We have just returned from an 8 day trip to Vanuatu. This was our first encounter with Vanuatu and we found it quite different to the other South Pacific Islands we have been to, Fiji, Cook Islands and Samoa. Our first thoughts were that the people of Vanuatu are generally much poorer and are mostly Melanesian rather than Polynesian.
We stayed at Breakas Beach resort which was great (see separate review) and visited 2 other resorts close by, Paradise Cove which was smaller, more exclusive and quite a way off the beaten track and Erakor Island Resort, which was great but geared more for young families. There was a free ferry to Erakor Island resort and no entrance fee which we thought was a great way to attract other visitors unlike some of the other island resorts e.g. Iririki and Hideaway that charged an entrance fee. By the way the coffee served at Erakor Island Resort was the best coffee we encountered in Vanuatu.
The town of Port Vila was dusty and busy, there were even small traffic holdups with the volume of vans being used as buses. It seemed as if anyone with a van could get a bus license regardless of the state of the vans... they were recognisable by the "B" on the number plate. If they had a "T" them then it was a taxi and would cost you heaps more. We rode in some that had dilapidated seats and hardly a panel that wasn't dented! The drivers also were at times "scary" in that they drove at astonishing speeds over pot-holed, bumpy streets and had many a "close encounter". We occasionally got a good van and equally good driver (Cedric from Mele Village) who carefully drove us around and showed us the sights en route. The fare within Port Vila city limits is 150 vatu and a bus will come along every couple of minutes.
In Port Vila we had coffee and cakes/pastries at Au Peche Mignon which we thought was the best in town. The coffee was mediocre but the french baking more than compensated. We went La Village Cafe once but they had no cakes or muffins etc to offer us, you had to have lunch or dinner. We had dinner at Chill Restaurant one night which was really nice but rather expensive. We had planned to try other restaurants in town but the setting at Breakas Resort was so beautiful that we opted to eat there even though it was expensive.
We recommend that you do a "Round the Island Trip" . We went with a firm called Native Island Tours. We had booked with Atmosphere Tours but were picked up by Native Tours as we were the only 2 booked with Atmosphere. We were really disappointed as we had specifically researched the tours available and chosen Atmosphere and we weren't advised about the change. Anyway Native Tours were quite good and took us to similar places. Downers NZ have just finished tar sealing the road around the island (140 kms) making it more accessible than ever before. Once out of Port Vila the poverty becomes much more apparent. Villagers still wash clothes in the rivers and cook on open fires. Some villages are fortunate enough to have a communal pump for water. The men of the village still hunt wild pigs with bows and arrows in the centre of the island which is still all jungle. They exist by selling the fruit and vegetables they grow at roadside stalls or at Port Vila markets. The village children are very shy but we took some blow up beach balls from our $2 shop and gave them to the littlies. We were rewarded with the most beautiful smiles. We were astonished that other kids didn't gather around looking for gifts, they were happy to share the one ball. It was different in Port Vila where kids seemed to have been trained to hassle the visitors, asking for money to buy soccer balls. There were more of them around on the days the cruise ships visit.
We had a great holiday, the temperature was 28°C to 30°C everyday and we only had a couple of hours rain one morning.
We recommend it to anyone who likes the pacific island type holiday. If you are looking for "the Ritz" then you won't find it in Vanuatu.