Best of Espíritu Santo, Vanuatu

After a busy year and a hectic last few months, we were looking for a brief holiday that is only a short flight and one that the whole family can enjoy. With requirements like these, for most Australians, the South Pacific islands is a no-brainer destination.  What wasn’t so easy was deciding which of the beautiful islands to visit … then we found Vanuatu!

Having been only to Fiji once, we are beginners when it comes to exploring the South Pacific. What won us over in choosing Vanuatu is that it was an affordable destination with lots to discover and most of all, we wanted our 10-day break to feel like a month!

So for our first visit in Vanuatu, we headed straight to the largest island of the archipelago – Espiritu Santo or just “Santo” as the locals would call it.  Whilst we can offer you some of the top things to experience in Santo, the diversity of Vanuatu means that this is not, by any means, typical of what you would experience in all of the islands.

Crystal clear waters of Santo

The beauty of Vanuatu is that each island offers its own unique experiences. So let’s start here, in Espiritu Santo …

Million Dollar Point

In 1947, James A Michener wrote the novel Tales of the South Pacific. The collection of short stories about the Pacific campaign in World War II, that would go on to become South Pacific the broadway hit and Academy Award winning film, was based on his time as lieutenant commander int he US Navy whilst he was stationed in Espiritu Santo.

The locals of Santo has a somewhat secret relationship with her World War II past. We learned that the Allied forces had over 100,000 troops and support staff based in Santo during the war and they came as quickly as they had left.

On the departure of the US Military from the island, after failing to sell their equipment to the French and the English, they built a wharf and (using bulldozers) dumped everything that they didn’t want to take back. Millions of dollars worth (hence the name of the beach) of military jeeps, tanks, weaponry and even Coca-Cola bottles were dumped off the wharf. Including the bulldozers themselves!

Today, just a few metres from the shore, snorkelers and scuba divers can marvel at how nature has taken over the dumped equipment and watch as the new marine residents move around their surroundings.

Our Top Tips for this place are:
  • Bring your own snorkelling equipment (flippers optional and not really needed if you’re at least an average swimmer) as most companies do not provide them. And if they do, the equipment are “well-loved” at best.
  • Do not enter/leave the water from the small section of the beach that contains metal debris.
  • Lunch and snacks can be purchased at a small kiosk but is not open everyday – so make sure to check or bring your own snacks.

Champagne beach

Crystal clear waters, powdery & soft white sand, it’s no wonder that this is a very popular spot frequented by tourist and cruise ships from Australia. But don’t let this deter you as it is one of the best beaches that we’ve ever come across.

Our first sight of Champagne beach as we drove towards it.

The beach is located on the north-east of the island in Hog Harbour and is about a 90-minute drive from the main town of Luganville, some on unsealed roads. Once we arrived, we dodged around some very nonchalant Cattle then drove pass the accomodation huts/camps on the beach itself that is managed by people from the local village.

There are toilet facilities available (built by one of the major cruise companies). Along with a (dripping) outdoor shower to rinse off the salt water and plenty of shade offered by the trees and some huts. In addition, there are also stall huts that are used by the local village vendors for a pop-up market on days when the cruise ship comes, which can be used as shelter when not occupied.

Just us and the local kids from the village
Our Top Tips for this place are:
  • If you’re looking to avoid joining the cruise ship crowds, don’t book your tour or plan your visit to this beach too far in advance. Speak to the locals to find out the best days to go when it’s not crowded.
  • Jump off the jetty/wharf, it’s perfectly deep enough for a good running jump.
  • Seems that during Dec/Jan (at the time of our visit) seaweed are normally present on the beach at that time of year. It didn’t bother us at all and did not in any way, take away from the beauty of the beach.
When cruise ships are not around, local kids love jumping off the wharf into the clear blue waters of Champagne beach.

Port Orly beach

Less popular but only another 10-15 minutes drive further north, is Port Orly beach. Located on the same bay as Champagne beach, this smaller version of Champagne beach was our favourite beach on the island.

Port Orly views

Similarly, there are camping huts and simple accomodation available so the guests can wake up every morning to amazing views or the turquoise water. Then wonder off to one of the three cafe/restaurant located on the beach – for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Our Top Tips for this place are:
  • If you’re heading here for lunch, ask your guide/driver to order ahead. It is a popular place for groups to have lunch at, so avoid waiting hours (Yes, we watched people wait 2-hours for their lunch!) and have your driver call ahead before you leave Champagne beach and to order.

Blue holes

Surrounded by lush tropical gardens/plants, Blue holes are freshwater pools formed when rain water from the island’s mountain ranges, flows through underwater limestone streams & caves, thereby becoming as pure as freshwater can get. Home to an amazing array of marine life, it is this natural filtering process that creates the luminous blue colour.

There are a few blue holes on the island and although we would have loved to have seen them all, we visited a hidden blue hole that the locals call “Secret Blue Hole”. Thar secret blue hole, has a lovely small garden, a simple hut and a deck/platform to jump off from.

Our Top Tips for this place are:
  • Jump off the platform/deck into the deep blue! Otherwise you’ll regret it.
  • Stop by here on your way home from Champagne beach / Port Orly to refresh from the salty waters of the ocean.
  • If you’re not a confident swimmer, make sure to stay close to the stairs as it is a little harder to tread water & float in the freshwater pool

Local Market

Whether at home or away, we love to visit fresh food markets. From the few hours that we spend at a market, we learn so much about the food and the culture of the people we visit.

Every day is market day in Luganville.

The local markets at Luganville is open every day until about 7pm and later on Fridays. It also provides all the villages of the island an opportunity to sell their handicrafts and produce. We were told that each village (of which there are about 4-5) has allocated days on which they come to set up their stall tables to sell their goods.

Hand woven baskets hold the precious cargo of fruits and vegetables.
It’s pineapple season!

There are also several roadside stalls that you can stop at whilst you drive around Santo, to pick up some delicious local snacks.

Fresh young coconut water anyone? Trust me there’s plenty to drink in one of these!!
We learned that peanuts do not grow on trees … but rather underground in bunches like these!
Our Top Tips for this place are:
  • Come in the morning, if you wish to buy some food to try.
  • Bring cash (preferably in small notes/coins), don’t expect credit card facilities.
  • Speak to the vendors and feel free to ask if you have any questions. We shared a good laugh with the lovely local ladies when I told them that I thought peanuts grew on trees!  🙂

Aore Island

Santo’s neighbouring island of Aore, has so much to see and do.  Accessible only via a 10 minute ferry from Luganville, it is a free ferry and well worth a day trip. I should mention that it is free if you have lunch at Aore Island Resort and catch a scheduled trip, otherwise a private transfer will set you back about 1,500VT per person. (edited after the original post, to clarify the conditions of the free ferry service.)

Plantation tour on Aore Island.
Cows grazing beneath the coconut plantation on Aore Island.

On the island, there are natural caves, bike riding, coconut plantation tours, swimming, snorkelling off it’s beaches and many more. There are also several lunch options for day trippers amongst one of the four (4) resorts on the island, including the beautiful Aore Island Resort, where we stayed.

Guests on Aore Island Resort are ready for a celebration.
Our Top Tips for this place are:
  • Bring your own snorkelling gear, there’s nowhere to rent equipment from.
  • Arrive at the wharf early – remember that the scheduled time is a guide and 90% of the time they are late whilst the other 10% of the time they’re early.
  • The ferry is not large so it can fill up rather quickly, but don’t worry, they will do a second trip if needed to make sure everyone gets across.
It’s worth hanging around Aore Island.

These are only some of the experiences on offer on this beautiful island. There’s so much more that we didn’t do, such as horse riding on the beach, diving President Coollidge (one of the largest, most accessible ship wreck dive in the world) and canoeing down the rivers which we would love to come back and do next time.

Have you been to Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu? What was your favourite experience? And do you have a preferred island or accomodation venue that you would be happy to recommend?  Please feel free to leave us your questions or comments below.  We are happy to help and we always do our best to respond as quickly as possible.  Thank you for visiting and reading our Travel Blog.  Safe travels!! 🙂

Comments

  1. Montana

    Hey guys. Great post! We are so happy you had a wonderful time! The Aore Island Resort ferry is only free for day guests coming over and spending the day and having lunch at Aore resort due to liability reasons. Also if we bring anyone and everyone we are being seen as a taxi boat which is a business reserved for Ni-Vanuatu people which can land us in a lot of trouble. Hope to see you guys in Santo again!

    1. Thank you for clarifying that, Montana.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.