Mele Cascades

We couldn’t leave Mele village without a visit to beautiful Mele Cascades! Time to go splashing in one of Efate’s main natural attraction …

Posted in Vanuatu | Leave a comment

Efate island tour

Efate mapTo get a glimpse of the rest of the island we found a driver, Ruben, who would take us around Efate with his mini bus for a full day.

.

.

.

First stop was turtle bay sanctuary, which was kind of a surprise, because we thought it’s just a snorkelling spot where you might see turtles if you’re lucky and it turned out to be a turtle breeding station. The young ones are being hatched and raised until they are a couple months old before they are released back into the sea. However, there are four permanent turtle residents living in a rock pool with a group of sharks. They were raised as village pets on a diet of papaya some 50 years ago and wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild any longer.

.

Different to Santo’s blue holes the Efate Blue Hole is connected to the ocean with a small stream and we could swim from the freshwater spring to the opening to the ocean. With magnificent bright colours surrounding us it felt like drifting through a postcard 🙂

.

Eton Beach is where the locals and expat community of Port Vila comes on a weekend for some fun time in the water … but beware of the mean current at the opening to the open water! And although this Nasinu Hot Spring looked a bit like an outdoor toilet seat it’s part of a rather poorly maintained thermal area. Even though the local tribe is occasionally using the rock pools for cooking the crab in the picture just happened to fall into the boiling water on its nocturnal forays.

.
Apart from blue water, bright sunshine, coconut plantations and small villages in jungle there was not much to be seen on the northern side of Efate and it was already sunset time when we stopped at Port Havanna for dinner. It was a long day and we were really glad when Ruben finally dropped us off at the Vanuatu Beachfront Apartments for a nightcap at the beach.

Posted in Vanuatu | Leave a comment

Mele Beach – Yu save toktok bislama?

Captain James CookThe return flight from Santo to Efate with Air Vanuatu went almost smoothly … this time they suddenly remembered that the domestic baggage allowance is only 10kg and wanted to charge us overweight. After some very clear words about what we thought about their airline we were able to sort that issue out fairly quickly though.

This time we had planned more than an (involuntarily long) stopover on Efate. Captain James Cook had actually christened these islands Sandwich Islands … boy this guy had discovered so many islands in the South Pacific that he seemed to be getting really bored with the names: “Hey look, there are some more beautiful islands on the horizon … and I’m having a sandwich. So let’s call them Sandwich Islands!”

Our Australian host Damien picked us up at the airport and off we went to Mele beach through potholes that would pass as swimming pools in some other places. In fact the pool at the Little Italy Hotel on Tongatapu probably was the same size as these potholes! Damien was a funny character: originally a software programmer he decided that life in Vanuatu was a lot easier and built an apartment house directly on the beach. Despite his non-stop consumption of coke (the drink … not the powder) not the most talkative person we ever met – but he had programmed his very own hotel movie entertainment system based on his extensive DVD collection 🙂

After we had settled in, we were craving some fresh coconut and took a short walk into nearby Mele village thinking village + coconut trees = coconuts for sale. Well not in an island village where every local who wants a coconut just climbs the next tree and gets one – so who would bother to buy one (except those stupid tourists)? But maybe if they sold enough coconuts to tourists they would be able to do renovate their sheet metal shacks? It certainly is a different kind of life with kids and pigs running around, one neighbour providing half of the village with music from his wooden hut and old gramps enjoying the view from her outdoor toilet house …

.

U no kam insaedOnly a few hundred metres down the beach from our apartment was Mele Beach Bar, which served some wicked iced coffees and excellent wood fired pizzas. Walking back to our place we came across this sign and realised what a funny language Bislama actually is.

.

.

rasta smileyEnjoy the short vocabulary lesson, read the Bislama translation out loud and tell me you don’t see the picture of a marihuana smoking Jamaican Rastafari in your head when you read it.

Learning Bislama  tri

Likum yu bagkegen!

Posted in Vanuatu | Leave a comment

Espiritu Santo

Espiritu SantoEspiritu Santo got it’s name from the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, who was working for Spain and believed he had arrived in the Great Southern Continent, Terra Australis in 1604. Almost mate, almost! Santo has a very lively history: from a Portuguese-Spanish outpost to a British-French Condominium to an American airbase to an independent island republic before finally being conquered by the Republic of Vanuatu with the help of Papua New Guinea – and now we were visiting 🙂

.

When we finally arrived at Village de Santo resort late at night after a bumpy flight we were welcomed by the super friendly owner Nabil from Egypt with a complimentary dinner plate (“When we heard your plane was delayed so long we asked our cook to prepare a small dinner for you before he went home.” – WOW). The resort was really cute, the staff was amazing and the food truly fantastic … we never managed to go out for dinner to another restaurant after we had looked at the dinner specials each day!

Dinner day one: duck in orange sauce!

When my luggage and snorkelling gear finally arrived two days late it was time to explore the island and on our first trip we went to Million Dollar Point, where the good old US of A dumped thousands of tons of equipment and refuse several hundreds of metres into the ocean after WWII. Whereas the beach still looks like a junk yard, the underwater part turned into a fascinating snorkelling and diving spot. snorkel smileyWe saw millions of colourful fish and coral between rusting ship wrecks, cannons and other military equipment in various states of decay. It really was a VERY odd feeling to snorkel over a shipwreck and suddenly the water temperature drops and there is nothing below you but deep blue ocean.

.

Dinner day two: island style tapas!

Despite a severe shortage of mini busses and taxis due to a cruise ship invasion the next morning Nabil managed to find us a driver who would take us up the east coast to Port Olry, famous Champagne Beach and last but not least Matevulu blue hole. It must have been reaaaally difficult to find a car, because this one would not get a roadworthy certificate in any civilised country. We felt sorry for it every time we hit a pot hole … and the driver spoke only French 🙂

When we arrived at Port Olry we were actually wondering why we wanted to go there in the first place. A tiny unattractive village at the beach, fairly poor snorkelling and not much else. The Port Olry Habor Beach Restaurant seemed like a nice place for lunch, but the service was virtually non-existent and after we had seen the (sold out) coconut crab and lobster plates we were bitterly disappointed by our overpriced microscopic steak. Well the owner was French, so what did we expect!

.

Next stop was Champagne Beach … unfortunately it was raining, but luckily the busloads of cruise shippers must have passed through earlier that day and we had this pristine white beach all to ourselves. Further out the bay there even was some nice snorkelling, but the mixing of warm seawater with a cold freshwater spring made the water quite blurry sometimes.

The first thing we noticed when we reached Matevulu blue hole were the hordes of cruise shippers who occupied the water and everything around. Luckily they soon returned back to their ship and we had the bright blue freshwater spring almost all to ourselves. After some near drowning moments with our snorkel we got used to swimming in fresh water again and Bea played prima ballerina while I tried out the monkey swing 😉

The funniest moment of the day happened when Bea offered our driver an Oreo cookie and the guy accepted the box and just wouldn’t return it back to her. All we could do was watch him in disbelief as he happily munched all our Oreos.

After this long and exhausting sightseeing day we were starved and originally wanted to try out one of the lonely planet top choice restaurants in Luganville … but when we saw the dinner specials at our hotel we quickly abandoned that idea and indulged in an amazing seafood farewell feast.

Dinner day three: fresh oysters, seafood chowder and lobster

YUMMMY !!! Weeks later we’re still dreaming about that food! Thousand thanks to the great team at Village de Santo, we really loved staying at your place!

Posted in Vanuatu | Leave a comment

Trouble in paradise

Vanuatu mapBefore we started to plan our travel we hadn’t even heard of the Republic of Vanuatu, let alone it’s 82 islands. But studying Google Maps during our travel preparations we noticed this small little island country west of Fiji and were intrigued. A country we had never heard of before? The more we read and heard about it during our trip, the more we were looking forward to visit these islands ourselves and eventually we even scratched New Caledonia from our travel itinerary to have more time for Vanuatu … but also because we were generally out of time (nine months just isn’t enough time for a decent holiday 😉 ).

.

Fiji Airways flight FJ261 from Nadi to Vanuatu was on time and we soon arrived at Bauerfield International Airport on Efate. We passed through Immigration smoothly and were soon greeted with a warm island welcome!

However, Efate was not our final destination in Vanuatu for that day and we still had to get to another island with the lovely name of Espiritu Santo. The onward flight with Air Vanuatu was already booked for 10:30 and we intended to use the two hour stopover on Efate to get some Vatu (the local currency) from an ATM and shop for a local SIM card. Unlike airports like Paris Charles de Gaulle or Heathrow you don’t need to include several hours to get from one gate to the other in the South Pacific :-). Well, we forgot to include plenty of island time and when we arrived at the ‘domestic terminal’ next door we learned that there were some problems with our plane and the earliest flight we could hope for was around 3pm … 5 hours delay on a boring airport! Bugger!

Since Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila was only 20 minutes from the airport we decided on a little field trip instead of waiting at the airport terminal. Our big luggage went into storage at the Air Vanuatu sales office and a few minutes later we hopped into one of the many mini busses that drive all around Efate. Formal taxis with a T license plate charge around 1.500 Vatu into town whereas these mini buses with a B license plate charge 150 Vatu per person, but may take some detours to drop of and pick up other people on the way. Well we were not in a hurry and some funny Kiwi guy on the bus helped us figure out where we actually needed to go in Port Vila: the main market for some fresh coconut!

Unfortunately that bus ride was the last time we saw my beloved iPad mini, which must have slipped beneath the seat unnoticed 😦 Of course we had not remembered the license plate of the bus and even the Kiwi guy we accidentally ran into again could not help us locate the mini bus either. Vanuatu Police stationSo we spent the next hour at our second South Pacific police station reporting the loss of my iPad … walking to the ministry of finance two blocks down the road to pay the police report fee … and coming back to the police station to be told that we could collect the report some time later that week – island time style.

Needless to say that our mood wasn’t the best when we returned to the airport around 1pm only to be told that our plane was still broken and two flights with a 18-seat Twin Otter were scheduled at 5pm and 8pm that evening. Guess which one we were on?

We spent another frustrating seven hours at the airport being bored and googling how useful the “Find my iPad” app would have been if I had activated it on my iPad BEFORE loosing it. Crying SmileySomebody even offered to call the local radio station for an ’emergency’ broadcast and our two “REWARD” flyers are probably still posted at the bus pick-up location … but no one ever called …

When the remaining few people at the airport finally prepared to board around half past eight the airline had one last surprise for all of us when they announced that there was 300kg too much weight for take off and passengers had to remove weight from their luggage! I grabbed my overnight bag and left the main backpack behind – which arrived two days and numerous phone calls later without any sort of apology from Air Vanuatu … guess they won’t win the airline of the year award from us this year !!!!

Air Vanuatu Twin Otter

Air Vanuatu Twin Otter

.

scared smileyAt least we were finally on our way and all that was standing between us and Espiritu Santo was a small thunderstorm on board of a tiny twin-turbo plane…

Posted in Vanuatu | Leave a comment

Fiji underwater

What would a trip to Fiji be without plenty of snorkelling? The underwater landscape was astonishing and Merritt, Steve and us took the kayaks out to the nearest reef several times:

Posted in Fiji | Leave a comment

Blue Lagoon – Fiji

Wow, Fiji was a difficult destination for booking … over 300 islands to chose from and one more beautiful than the other. If only we had a couple of years time and our own yacht to explore this tropical island paradise. In the end we decided against a busy island hopping trip and booked a six day super-special-very-last-minute package at the Blue Lagoon Beach Resort instead. After a one-night stopover in Nadi we hopped on the Yasawa Flyer ferry to our resort on Nacula Island in the Yasawa group of islands which had been the filming locations for movies such as “Blue Lagoon” and “Castaway”.

It turned out to be a great decision to stay at one place and we enjoyed our time at the Blue Lagoon so much that we were in no hurry to leave and added two more nights (good thing we hadn’t made any previous plans for the rest of our stay in Fiji 🙂 ). But what is there not to like about a beautiful beachfront villa on a tropical island paradise with good food and friendly staff? Sometimes we just wished for a villa slightly further away from the bustle of the boat landing area disturbing our afternoon hammock siesta 🙂

 

.

Part of our last minute special was a lovely champagne and lobster dinner for two by the beach:

Lobster dinner for two

Lobster dinner for two

 

.It was so easy to enjoy ourselves at such a beautiful place with some great people we met during our stay.

 

Posted in Fiji | Leave a comment

Coconuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner

You could argue that being a vegetable for four days on a remote island like Vava’u is enough island time for one holiday. Well we thought otherwise and stayed a couple more days at the Blue Banana Beach House at Ha’atufa on Tongatapu’s west coast – far away from the hectic city bustle of downtown Nuku’Alofa 😉

CoconutsThis time we brought plenty of coconuts for our stay after being tricked on Vava’u where we were promised “fresh coconuts at the resort” … they forgot to mention that it would be ONE coconut per person for the entire stay. Since neither of us felt like climbing a coconut tree ourselves we bought a whole banana leaf basket at the market for 10 Pa’anga which is roughly A$6 or 4 EUR. Both the driver and our host were smiling at us when we arrived with 2 backpacks and a basket full of coconuts, but hey at least we got enough nuts 🙂

Our self contained ‘Maui’ garden vale was fairly basic, but Nutella toast brekki with coffee, fresh coconut and fruit overlooking a tropical beach is something we could really get used to!

.

During this stay we were slightly more active and went snorkelling a couple of times.

We managed to use the only rainy day for a bike tour to the Mapu a Vaea blowholes and the tsunami rocks. Two ‘tourist attractions’ that could have been way more interesting with a little effort. Like having an actual path to the tsunami rocks or some explanation how these gigantic rocks were swept inland for several hundred metres to rest in the middle of a coconut field. After doing some online research I discovered just how impressive these rocks actually are: National Geographic – Ancient Tsunami Carried Giant Boulders to Tonga

.

On the trip to the airport we even spotted the famous two headed coconut tree (Remember! This is one of the top tourist attractions in Tonga) and got a brief intro of how to climb a coconut tree. Watching one of the locals do it really didn’t look too difficult at all!

Posted in Tonga | Leave a comment

Vava’u

Vava'u - sateliteThe rain was pouring when we drove back to Fua’Amotu airport for our flight to Vava’u island in the northern Vava’u Group (this group was lucky when cyclone Ian devastated large parts of Tonga’s Ha’api group in January). When we walked onto the tarmac we were at first still looking for our plane when it dawned on us that this tiny twin-prop was going to be our ride. The plane was on loan from AirVanuatu because REALTonga airlines apparently cannot even afford their own planes (their second plane, a slightly larger ATR, was a gift from the People’s Republic of China after their previous plane ‘retired’). With only 18 seats and an open cockpit it was kind of interesting to watch our pilots during the pre-flight checks … until the seatbelt sign fell off the front wall and suddenly all passengers became silent. Surprisingly enough it was a really smooth ride with beautiful island views!

 

Once we arrived at Mystic Sands resort we slowed down to local Tonga island time for the next few days: Sleeping, eating, reading, snorkelling and more sleeping. The most exciting adventure was a one hour walk to the nearest village in hope for a cafe by the beach – hahaha, we’re still in Tonga.

 

 

.

Unfortunately I also found a German book in the book exchange library of a very odd German guy who emigrated to Tonga and dared to waste precious hours of my life by writing the utterly annoying and boring book “Hans der Tonganer” … brrrrrr.

Posted in Tonga | 1 Comment

No audience with the King of Tonga

TongaTonga flagNew Zealand, like most other countries these days, requires for tourists to already have an outbound ticket at the time of arrival. That kind of messed up our original plan to travel through New Zealand at our own leisure and then just drive to the airport when we had enough and pick the next best flight to a fancy destination. Instead we had to decide MONTHS in advance where we wanted to go after New Zealand! Without having bothered to consult any travel guide beforehand we had booked a flight to the Kingdom of Tonga. It had a nice ring to the name 🙂

Well MAYBE we should have done some research first, because we missed the whale watching season by three monhts 😦 and apart from the fancy name there wasn’t a whole lot else to do or see in the last kingdom of the South Pacific. We’re still trying to figure out, why so many people seem to have heard of Tonga before when other Pacific island gems (like the Cook Islands or Vanuatu) remain relatively unknown.

Let’s start our time in Tonga with the very accurate introduction of the Lonely Planet:

“Say goodbye to tourist hype – you’re now in the Kingdom of Tonga. This is a country that survives on international aid and remittances sent from Tongans living overseas. You may get the impression that most Tongans would prefer visitors to donate their dollars and not leave the airport; expats seem determined to build a tourist industry, but most of the locals just don’t seem to care. In some ways, this is incredibly refreshing and in others incredibly frustrating.” ( © Lonely Planet – Pacific Islands)

Fua'Amotu airportWhen our Virgin Australia flight from Auckland arrived at Fua’Amotu international airport on Tongatapu we didn’t quite realise that this would be our last decent airplane for a long time. We enjoyed the warm weather and absorbed our first impressions of the Tongan island flair on the way to Tonga’s capital Nuku’Alofa.

.

Well to be honest there was not much to absorb other than plenty of coconut palms, ragged huts/houses and the people and animals on the side of the road. We soon arrived at the Little Italy Hotel, where we would stay for the next two nights. Our air-conditioned room had a cute italian style decor and great ocean view … we just won’t mention the peeling tapestry or post stamp sized pool here 😉 The ferry wreck sitting on the corral reef just outside the hotel apparently crashed into the reef a few kilometres up the coast some years ago and was ‘relocated’ to its current resting place by a cyclone just recently. “Too difficult to remove’ was the comment of the hotel staff … we guess they’re just hoping for the next cyclone to get rid of it again 🙂

We quickly put our luggage in the room and walked along the foreshore promenade (a gift from the people of Japan) to the royal residence (a gift from New Zealand) on the outskirts of Nuku’Alofa. What the pictures don’t show are all the empty plastic bottles, cans and garbage everywhere and Bea’s pictures of the residence are quite flattering because they don’t show the rusting fences or peeling paint.

When we saw one of the military guard open a gate to the palace we decided to stick around and wait for a glimpse of the king. About half an hour later a small police convoy escorted a black SUV with tinted windows and HM1 license plate to the entrance gate. Through the fence we saw an unremarkable man get out of the car and step into the residence without bothering about the (only) two German tourists waving at him from the street 😦

After a relaxed coffee at Friends Cafe and a nice fresh coconut from the market we wanted to quickly get some cash from the ANZ ATM before returning to our hotel. Well there’s no such thing as quickly or smooth in the Pacific Islands!

ANZ ATM

the no-armed bandit

After the usual procedure of card-in, secret PIN typing, withdrawal amount selection, confirmation, card-out, receipt and listening to whirring sounds in the machine … the magic money box just wouldn’t open 😦 BUGGER! No hotline on the ATM, no idea where the ANZ branch was and it was after 5pm anyway – DOUBLE BUGGER! On the way back to the hotel we passed the central police station and decided to file an incident report to be on the safe side. After the officer diligently wrote down our story he asked us to show him what happened at the ATM again: so card-in, secret PIN typing, Tonga central police stationwithdrawal amount selection, confirmation, card-out, receipt, listening to whirring sounds in the machine and … sure enough the ATM opens with the chosen amount – TRIPLE BUGGER! Nothing else we could do that day and we returned to our hotel in low spirits feeling ‘robbed’ by a bloddy ATM.

Using the flimsy hotel WIFI signal the next morning we saw that there were indeed two ATM debits to our card from the previous day. When I called the Tongan ANZ ATM hotline I only got a grumpy lady asking me why I bothered calling her in Fiji (???) instead of reporting it to the Tongan branch instead – huh? So we walked back to town, found the refrigerator chilled ANZ branch and patiently waited until our number was finally called (not the funny looking guy, not the funny looking guy please … well guess who we got). The funny looking guy was as much help as an empty coconut and it took him what felt like half an hour of staring at the two ATM receipts before he finally had a bright moment and called the branch manager. It didn’t take her more than 30 seconds to understand our story and put me on the phone to our Aussie bank to file an ATM dispute. Turned out we could have just called our Aussie bank the day before and let them sort out the issue right away. Duh!

After this banking incident it was finally time for some sightseeing: Abel Tasman’s landing site, royal tombs, memorial of Captain Cook’s landing site (funded by New Zealand aid), Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon (the Pacific’s equivalent of Stonehenge) and Anahulu Cave (a dirty hole in the ground originally funded by Australia aid, but the generator and lighting were long gone).

But when the island’s top attractions include a double headed coconut tree you realise just how little there is to see. All the more surprising that neither the hotel staff nor the driver understood why the German tourists were keen to see the fishing pigs (Duh! Pigs are fishing in Tonga all the time).

Posted in Tonga | Leave a comment