EscapeOceania

Gaua & Îles Banks

By October 11, 2019 No Comments

When-Where-Why?

Vanuatu was one of the key countries in my world tour since I saw a great report on TV. Everything seemed so great that I absolutely had to include it in my trip!

Vanuatu is a country of 80 islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. It is part of what is called Melanesia.

We chose to visit the following places: Port Vila (Capital) on Efate Island, Espiritu Santo Island, Banks Islands with Gaua and Torres Islands, Ambrym and Tanna. We had almost a month and left in October 2019.

“Gaua (formerly known as Santa Maria) is the largest and second most populous of the Banks Islands in the province of Torba with an area of 342 km².”

Important Information

Dress code

The provocative outfits are to be avoided. Clothes too short for girls are to be avoided too and the “top less” to banish; respect the population, you are not home there.

Money

Vanuatu is expensive. If you do not have a budget, forget about this destination right away. There is no point in coming to “zone” and do no activity. Find out about accommodation rates and activities before you take your plane tickets.

There are distributors Sur Santo and Efate and in big cities. On the other hand think to take a lot of cash if you go on the other islands.

On Gaua there is a Western Union office.

Housing

Camping and “zoning” homestay to sleep in his garden are not the custom here. Avoid doing this so that people are not embarrassed. There are however some campsites but not everywhere. Inquire well.

Internet & Tel

You can buy a local SIM card with internet and phone communication, both of which are separable from each other. For example for 1000 vts (almost 8 euros) you with about 30min of communication; and for 3000 vts you have 6GB of internet for 30 days.

People

Do not be surprised if the people you live with do not dine with you. It’s their way of showing you that they respect you. They will wait until you have finished and you have left the table to clear and dine in turn.

Watch out for the fish!

Do not eat fish unless you’re sure it’s fish that has been caught in the open sea. The coral is infected with a parasite that will give you what they call in the Pacific, the “scratch”. You will have, at best itching, at worst, in addition to that, vomiting vomiting and diarrhea. All this will be accompanied by an intolerance for a good year to all fish and alcohol! Be careful !

Kava

Kava is the local drink made from the root of a pepper tree, the Piper methysticum. The roots are crushed and pressed to extract the juice. It is appreciated for its euphoric and relaxing effects, which is observed after several glasses. It has even become very “trendy” abroad, in countries where alcohol consumption is very problematic.

It was and is still used during rituals (I advise you to read this article: https://journals.openedition.org/jso/6483).

It is drunk in a place called the “Nakamal”. It is a specialized bar. There are more than 300 in Vanuatu and not all serve the same Kava. Tradition has it that after toasting in bishman, people drink the kava dry and rinse their mouths and spit out the water. The Nakamals are bars that open in the evening, where there is not much light and no music, so that the effects are felt better and faster. In other words nothing comes to disturb your mind.

It was considered by the missionaries as the “drink of the devil” in the twentieth century. It was even banned by the British and French colonizers. Since Vanuatu’s independence in 1980, kava has been officially rehabilitated as a symbol of traditionalism, a lucrative alternative and harmless alternative to alcohol.

Tips to organize your trip

After having a chat with locals, do not trust your paper guides! In general they are not up to date and in Vanuatu the hotels and restaurants open and close at all costs. Same for excursions.

We were put in contact with an expatriate organizer: Isabelle. She and her former partner have created the company “Espiritu Santo” which offers assistance to travelers staying in Vanuatu. She also has a Facebook group on which many travelers ask questions for their trip. You tell her what you would like to see and do and she will tell you where to go. She will take care of everything to book for you and will offer accommodation and activities that fit your budget. She knows everyone on Espiritu Santo and many other islands. She just takes a fee of 1000 vts per person (7.8 euros) and the rest is between her and the providers (but she does not take much and it allows her to live in Vanuatu). She is really nice and very good advice.

As it is not easy to plan your stay in Vanuatu (little information available), do not hesitate to go through her.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/espiritaventurevanuatu/

Transport

Plane

Air connections are with Air Vanuatu. Most flights depart from Santo Island; there are no flights to all islands every day. You can see the schedule of flights on the site of Air Vanuatu. The flights usually last less than two hours.

Housing

Avoid staying in “resorts” and expensive hotels. The majority is held by Australians. Try instead to live the premises that are invaded by foreigners and who need more money. This is also why you should not hesitate to contact Isabelle who works with everyone including a lot of local and she will satisfy all budgets! She will give you a list with all the possibilities.

* Weul Lodge

We stayed at Robert’s full board in the village of Namasari. There are simple but pleasant bungalows. There is a shower and common sanitary facilities. Forget the hot water! The meals are very simple but not bad. There is a beautiful black sand beach within a 10 minute walk. Robert can organize hiking in the forest, and see the Siri waterfall and Garet volcano. Her daughter Linette will be in charge of organizing a “water music” show for 2000 vts per person. The Tony Paradise beach is 1h30 walk one way.

Price: 2500 vts full board. 1000 vts round trip by car (otherwise there is 30min walk).

Tips: Remove all food from your bags because of rodents!

Food

Warning: I repeat it here, do not eat fish unless you’re sure it’s fish that was caught in the open sea. The coral is infected with a parasite that will give you what they call in the Pacific , the “scratch”. You will have, at best itching, at worst, in addition to that, vomiting and diarrhea. All this will be accompanied by an intolerance for a good year to all fish and alcohol!

You will eat in your lodge but remember to inform your host of what you do not want to eat.

Activities

What: Gaua’s women are the only ones in the world who know how to make music with water. It is a passion and an art that they pass on from generation to generation.
Where: At the beach.
Price: In the village of Namasari it is 2000 vts per person.

What: There are two major things to see on Gaua: The “Siri Waterfall” and the volcano Garet (682m) with its caldera, Lake Letas. To access all this you will have to walk in the rainforest with a local guide. You can spend the night in a very simple bungalow by the lake and hike to the waterfall or volcano on your arrival at the lake and do the rest the next day.

Duration: To access the lake, for a good walker there is maximum 3h without break. Once at the lake to go to the waterfall or the volcano you will have to take a small boat. It will be necessary to paddle and possibly to remove the water of the boat which infiltrates not to sink! Once at the foot of the volcano there is less than an hour to reach the crater for good walkers. For the waterfall, it will take less than an hour each way.

Difficulty: Easy-Medium. The trail goes up a bit. The difficulty will be the heat and humidity. There will also be a small difficulty on the lake; if there is wind and big waves it will be sporty.

Price: For 2 days of treck and one night in the bungalow, full board, count about 15000 vts per person.

Tips: Take the bare essentials, but what to do if you have bad weather. Take mosquito repellent, windbreaker, rain coat, rain pants.

Note: There is a source of fresh water 20 minutes from the lake.

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