambassador of Asanvari, arranged a feast for the yachties, preceded by some Kastom dancing and a couple of rounds of the local grog. Two shells of Asanvari kava is usually enough to render the average person absolutely legless.
One of the nicest features of Asanvari is a double cascading waterfall that plunges right into the sea. There is just nothing quite like the pleasure of a daily shower under a refreshing cascade of cool island water. And any yachtie can appreciate not having to turn it off when lathering up to save water.
The villagers use the stream for bathing and washing as well, but have also carved out a set of terraces in the steep hillside nearby for cultivation of tarot root. Water from the stream is diverted by a series of ditches and bamboo pipes for irrigation. The whole affair gives the area a very exotic touch.
Our next destination was Champagne beach on the east side of Espiritu Santo.
We had a nice downwind sail as we headed northwest and managed to land another nice sized mahi. The fish Gods were definitely looking over us on this cruise. As we anchored off the stunning white sands of Champagne beach, a villager in a canoe came by to greet us and was quite happy to have what remained of our recently filleted mahi.
Chris and Rosaleen enjoyed some walks and lounging on the beautiful white sands of Champagne beach while Cate and I did some snorkeling and spear fishing on the nearby reef. At the end of the day, we gathered on the beach with a group of yachties for a “sundowner.” Champagne, of course!
Working our way South to Luganville, we popped into the very protected lagoon behind Oyster Island. Oyster Island is named for-you guessed it-it’s abundance of very tasty oysters. We sample some of them, as well as lobster and coconut crab at a small guest house/restaurant on the island. The meal was as good as any we’ve had in Vanuatu, all for about US $10 per person-no tax, and no tips accepted. This place definitely rates “four coconuts” in our book.
There are a number of “blue holes” on Espiritu Santo Island. Two of them are situated in close proximity to Oyster Island. We took the dink about three kilometers up one of the streams feeding into the lagoon. The stream promptly ended in a very deep, azure blue pool. Apparently the stream is fed by springs that leech out at these holes. The water is crystal clear, the coral sand bottom is white, and the result is a beautiful blue pool of fresh, clear water, surrounded by green jungle. There were lots of hoots and hollers from exotic birds and a few fly-bys’ from some large flying foxes (fruit bats). This was an excellent spot for a refreshing swim.
The last stop on our little island tour was at Palikoulo Bay. Here we ran into a number of yachtie friends enjoying the quiet and calm anchorage just a few miles from the hustle and bustle of Luganville.
The local ex-pats have a little beach club, called Club Nautique, where they can “do as they wish” without causing offense to the Ni-Vanuatu people. The yachties seemed to converge upon it each evening for happy hour and the occasional barbeque or potluck. We had a couple of great social hours and an excellent potluck dinner our last night in the bay.
We sailed back to Luganville the following day, arriving just a few hours before Chris and Rosaleen were to board their connecting flight to Port Vila. It seems like two weeks just sailed by for all of us!
Cate and I have spent the last few days in Luganville re-provisioning, refueling, bottom cleaning and sorting out visa extensions and cruising permits for a cruise up to the Banks and Torres groups of islands. These groups are in the extreme northern end of the Vanuatu chain and are the most remote and untouched areas of the country.
Vanuatu’s 21st anniversary of independence from the British/French condominium government is today, so we plan to take in some of the Kastom dancing and festivities and then head north when the weather looks right.