A new perspective is being given to Vanuatu as the ultimate cruising destination. The Vanuatu Tourism Office, in conjunction with the Department of Tourism, has developed a new Cruising Vanuatu Guide and supporting website. The aim is to promote Vanuatu as a cruising destination, encouraging more yachts to discover this amazing archipelago.
Yachting VSA volunteers and photojournalists, Eric and Anne Simmons, on board their 43ft St Francis catamaran, were assigned the task of collecting the information pertaining to the abundance of sheltered anchorages scattered through the islands. Eric and Anne have worked extensively with tourism boards throughout the South Pacific and have been regular visitors to Vanuatu since 1998. “It is no secret that we love Vanuatu, the people are friendly, natural wonders abound and every island is different, each one is like visiting a different country! Vanuatu is one of few places where real kastom and tradition can still be experienced and protected anchorages and welcoming villages enable yachts to visit safely. Ni-Vanuatu people are wonderful, unassuming and always willing to help visitors get the most from their Vanuatu experience.”
Vanuatu has so much to discover, from volcanoes, lakes, cascading waterfalls, caves and tropical jungle, WWII history and world class diving, to amazing culture and a seemingly boundless range of diversity. “Most yachts that visit Vanuatu leave saying they wished they had more time. They had no idea of the options ahead of them before their arrival. The new Cruising Guide will enable yatchs to plan better, providing information on the array of amazing places to visit and things to experience,” explains Anne.
In the wake of Cyclone Pam, it has become clear how much Vanuatu has meant to so many cruisers. Without hesitation, several superyachts, which had spent considerable time in the outer islands, regrouped and returned to show their gratitude by bringing emergency relief to the communities devastated by the cyclone. Numerous calls and contacts from previous cruisers wanting to send aid or donate are still being fielded, a testimony of the emotional connection that these world travellers made with Vanuatu while sailing its waters. The people of Vanuatu have provided unforgettable experiences by allowing cruisers a glimpse of their day-to-day life and their friendliness has put Vanuatu up there as the best of cruising destinations. There are not many places remaining where your cruising grounds include pristine beaches, live volcanoes, fascinating history, stunning diving and untouched kastom – all combined with an ever-welcoming face and safe environment.
Anne and Eric were approached by the VSA Country Manager back in 2012 following a random meeting in the hinterlands of Santo. After several years of sailing and diving their way around the islands, they were excited to be involved in an initiative that would bring much needed income to the outer islands. Yachts are the perfect low-impact tourism strategy for remote communities, easily managed at short notice, relatively self-sufficient and eager to help where needed.
It was an easy decision for the two NZ-based yachties, with their contacts in the outer islands, experience in tourism and photojournalism, coupled with their love for Vanuatu and their belief that yachts can make a difference. Commited to getting yachts to visit villages off the beaten sailing routes, seldom visited yet with safe anchorages and so much to offer, they have made a point of including these in the latest up-to-date Vanuatu Cruising Guide. One example is Paama Island, north of Epi, an amazing place with at least three beautiful sheltered anchorages. The kastom is amazing, there is an abundance of fruit and vegetables and it has the added bonus of great diving. Paama rarely sees any tourists and the people have a genuine desire to welcome visitors. This is the kind of place where it is not unsual to have turtles and dugongs surfacing beside you while a huge pod of dolphins swim past. Now more than ever, Paama needs yachts to visit. Cyclone Pam hit hard here, flattening many of the villages and destroying crops, yet as is the case everywhere in Vanuatu, people are rebuilding with the little they have but ongoing supplies such as food, building materials and school and medical equipment are needed.
With over 120 anchorages to choose from, Vanuatu is the perfect cruising ground to suit all conditions and meet any cruiser’s requirements, whether being anchored on the doorstep of a high-end resort, or being alone in a remote island paradise; Vanuatu truly has it all.
For Anne and Eric, it is the people that have made it so worthwhile. Returning year after year, they have watched the progress of various initiatives within the communities. “We have met the most amazing people. People with so little who welcome yachties and tourists into their homes for a glimpse of their daily life. We have met people who have spent their last vatu trying to improve and grow their ‘smol bisnis’, people who spend months away from their family on RSE schemes in NZ and Australia each year to continue to help their family and villages. We have met the people who work in the gardens, who head out fishing every day, who spend endless hours getting their food to market. And each and every one of them spend quality-time with their families and take the time to appreciate life,” says Anne.
An example of the entrepanurial spirit that characterises the islands looking to cater for a hopefually growing cruising tourism industry is Asanvari, in south Maewo. A stunningly beautiful anchorage with no road access and the nearest airport a 40 minute banana boat ride away, it is definitely not your usual tourist haunt. The village of Asanvari is beautifully serene, with an easy-going island community and some fascinating tourism-based income endeavours. The village welcomes visitors and has several accommodation options but it is the Lawai Sparkling Waters Restaurant & Bar with their amazing ‘7 Fantastic Dancers’ that really takes the cake. Here, Alex Huri saw an opportunity, and created a restaurant and bar at the base of the stunning Lavoa Falls, offering cold Tusker, delicious prepared meals of freshwater prawns and even in-house live entertaiment. Alex facilitated the training of the ‘7 Fantastic Dancers’, a group of contemporary dancers with Barry, the guitar player and trainer. Their outfits immaculate, these girls are amazing and their routine and timing just continues to improve. “It was not all plain sailing for Alex, there has been opposition from the village who in the past have promoted the men dancing only, but the girls deserve their chance too and they are putting in the hours of practise,” explains Eric. Alex, having worked for sometime in Port Vila, is a visionary, whose dream is to make Asanvari a cruise stop for all yatchs. Asanvari offers yet more, with for example, the weaving from the area being extremely fine and detailed. At this point, only visiting yatchs come to the village but the people are thinking towards the future, trying to asamble strategies that will one day provide them with an income. “Simple travel logistics make tourism opportunities in the outer islands challenging but we are seeing more and more individuals in the islands developing their small businesses such as bungalows, small restaurants and tours.
The cruisers are a perfect market for these islands and there are many fascinating people waiting to provide unfortgetable experiences. Matthew and Mary in Loltong, Pentecost, for example, with their great customer service and Mary’s amazing seven-course meals. Luc Fargo in Londot , who welcomes yachts all season around but particularly for the Land Diving. David in Dillons Bay, Ambong at Malaflaf Bungalows in the Maskelynes, John at Bannan Bay in Malekula. The list is endless and for a few months each year during the sailing season, yachting tourism provides a small but much needed income to these remote communities,” explain Anne and Eric, whose passion and love for this islands is clearly palpable.
With their official assignment now complete, the Free Cruising Guide is available for download from the website www.vanuatucruising.info. The guide and website are packed full of information that will suit any traveller looking to get off the beaten track and explore more of Vanuatu. Check it out!
Photos by Eric and Anne Simmons.