Here are some pictures from our trip to Vanuatu in September and October 2014. As I reflect on our time there, I am overwhelmed by the incredible opportunity we had to connect with so many local people and so many cruisers, new and old friends. We loved sharing this special place with all of you.
Port Resolution, Tanna
Rest stop in the village
School’s out for the day. Everywhere we went kids mugged for the camera. I loved to watch their faces as I showed them photos of themselves. Giggles and grins.
Kids carry firewood home to prepare dinner while one team warms up for the afternoon’s soccer game.
Immense trees lined the road in Port Resolution.
Mount Yasur, Tanna
14 of us piled into a pickup for the hour-long bumpy ride up the volcano. Hazel thoroughly tested the roll cage.
The ground rumbled as loud explosions and steam erupted above us. Walking towards the danger felt counterintuitive, terrifying and thrilling all at once.
Waiting for sunset at the rim.
We kept a friendly death grip on Hazel’s wrist at the edge of the crater.
Every minute or two another burst of lava and ash spews up.
“This is awesome!”
Sara and Julie.
Jenna and Jamie.
Mt. Yasur in the twilight.
Our next stop Dillon’s Bay on the west side of Erromango. David, our local village guide took us on a hike to some nearby skull caves.
On the beach by the first trailhead. Bush climb may be a more apt description. We scrambled over rocks, crossed a stream and through the forest on a steep ascent for fifteen minutes to reach the cave.
Cave entrance. This is the oldest cave, by the former site of the village, where women and children would stay in the event of any danger or where everyone would ride out storms.
Handprints are painted all around the cave, with human remains at the end of one of the passages.
The second cave was a more sacred burial site for chiefs. David stopped for a prayer and then showed us the original location that is now too difficult and dangerous to enter following a landslide that destroyed most of the cave. We climbed up a banyan tree to a small opening in the rock where the skulls of chiefs and their wives have been relocated.
Skulls of two chiefs and their wives. David told us one of the chiefs was his mother’s grandfather. The area around the cave is a special family place where they often come on Sunday afternoons to relax and barbecue around a firepit.
Evening departure for an overnight sail from Erromango to Efate.
Port Vila, Efate Island
We spent a few days at Port Vila, the capital in order to provision and a little R&R.
Looking out from the dock.
The mooring field.
It was weird to be in the tropics and have cars drive on the right.
We stopped at this Aussie biker bar owned by a Texan. I can’t remember ever seeing the Texas and French flags side by side before.
The kids loved how the electric deer head moved its mouth to sing along to the music.
We played darts for hours.
By far, the highlight of this place was the women’s patriotic bathroom.
Leo’s 10th Birthday
Fulton Bay, Lelepa Island. A wicked awesome place to turn ten!
Happy hugs for the birthday boy.
No celebration is complete without silly faces.
Leo requested birthday cherry pie instead of cake. We were happy to oblige.
Leo’s first surfboard. Mahalo!
As part of birthday week, Leo made a piñata that we filled with candy. Nothing like paper maché and decoupage on a boat!
Hazel made this patchwork cat, just a statue, not a piñata.
The trampolines made an excellent piñata stadium. The kids attached a blanket to trap the candy so it wouldn’t spill overboard.
Hawksbill Turtle Sanctuary, Moso Island
Sara, Julie and I brought the kids to the Hawksbill Turtle Sanctuary at Tranquility Eco Resort on Moso Island in Havannah Harbor. They collect baby turtles and nurture them for up to a year until they are big enough and can be released back into the wild.
Like all baby animals, the hawksbills were adorable.
Bigger turtles have a much higher survival rate, but at more risk of people collecting them as trophies for their beautiful shells.
The kids loved holding the turtles.
This one was quite heavy and almost ready for release.
We had so much fun with Sara and Julie and were sad to see them go.
We learned about the art of sand drawing at the national museum in Port Vila. After making a tic tac toe series of guide lines, the entire drawing is done in one fluid line. Each picture has a corresponding legend and it is said that the steps of the drawing help the storyteller remember each part of the story.
The completed turtle.
We rented a car and circled Efate with our friends Mercedes and Colin from Segue. One stop was a World War II museum that has an intact submerged Corsair nearby.
Coke bottles are the most frequent artifact to wash up on the beach.
Sipping drinks at Wahoo in Havannah Harbor.
We visited the village and local elementary school at Lamen Bay on Epi Island.
One family’s kitchen. The stove is a wood fire just inside the doorway and there is a big wood pile inside. Kitchens are built as separate structures from the rest of the house because they frequently burn down.
Girls walking to school.
These boys were giggling up in a tree by the playground.
“Mama” weaving in the shade.
Waving mats. They dye some of the pendants strips different colors before weaving patterns into the mats.
This plant’s leaves fold up when touched. We also saw these in the Marquesas. Our guide told us that these plants are a reminder for husbands to humble themselves before their wives rather than getting into arguments, and wives should do the same.
Sophie and Arcturus II at anchor, Lamen Bay
Houses in Vanuatu are some of the most colorful we’ve seen.
Joined by our friends from Arcturus II and Flour Girl, we made a trip to Avokh Island in the Maskelynes.
Fetching drinking water from the well. Villagers keep a few small fish in their wells who eat mosquito eggs and help keep malaria from spreading.
Clean laundry hanging under the eaves.
This was our first experience seeing Kastom Dancing by the Small Nambas.
Men and women dance separately and observe different rituals through their dance.
One of their special dances is the Bird Dance. The dancer on the left is the bird who swoops around the other dancers.
Leo, Zach, Khan and Jarah pose with the bird man, chief and some of the dancers.
There was no school on the day we visited. Some of the older kids played volleyball.
Another colorful house.
A troupe of kids followed us through the village.
After the dancing, we were treated to a feast of local dishes. These are some fresh drinking coconuts.
Manioc with coconut milk.
Island cabbage stuffed with cassava.
I can’t remember the name of these nuts, but they were tasty. You peel off the outer brown peel and just eat the meat.
Many villagers stopped to peek in through the window while we ate.
Saying our goodbyes.
This cutie loved seeing her picture on my camera.
So did this crowd.
Leo and Hazel got a ride home in the kid dinghy courtesy of Kim from Flour Girl.
We were overwhelmed by the friendliness, hospitality and generosity of the villagers. Later that day, the chief stopped by with some mahi mahi lap lap, a traditional Vanuatan dish that his wife had made. What a delicious dinner!
One of the best parts of our time in the Maskeleynes was spending time with cruising families from Flour Girl in and Arcturus II. The kids loved playing together.
We hadn’t played Monopoly since our hotel in Dunedin, New Zealand last year, so the kids were thrilled when Zach brought it over.
The kids also explored the beach and Leo found this gem.
We had been on the lookout for dugongs, cousin of the manatee that has a dolphin tail, who live in this area of Vanuatu, but they kept evading us. Finally on our last morning in the Maskeleynes a mom and baby swam by Sophie.
They didn’t get very close but we were excited to finally see some.
Looking across the Maskeleynes from the northeast channel.
On our way north we caught another Mahi Mahi and Jamie tried out his new fish immobilization technique. It worked!
Malekula, Wala and Rano
From the Maskeleynes, we proceeded north to an anchorage just inside Wala Island, on the west coast of Malekula Island.
As soon as we anchored, a man paddled up asking if we wanted him to catch us some coconut crabs. We said ok and agreed he would return in the morning. Here’s what he brought back.
They made a delicious breakfast and lunch!
Standing outside his house with George, our local guide.
House on Wala. Chickens ran all around.
The women were hard at work making palm frond roof tiles.
On the beach at Wala.
The next morning we visited a village on Malekula.
Fetching water during a rainstorm.
The blue and green house belongs to the school teacher.
Getting ready for a Small Nambas dance.
Raymond, the chief prepares for kastom dancing.
The women perform a song, stamping and passing fruit on the ground to the beat.
Another Small Nambas dance. The little kids did every step of the routine.
Each village does a local variation of the bird dance.
The women had beautiful singing voices.
Fire making demonstration.
Fancy hats after the performance.
Back in the village on Wala, George’s daughter Ley gives the kids a lesson in sand drawing.
Leo’s bird masterpiece.
Hazel puts finishing touches on a canoe.
We sailed to the west coast of Malekula to visit a spirit cave. It was a short walk up the road from the beach to the chief’s house to ask permission.
Main cave entrance.
The first pat of the cave is open to the sky.
Faces of the dead are carved along the walls.
The oldest carvings are more than 2,000 years old. Our local guide claimed that this is the oldest cave on Vanuatu, where the first human inhabitants arrived in Vanuatu landed and took shelter, The chief’s family still uses the cave for protection during cyclones.
Hazel got a little scared and wanted to wait in the light while Leo and I explored inside.
Anchored off Malekula.
Our next stop north was the island of Espiritu Santo, or Santo for short. We moored at the Aore Resort for the first couple nights and then swapped to an anchorage by the Beachfront Resort in Luganville.
We were also at Aore for the full lunar eclipse. Leo joined me for a spectacular beach photo shoot.
Approaching the full eclipse.
View from Deco Stop, a surfer resort on the hills above Luganville.
Deco Stop restaurant.
This looks fancy, but was one of the most delicious margaritas we’ve ever tasted.
Luganville resembled other small cities we’ve seen across the pacific but with a four lane road.
US troops built the wide main road during WWII so they could drive through with four vehicles across.
The kids had fun celebrating Khan from Arcturus II’s 9th birthday with a pool party at the Beachfront Resort.
Army soldiers, always a favorite.
Kim from Flour Girl baked an outstanding chocolate cake with coconut cream filling.
One of the highlights of our entire journey was visiting the Millennium Cave on Santo. IT turned out to be a much more aggressive hike than we anticipated, but we had an incredible time. The tour is run by the local village near the cave and they were well organized and professional.
Crossing the bamboo bridge.
Each kid had their own personal guide.
Crossing one of many streams. We joined fiends from Morrigan for the cave tour.
It’s customary for everyone to have their face painted, symbolizing birds, bats, rocks and more, before entering the cave.
We passed so many cascades like this one.
Ready for the cave.
Looking back up through the cave entrance. It had started to rain by the time we stepped into the knee to thigh deep stream and we all wondered how much deeper the water might get.
Our happy little fish. In the black tunnel Hazel kept trying to escape her guide so she could splash through rapids and slide down boulders.
On the other side of the cave, the rain continued and our guides asked us to pick up the pace due to the threat of severe flooding.
The water level rose quickly and we began taking a higher route through the canyon. I was so thankful for the chains and foot scoops cut into the slippery green rocks.
Beginning of the river swim.
The torrential downpour made our lazy river float more of an aggressive rapids ride, but we loved the waterfalls streaming down all around us.
Nothing better than riding piggy back across the water.
The last portion of the trek was a twenty minute climb out of the canyon up ladders like this.
We also hiked up waterfalls.
Hazel’s guide made her a fairy rain hat.
Leo’s rain hat.
Smiles in the village.
Another big milestone for us in Vanuatu was that Hazel lost her first tooth. She wrote a lovely note to the tooth fairy, who managed to find us here on Sophie, and left her 1,000 vatu along with a cheery reply. Tooth fairies write in very small letters. Hazel used the money to buy her first pareo at the village market following our hike to the Millennium Cave. She spent hours designing various outfits with it for the rest of the day. Note, blue rags make excellent shoes. And they match!
Modeling another fashion sensation with her new pareo.
Million Dollar Point
We snorkeled Million Dollar Point on Santo, where the US military dumped tons of equipment following World War II.
Rusting parts lay half buried across the beach.
Everywhere you look underwater are more pieces of equipment.
Leo found this WW II Coke bottle sea glass, a little slice of home from the past.
The kids had fun collecting sea glass.
Our last stop around Santo was this perfect little anchorage at Oyster Island. The charts here are off a bit so according to our electronics, we anchored on land. Glad we have eyes and traveled during daylight!
Safe on the hook.
Beach karate to round out the day.
Hazel met a local girl who had lived in New Zealand for two years.
They read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH together.
Lauren and I timed the kids while they raced around the lawn.
The resort had a fancy outdoor toilet inside a walled garden.
Ready for racing.
Sunset over Espiritu Santo
Gaua and Vanua Lava
The Banks Islands are gorgeous, with some of the most Gaua. As soon as we anchored, people started paddling up looking to trade with us.
Matanda Bay, Gaua Island
Sea stacks lined the west coast.
Our new best friend, “Elvis Presley,” his wife, the chief’s daughter, and some of their family. We traded some kids shoes and food for fresh vegetables and fruit.
Lauren and I took the kids snorkeling on one of the healthiest reefs we saw in Vanuatu. Parts of it reminded me of the coral gardens in Tonga. We spied a pufferfish too, but he hid out in the deep shadows of the reef so we don’t have a good photo.
We were happy to see what looked like recent growth on this reef.
So many colors.
This spiral was my favorite.
Hazel swam the entire length of the reef with me almost to where the waves were breaking. Tough girl!
Meanwhile, Leo kept diving deep to explore and take pictures on Lauren’s camera.
The next morning we sailed fifteen miles north to Vanua Lava.
Approaching Waterfall Bay, Vanua Lava
The village sits above twin waterfalls that land in a natural oceanside pool.
Trading with local families.
The kids were so cute and very curious about Leo and Hazel.
We had hoped to spend at least a few days on Vanua Lava and maybe stop in the Torres Islands too, but a quick check of the weather showed a perfect weather window for sailing to the Solomon’s with wind so we pulled up first thing the next morning, checked out of customs in Solar, and headed on our merry way.
Another waterfall on the west coast of Vanua Lava we passed on the way to Sola.
Looking north toward Uruparapara Island at the beginning of our passage to the Solomon Islands.
Vanuatu is a stunning, magical place and we hope to go back some day. We are so thankful to have shared this time with so many wonderful cruisers and some of the most generous and welcoming local people we have ever met. It is so incredible to explore remote corners of the planet, one island at a time. Have we mentioned lately how lucky we are?