Already the arrival in Vanuatu was special… I had the early morning shift and was the first to see Aneityum in the morning dawn. Three dolphins welcomed Mirabella at sunrise. And just to top this perfect setting I heard a strange noise, turned around and just saw the back of a whale disappear next to Mirabella’s port side… it was a mixture between shock and excitment. I don’t need to see the whales THAT CLOSE… but anyway… I thought ” hello Vanuatu, I think I already like you”
So we anchored in this beautiful bay between Aneityum and Mystery Island. We stayed a few days and met very friendly people like Roslyn for example who was a teacher at the local school. But as one can only clear in in Aneityum when a cruise ship is there, we did not want to stress the goodwill of the local police and moved on to Port Resolution in Tanna. We timed our arrival there together with Ubejane, our South African friends. They were coming from Fidji and we were all looking forward to see them again. Last time we had been together was in Opua in November. It was already getting dark when Ubejane arrived at the anchorage but it was perfect time for dinner. They had caught a nice tuna and came on our boat to share it with us. The girls were happy to see Noah and Samuel again.
The next morning two officers from Lenakel had come over to clear us in. The kids enjoyed playing together in the garden of the yacht club and later on we walked to the beautiful village to look if we could find some bread. We found the bakery (a small hut with a big wood fired oven) but all the bread was gone already. We ordered some for the next day and Leah, the friendly lady from the local restaurant, offered to pick it up for us. The village was made of beautiful hand built huts with pandanus leaf roofs and nicely arranged gardens and paths. But there was no electricity, no running water . The village shares 5 water tabs. Even Leah in her small restaurant has to fill water in bottles at one of the tabs. She has a small two flame gas stove in her kitchen. Normally the people cook on an open fire on the floor in one corner of the hut. They grow most of their food like taro and yams roots on their own.
Of course we wanted to see the volcano and Saturday seemed to be a good day for it. We left Port Resolution at 3 p.m. and the kids were very excited. The road was bumpy, narrow and not easy to drive on. Thank god we did not have to drive on our own… We arrived at the Visitor center and were welcomed by the chief and a local dance ceremony. After getting permission by the chief, some last safety instructions and a short drive we were ready to climb the last peak up to the crater…
To stand at the rim of the crater and look down into the boiling lava was really impressive and also a little bit scary. When there was a bigger burst you could feel the heat and smell the sulfur.
Port Resolution – a beautiful village
After our trip to the volcano, we continued towards Efate, the most developed island of the Vanuatu group. We were waiting for an engine sparepart to be sent to Efate and we hoped to speed up the process a bit by being present. That did not really work out and we missed our weather window to sail to Pentecost and see the last land diving of the season together with our friends from ZIGZAG. So we spent a few days in Port Vila experiencing Vanuatu “city life”… the girls loved scootering up and down the seafront promenade together with the boys from UBEJANE while we enjoyed the delicious coffee in Nambawan Cafe. We visited the Vanuatu National Museum where Edgar explained us many interesting things about different customs in Vanuatu and we saw the most stunning fire show at the Mele Beach Bar together with QUINCO.
On the images below some impressions of our visit in the Vanuatu National Museum with Edgar. While telling a story he draws these beautiful pictures in the sand in one run.
Vanuatu National Museum in Port Vila, Efate
Market in Port Vila, Efate
We moved on to Lelepa Island where we wanted to catch up with our friends from UBEJANE and fell in love with that small beautiful island. The water was cristal clear and Ruben (one of the chiefs) and his wife Esther were very friendly. UBEJANE went back to Port Vila und we just wanted to move on when QUINCO turned up. What a nice surprise! Of course we stayed and shared the magic of this island with them.
After a few days we left Lelepa island to meet up with ZIGZAG in Loltong, Northern Pentecost. As they had already been to Vanuatu they had contacts from their last visit and got invited to a local wedding. Of course we did not want to miss that opportunity. In addition we wanted to celebrate with ZIGZAG Irene’s birthday.
Compared to the lonely Lelepa Island, Loltong was something completely different…. Whenever we stepped on land we were surrounded by kids. The Nakamal was the center of the village and of course the weddings were celebrated just nearby. (“Nakamal” is a traditional meeting place in Vanuatu. It is used for gatherings, ceremonies and the drinking of kava. A Nakamal is found in every significant community but design and traditions can vary).
A wedding in Vanuatu is not a one day celebration. There are numerous ceremonies like for example the exchange of the payment, the bride moving out of he8r former home and all her belongings being brought to the ceremony place and of course the actual wedding ceremony. Three couples were getting married and the ceremonies had already started the day before with a special snake dance. On our arrival day it was “payment day”. An uncountable number of woven red mats (typical for Penthecost area) were exchanged as payment between fhe families of the three brides and grooms. They will be stored at home and can be used as payment for special ceremonies or school fees for example.
The following day, Irene from ZIGZAG, the kids and me joined a group of local women to walk to the next village and pick up Diane, one of the brides. All her belongings were piled up in front of her house and another ceremony with exchange of many red mats followed. After that, we all walked together with Diane to the main square in front of the Nakamal where 30 pigs were waiting. She then waited patiently on a mat with all her belongings piled up behind her until the other two brides arrived from their villages. To make a long story short… we thought there would be a wedding ceremony with some custom dance and music, but either we missed it or it did not happen. But nevertheless it was very interesting for us to see.
Irene and Georg from ZIGZAG introduced us to their friends and day by day we got to know more people. It was so interesting for us to get more insight in their every day life. André and Georg built a swing for the kids and tried to fix some solar panel connections. But it turned out that the battery was dead. On the National children day we had the opportunity to visit a boarding school and attend their special ” slow food” programm. The students were divided in groups and they had to prepare traditional dishes.
Slow food Vanuatu style…
Life is hard when you are a chicken in Loltong…
Wedding ceremony Vanuatu style
We felt quite at home and found always a reason to stay. At the end we planned to celebrate Independence Day in Laone and then move on to Maewo the next day. Many of the locals were looking for a ride to Laone to attend the celebrations. So we had a few guests on board… most of them had never been on a sailing boat before and were very excited. The main attraction was a football game between two local teams…
Independence Day in Laone
The next day we sailed to Asanvari, a beautiful little village on Maewo island. As there were stronger winds predicted for the next few days we just stayed one night and then moved on to Lolowai, on Ambae island, where we should have enough protection. It was one of the most beautiful anchorages we had on our trip so far.
Ambae is the emergent portion of Vanuatu’s largest Volcano which rises 1’496m above sea level and 3’900m above the sea floor. On September 28, 2017, after a week of increasing volcanic activity to Level 4 (level 5 being a major eruption), the government of Vanuatu ordered a complete evacuation of the island. Many people were brought to the neighbour island Maewo. Many of them have returned as soon as the alert level had dropped to start recovering their homes. But who knows when they have to leave again? Definitely not an easy life…. We spent a few days there together with ZIGZAG waiting until the wind calmed down.
As soon as the wind forecast was good, we sailed to Peterson Bay , Espiritu Santo. Our friends from QUINCO were already waiting there for us. It is a fantastic place. There are two blue holes, where you can paddel to from the anchorage: the Matevulu Blue Hole and the Riri Blue Hole. We paddled with our Kajaks to the Matevulu Blue Hole and it was simply magical! The kids had great fun in jumping into the cristal clear blue water and so did we.
Within a short dinghy ride there was the Turtle Bay Lodge, where we could bring our laundry, have a nice meal and the kids were even allowed to use the pool. Another day we were invited by a local family for lunch at their beach. In the meantime our sparepart for the engine had arrived and André therefore flew to Efate to get it while I did some provisioning. We had not seen a shop since Port Vila and needed to stock up a bit… After coming back André went on a dive trip in Lougainville to see the wreck of SS President Coolidge while QUINCO was already sailing north to Lonnoc beach. A few days later we celebrated there Maya’s 8th birthday. A few days later the anchorage filled with kids boat… ZIGZAG, BRAVE and FAMILY CIRCUS had arrived and now it was Noah’s turn to celebrate his birthday. What a party with so many kids!!! Next day we headed out with three dinghys to a nice dive spot while the kids were playing on the beach. We had a great dive with our friends. How fortunate we are to explore the underwater world on our own… these are the big advantages of our cruising life. One of the disadvantages is for sure the goodbyes and I probably will never get used to them. In the evening we had to say goodbye to our friends from ZIGZAG not knowing if we are gonna see each other again. They were heading to the Banks islands and then to Solomon islands while we wanted to go to the Louisiades in Papua New Guinea.
We were working hard on our friends from QUINCO to join us to the Louisiades but we finally gave up and enjoyed our remaining time in their good company on a buoy in Aore island resort, doing last provisionings for the passage to the Louisiades. One day we will sit together again somewhere in this world, play Skipbo and have a good laugh.
Impressions of André’s wreck dive in Lougainville, Santo – SS President Coolidge
After three unforgettable months it was time to move on. Byebye Vanuatu… you are incredible!