Vanuatu Outer Islands Guide
Vanuatu is a Y–shaped chain of 83 islands lying 2500km northeast of Sydney (Australia), 2000km north of Auckland (New Zealand) and 800km west of Nadi (Fiji). The islands offer a diverse range of scenery, from towering volcanic cones and coastal plains, to raised coral atolls, wide beaches and deep natural harbours. Vanuatu lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire. Most of the islands are volcanic in origin with steep, rugged terrain. Vanuatu's main islands are Efate, home to the capital of Port Vila, Espiritu Santo and Tanna.
Ambae (405 sq km) Covered in thick rainforest, this beautiful island is said to have been James Michener’s inspiration for the island of Bali Hai in his epic book, Tales of the South Pacific. The island’s highest point is Mt Lombenben, a semi-active shield volcano whose three crater lakes are thermally heated. Ambae is known for its sand drawings, which feature a rose-like design representing laplap (Vanuatu’s national dish). There is basic island-style accommodation, and a hospital at Lolowai.
- Ambrym (680 sq km)
Ambrym is one of the few places on earth where you can see active lava lakes. The island’s twin volcanoes, Mount Benbow (11595) and Mount Marum (1270m), still rumble away and smaller vents ooze steam and lava. Standing on the rim of Mount Marum, the core of the lava lake can be seen swirling and spitting in endless fury. Ambrym volcano walks can be arranged either from Lalinda in the south, or Ranon in the north. Ambrym is known for its exceptionally fine carvings in wood, stone and tree fern, and its colourful custom dances, which include the Rom spirit dance. Air Vanuatu services Ambrym five times a week. There are two airports, Craig Cove and Ulei.
- Aneityum (162 sq km)
Mountainous, jungle-clad Aneityum is the southernmost inhabited island in the archipelago. This volcanic island is surrounded by live coral reef and has excellent snorkelling. Beautiful white sandy beaches stud the shore, adding to its natural charm. At the lush interior, there are giant kauris and cascading waterfalls. Idyllic Mystery Island (Inyeug) – a periodic stop for the cruise ships – sits in the magnificent turquoise waters offshore, and adventurous honeymooners can stay at its guesthouse. The island’s only medical service is at Anelghowhat.
- Banks & Torres (851 sq km)
Vanuatu’s northernmost islands are nearer the equator and have the country’s highest rainfall and humidity. The main islands in the Banks group are Vanua Lava, Gaua and Mota Lava – a beautiful island of jungle-clad peaks plunging to palm-fringed sandy beaches. Gaua’s 1300 people live on the north-eastern coast, and local culture is very much alive here. Gaua has a stunning landscape with an active volcano, Mount Garet (797m), which towers over a crater lake at the island’s interior. The Torres group to the far north is the most remote of the archipelago, with beautiful white sand beaches. The giant coconut crab, a delicacy in Port Vila’s restaurants, is native to this group.
- Epi (444 sq km)
Epi is a peaceful island with pretty sandy coves and beaches, and inshore reefs, while the rugged interior is covered with thick rainforest. There are several small lakes where you can fish and swim. Epi offers basic bungalow-style accommodation at Paradise Sunset Bungalows, only a few minutes walk from the beachside airstrip, and at the Epi Island Beach Guesthouse. Lamen Bay beach is considered to be Epi’s finest, with spectacular snorkelling. The bay is home to several dugongs (sea cows) – one particular male is very tame and will often swim with snorkellers. Just offshore, lovely Lamen Island has a white sandy beach. Namuka Island, off the southern shore of Epi offers white sand beaches and a beautiful fringing reef, while Lopevi Island is home to Epi’s smoking volcano. The coastal village of Votlo has two hot springs nearby. There is a health centre at Vaemali. The two main airstrips are at Lamen Bay and Valesdir.
- Erromango (975 sq km)
Located in the south of the archipelago, this mountainous and mainly forested island is one of Vanuatu’s largest and most sparsely populated. Erromango is one of the best islands for bushwalkers, and the lush scenery boasts some of the world’s finest freestanding kauri forests. Explore nearby Suvu Beach, a white-sand beach with ancient hand drawings in the caves. Metesons Guesthouse is located on the banks of a river near the village of Uponkgor on Dillons Bay. There is an aid post at Port Narvin and there are clinics at Dillons Bay and Ipota. The two main airstrips are at Dillons Bay and Ipota.
- Malakula (2023 sq km)
Malakula’s rugged interior is clad in lush rainforest, and most of the inhabitants live in villages on the coast. It is Vanuatu’s second largest island and the most diverse culturally. There are over 30 distinct languages spoken, each of which represents a variation of the cultures to be found here. Malakula art and ritual objects are among the finest in the country and the island is also famous for the complex ceremonies and rituals preserved by two of its remarkable tribes – the Big Nambas and Small Nambas. The three main airstrips are Norsup, Lamap and South West Bay. Flights operate daily from Port Vila and Santo.
- Maewo (269 sq km)
The dramatic north coast of this narrow volcanic island is lined with black sand beaches. The island receives the highest rainfall in Vanuatu and has some of the most dramatic waterfalls. It has excellent birdwatching, in particular down the mountainous central spine and along the south-eastern coast. Maewo is renowned for its ancient secret societies, and for its varied traditional custom dances. There are medical clinics at Kerebei, Nasawa, Marino, Narovorovo and Asanvari. Maewo’s airfield is at Naone. Flights run to Maewo on Wednesdays and Fridays.
- Pentecost (438 sq km)
Pentecost Island has become famous throughout the modern world for its land diving ritual (Nagol) which celebrates the annual yam harvest. The centuries-old ritual of the Nagol (or N’gol) is practised on south Pentecost, and is said to have provided AJ Hackett’s inspiration for the modern-day bungy jump. Land dives take place during April, May and the first week of June. Most of Pentecost’s population is concentrated in the north and along the west coast, while the mountainous interior is densely forested, with waterfalls and rivers. Pentecost has some good bushwalking and the clear, cold rivers are ideal for a cooling swim on a hot day. There is a hospital at Melsisi, and clinics and aidposts at several villages. There are four flights a week to the island’s two airfields from Port Vila and Santo (via Longana and Walaha, on Ambae).
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