Vanuatu

The Republic of Vanuatu is a Pacific island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean.

The archipelago, of volcanic origin, is 1750km east of Australia, 540km northeast of New Caledonia, east of New Guinea, southeast of the Solomon Islands, and west of Fiji.

Vanuatu was first inhabited by Melanesian people. Pottery fragments have been found on the islands dating to 1300–1100BC.

The first Europeans to visit the islands were a Spanish expedition led by Portuguese navigator Fernandes de Queirós, who arrived on the largest island in 1606.

In the 1880s, France and the United Kingdom claimed parts of the archipelago, and in 1906, they agreed on a framework for jointly managing the archipelago as the New Hebrides.

An independence movement arose in the 1970s, and the Republic of Vanuatu was founded in 1980.

After Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, Europeans did not return until 1768, when Louis Antoine de Bougainville rediscovered the islands. In 1774, Captain Cook named the islands the New Hebrides, a name that would last until independence in 1980.

The first political party, established in the early 1970s, was called the New Hebrides National Party. The independent Republic of Vanuatu was established in 1980.

During the 1990s, Vanuatu experienced a period of political instability which resulted in a more decentralised government. The Vanuatu Mobile Force, a paramilitary group, attempted a coup in 1996 because of a pay dispute.

There were allegations of corruption in the government of Maxime Carlot Korman. New elections have been called for several times since 1997, most recently in 2016.

Vanuatu is a Y-shaped archipelago consisting of about 82 relatively small, geologically newer islands of volcanic origin (65 of them inhabited), with about 1300km between the most northern and southern islands.

The 14 of Vanuatu’s islands that have surface areas of more than 100km2, from largest to smallest: Espiritu Santo, Malakula, Efate, Erromango, Ambrym, Tanna, Pentecost, Epi, Ambae or Aoba, Gaua, Vanua Lava, Maewo, Malo and Aneityum or Anatom.

The nation’s largest towns are the capital Port Vila, on Efate, and Luganville on Espiritu Santo.

The highest point in Vanuatu is Mount Tabwemasana, at 1879m, on the island of Espiritu Santo.

Most of the islands are steep, with unstable soils and little permanent fresh water.

The shorelines are mostly rocky with fringing reefs and no continental shelf, dropping rapidly into the ocean depths.[19]

There are several active volcanoes in Vanuatu, including Lopevi, Mount Yasur and several underwater volcanoes. Volcanic activity is common, with an ever-present danger of a major eruption.

Vanuatu is recognised as a distinct terrestrial ecoregion, known as the Vanuatu rainforests. It is part of the Australasia ecozone, which includes New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand.

Vanuatu’s population has caused intense fishing pressure near villages and the depletion of near-shore fish species. Many upland watersheds are being deforested and degraded, and fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce.

Despite its tropical forests, Vanuatu has a limited number of plant and animal species. It has an indigenous flying fox, Pteropus anetianus. There are no indigenous large mammals. The 19 species of native reptiles include the flowerpot snake, found only on Efate.

There are eleven species of bats (three unique to Vanuatu) and sixty-one species of land and water birds.

The region is rich in sea life, with more than 4000 species of marine molluscs and a large diversity of marine fishes.

There are three or possibly four adult saltwater crocodiles living in Vanuatu’s mangroves and no current breeding population.

The climate is tropical, with about nine months of warm to hot rainy weather and the possibility of cyclones and three to four months of cooler, drier weather characterised by winds from the southeast.

Cool between April and September, the days become hotter and more humid starting in October. The daily temperature ranges from 20–32 °C (68–90 °F). Southeasterly trade winds occur from May to October.

Vanuatu has a long rainy season, with significant rainfall almost every month.

In March 2015, Cyclone Pam impacted much of Vanuatu as a Category 5 severe tropical cyclone, causing extensive damage and deaths, possibly the worst natural disaster in Vanuatu’s history.

The four mainstays of the economy are agriculture, tourism, offshore financial services, and raising cattle. There is substantial fishing activity, although this industry does not bring in much foreign exchange. Exports include copra, kava, beef, cocoa and timber, and imports include machinery and equipment, foodstuffs and fuels. In contrast, mining activity is unsubstantial.

Tourism brings in much-needed foreign exchange. Vanuatu is widely recognised as one of the premier vacation destinations for scuba divers wishing to explore coral reefs of the South Pacific region.

A further significant attraction to scuba divers is the wreck of the US ocean liner and converted troop carrier SS President Coolidge on Espiritu Santo island.

Sunk during World War II, it is one of the largest shipwrecks in the world that is accessible for recreational diving.

Tourism increased 17% from 2007 to 2008 to reach 196,134 arrivals, according to one estimate.[48] The 2008 total is a sharp increase from 2000, in which there were only 57,000 visitors (of these, 37,000 were from Australia, 8,000 from New Zealand, 6,000 from New Caledonia, 3,000 from Europe, 1,000 from North America, 1,000 from Japan.

Tourism has been promoted, in part, by Vanuatu being the site of several reality-TV shows. The ninth season of the reality TV series Survivor was filmed on Vanuatu, entitled Survivor: Vanuatu—Islands of Fire.

Two years later, Australia’s Celebrity Survivor was filmed at the same location used by the US version. In mid-2002, the government stepped up efforts to boost tourism.

The national language of the Republic of Vanuatu is Bislama.

The official languages are Bislama, French and English. The principal languages of education are French and English. The use of English or French as the formal language is split along political lines.

Bislama is a pidgin language, and now a creole in urban areas. Essentially combining a typically Melanesian grammar with a mostly English vocabulary, Bislama is the only language that can be understood and spoken by the majority of the population, as a second language.

In addition, 113 indigenous languages are still actively spoken in Vanuatu.

The density of languages, per capita, is the highest of any nation in the world, with an average of only 2000 speakers per language.

Christianity is the predominant religion in Vanuatu, consisting of several denominations.

Because of the modern goods that the military in the Second World War brought with them when they came to the islands, several cargo cults developed. Many died out, but the John Frum cult on Tanna is still large, and has adherents in the parliament. Also on Tanna is the Prince Philip Movement, which reveres the United Kingdom’s Prince Philip.

Villagers of the Yaohnanen tribe believed in an ancient story about the pale-skinned son of a mountain spirit venturing across the seas to look for a powerful woman to marry. Prince Philip, having visited the island with his new wife Queen Elizabeth, fitted the description exactly and is therefore revered as a god around the isle of Tanna.

Education is not compulsory, and school enrolments and attendance are among the lowest in the Pacific.

Vanuatu culture retains a strong diversity through local regional variations and through foreign influence. Vanuatu may be divided into three major cultural regions. In the north, wealth is established by how much one can give away, through a grade-taking system. Pigs, particularly those with rounded tusks, are considered a symbol of wealth throughout Vanuatu.

In the centre, more traditional Melanesian cultural systems dominate. In the south, a system involving grants of title with associated privileges has developed.[66]

Young men undergo various coming-of-age ceremonies and rituals to initiate them into manhood, usually including circumcision.

Most villages have a nakamal or village clubhouse which serves as a meeting point for men and as a place to drink kava.

Villages also have male- and female-only sections. These sections are situated all over the villages; in nakamals, special spaces are provided for females when they are in their menstruation period.

The traditional music of Vanuatu is still thriving in the rural areas of Vanuatu. Musical instruments consist mostly of idiophones: drums of various shape and size, slit gongs, stamping tubes, as well as rattles, among others.

Another musical genre that has become widely popular during the 20th century in all areas of Vanuatu, is known as string band music. It combines guitars, ukulele, and popular songs.

More recently the music of Vanuatu, as an industry, grew rapidly in the 1990s and several bands have forged a distinctive ni-Vanuatu identity. Popular genres of modern commercial music, which are currently being played in the urban areas include zouk music and reggaeton. Reggaeton, a variation of rap/hip-hop spoken in the Spanish language, played alongside its own distinctive beat, is especially played in the local nightclubs of Port Vila with, mostly, an audience of Westerners and tourists.

The cuisine of Vanuatu (aelan kakae) incorporates fish, root vegetables such as taro and yams, fruits, and vegetables. Most island families grow food in their gardens, and food shortages are rare. Papayas, pineapples, mangoes, plantains, and sweet potatoes are abundant through much of the year.

Coconut milk and coconut cream are used to flavour many dishes. Most food is cooked using hot stones or through boiling and steaming; very little food is fried.[19]

The national dish of Vanuatu is the lap lap.

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Tubuai

Tubuai is located south of Tahiti, offering a cooler climate for holidaymakers.

The Tubuai group includes Rimatara, Rurutu, Raivavae and Îles Maria, part of the Austral Islands in far southwest French Polynesia.

The Austral islands are a great art area in the South Pacific.

Artifacts include sharkskin drums, wooden bowls, fly whisks and tapa cloth.

Tubuai has a population 2200 people.

The island is ringed by a lagoon and encircling barrier reef.

A break in the northern reef enables passage for ships.

The barrier reef creates a lagoon of 85sqkm, up to 5km wide.

Because it is shallow it is usually bright turquoise or jade in colour.

Eight offshore islands surround the main island.

Tubuai has two volcanic domes, with Mt Taita’a being highest at 422m.

Seven islets (motus) are located on the reef that encircles the island.

Captain James Cook learned the island’s name when natives surrounded his ship in canoes in 1777.

The next Europeans to arrive were HMS Bounty mutineers, in 1789.

A conflict arose while the mutineers were still on the ship and islanders were killed in their canoes.

The location is now called Bloody Bay.

The climate of Tubuai is cooler than Tahiti, with temperatures averaging 20–25C. The lagoon waters typically reach 26C in summer but only drop a few degrees in winter.

The humidity is lower than Tahiti, which appeals to some prospective visitors.



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Taha’a

Taha’a and neighboring Raiatea are enclosed by the same coral reef in the Leeward Islands, part of the Society Islands in French Polynesia.

The two main resorts of Taha’a are both on their own islands, offering both luxury and affordable holiday accommodation.

Le Taha’a Private Island and Spa is one of the most luxurious resorts in the Tahiti region.

Located just off Taha’a in a lagoon surrounded by white sand, it has spectacular views of both Taha’a and Bora Bora.

In the middle of the lagoon is Vahine Island Private Island Resort, which has gleaming white beaches, three over-water bungalows, and six beach bungalows.

La Pirogue Hotel is on a private island in the north of Taha’a. It has nine bungalows.

Taha’a island itself is scenic, reaching a height of 590m.

It produces up to 80 per cent of French Polynesian vanilla.

It also produces pearls of exceptional quality.

The administrative centre is the settlement of Patio.

Taha’a and its small islets can be reached by boat and outrigger from Raiatea.

These parts of the Society Islands are less modernized, but the resort on Vahine Island is globally regarded as an exclusive getaway.

Tahaa has a perfect combination of white sand and crystal clear water. Picture: Kat Kellner/flikr
Tahaa has a perfect combination of white sand and crystal clear water. Picture: Kat Kellner/flikr



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Raiatea

The spectacular profile of Raiatea. Picture: clr_flkr/flikr
The spectacular profile of Raiatea. Picture: clr_flkr/flikr
Maori dancing at Raiatea. Picture: Alessandro Caproni/flikr
Maori dancing at Raiatea. Picture: Alessandro Caproni/flikr

Ra’iātea is the second largest of the Society Islands, after Tahiti, in French Polynesia.

A traditional name for the island is Havai’i, homeland of the Māori people.

The Māori of Aotearoa regard this place as a sacred marae of their ancestors.

The main township on Ra’iātea is ‘Uturoa, the administrative centre for the Leeward Islands.

There are colleges for students from the regional islands of Bora Bora, Taha’a, Huahine and Maupiti.

The extinct Ulieta bird originated from this island, along with other unknown species, there is only one drawing of it, in the Natural History Museum London.

The islands of Ra’iātea and Taha’a are both enclosed by a single coral reef.

Ra’iātea is the largest and most populated of the Leeward Islands, with a land area of 167km2 and 12,000 inhabitants.

The first European to sight Ra’iātea was Pedro Fernandes de Queirós in 1606.

The Polynesian navigator Tupaia, who sailed with explorer James Cook, was born in Ra’iātea around 1725.

Cook visited Raiatea in 1769 and again in 1773-1774.

King Tamatoa VI was the last monarch, reigning from 1884-1888.

Ra’iātea has a small road that runs around the entire island.

Ra’iātea Airport is an airport in ‘Uturoa.

There is less tourism compared to other islands in the archipelago. There are two marinas, a four-star hotel The Hawaiki Nui, and a port for cruise ships.

The economy is mainly agricultural with exports of vanilla, pineapple and coconut. Fa’aroa Valley cultivates vanilla, and pearl farming is an important industry, while the farming of cattle, sheep and pigs has decreased.



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Explore Ra’iātea and the nearby islands with this map. Zoom in and toggle between map and satellite modes as needed.

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Rangiroa

The pier at Kia Ora Resort on Rangiroa Atoll. Pic: Dany13/flickr
The pier at Kia Ora Resort on Rangiroa Atoll. Pic: Dany13/flickr

Rangiroa is one of the largest atolls in the world.

It is part of the Palliser group, 355km northeast of Tahiti.

Its nearest atoll is Tikehau, 12km to the west.

Rangiroa is home to about 2500 people. The chief town is Avatoru. Only two islands, at the northern end of the atoll, are permanently inhabited.

The atoll consists of 415 small islands and sandbars with a land area of 170 km². The atoll is 80km in length and from 5km to 32 km wide.

There are about 100 hundred passages through the fringing reef.

The lagoon reaches 35m deep and is so large it has its own horizon.

Rangiroa is a major diving destination because of the lagoon’s clear blue water and impressive marine fauna.

During the 1950s, the economy of Rangiroa was driven by fishing and and copra production. The building of Rangiroa Airport in 1965 allowed development of tourism.

Breeding of pearl oysters in the lagoon has produced black pearls.

These pearls vary from white to dark are the only cultured pearls with so many different natural colours.

Pearl farming is done in more than 30 atolls of French Polynesia.

Rangiroa is also known for vineyards, which are unique. The vines grow on the edge of a lagoon beside coconuts, and produce two harvests a year. The winery is in the heart of the village of Avatoru. The first vines were imported in 1992. The vineyard is Domaine Dominique Auroy.

For divers, Rangiroa has some of the best dives in the world in and around the Tiputa Pass, which lies at one end of the one main road and runs 3.5km to the Avatoru Pass.

When the tidal current is flowing inward through Tiputa Pass, about 200 sharks gather at the entrance to the Pass, at 50m deep.

The sharks can remain motionless. Large manta rays, green sea turtles and humphead wrasses can also be seen. In January, large number of stingrays gather in the Tiputa Pass, as well as hammerhead sharks that feed on them.

A notable site in the atoll is the famous Blue Lagoon, which is a smaller lagoon formed on the southwestern edge of Rangiroa. Its shallow waters accentuate the bright blue color of the water. The Pink Sands are sandbars on the southeastern portion of Rangiroa.

There are daily flight connections with Tahiti via Rangiroa Airport, located on Avatoru Island. There is a road circling Avatoru.

Explore Rangiroa and its resorts with the zoomable Google map.




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Huahine

The bridge connecting the two islands. Pic: Dany13/flickr
The bridge connecting the two islands. Pic: Dany13/flickr

Huahine is twin islands in French Polynesia surrounded by a fringing coral reef and several small islets, or “motu”.

Huahine Nui (Big Huahine) is to the north and Huahine Iti (Little Huahine) to the south, separated by a channel which becomes a sandspit at low tide.

A bridge has been built connecting Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti.

In the northwest of Huahine Nui lies a 375ha brackish lake called Lac Fauna Nui, the remains of an ancient lagoon.

One of the attractions on Huahine is a bridge that crosses a stream where large freshwater eels can be fed.

An archaeological site in the north of the island has revealed remains of birds exterminated by the earliest Polynesian colonists of the island.

Air transport is via Huahine Airport on the north shore of Huahine Nui.

Explore Huahine with the map below, zoom in on the island to find the many resorts.






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Mo’orea

Moorea is considered one of the world's most beautiful islands. Pic: Herve
Moorea is one of the world’s most scenic islands. Pic: Herve/flikr

Mountainous Mo’orea is part of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, just 17km northwest of Tahiti.

The island is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.

It has a variety of accommodation, including the over-water bungalows popular with holidaymakers.

But there are other excellent beachside stays. See them here.

Ferries go to Vai’are wharf in Mo’orea daily from the Tahitian capital Pape’ete.

Mo’orea’s Tema’e Airport has regular flights to Pape’ete International Airport and other Society Islands such as Bora Bora. Air Tahiti is the service used locally.

Mo’orea airport is located north of Vai’are Bay.

There is one road around the island marked in kilometres from one to 35. The first marker is near the airport and the 35th one is in Ha’apiti.

The island was formed by a volcano up to 2.5 million years ago, the result of a geologic hotspot that formed the Society Archipelago.

There are two small bays on the north shore, one to the west called ‘Ōpūnohu Bay and one to the east called Cook’s Bay.

Vai’are Bay is a small inlet on the east shore and a busy area, as the main village is near the bay.

The highest point on the island is Mount Tohi’e’a, near the island’s centre. It can be seen from Tahiti.

There are hiking trails in the mountains.

Because of its stunning scenery, Mo’orea is a popular destination for special occasions.

The widely travelled late naturalist Charles Darwin looked at the reef surrounding the island from one of the peaks and described it as a “picture in a frame”.

Visitors who enjoy watersports are well catered for.

Explore Moorea with our Google map, zoom in to find the resorts. Don’t forget to bookmark this page.




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Tahiti

Tahiti is the largest in the Windward Island group of French Polynesia, within the Society Islands archipelago of the Southern Pacific Ocean.

This island formed from a volcano and is mountainous and famous for black sand beaches.

It is surrounded by coral reefs.

Tahiti is divided into two parts, the bigger northwestern Tahiti Nui and the smaller southeastern Tahiti Iti.

It is French colony with a population of almost 200,000, the cultural and political centre of French Polynesia.

The capital Pape’ete is on the northwest coast, with Fa’a’ā International Airport located near Papeete.

Polynesians represent about 70 per cent of the population, with the rest being European, Chinese and mixed heritage.

French is the official language, although Tahitian is widely spoken.

Tahiti’s currency is the French Pacific Franc, pegged to the Euro at 1 CFP = EUR .0084. Local hotels and financial institutions offer exchange services.

While Tahiti is an interesting destination in itself, it is today often just a stopover point for people visiting the surrounding islands such as Bora Bora, reached by regular flights from Pape’ete.

Tahiti and its islands are famous for over-water accommodation
Tahiti’s islands are famous for over-water accommodation. Pic: Mayumi Ishikawa/flkr



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Bora Bora

Bora Bora is an island group in French Polynesia
Bora Bora is an island group in French Polynesia
Bora Bora
Bora Bora resorts (above) and regional islands below … explore further with the zoomable map at the bottom of this page

Bora Bora is perhaps one of the world’s great tropical island destinations.

It is a wonderful place, but the best resorts are not cheap.

Check out the latest prices here.

The Bora Bora group comprises just 30km2 of the Society Islands of French Polynesia.

The main island is surrounded by lagoon and barrier reef, with an extinct volcano rising in two peaks, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu.

The major settlement is Vaitape, on the west side of the main island, opposite the lagoon entrance channel.

Hotel Bora Bora opened in 1961, with the first over-water bungalows built in 1970.

Several resorts have since been built on the small islands surrounding the lagoon. The quality ranges from cheap to luxurious.

Air Tahiti has up to six flights daily to Bora Bora Airport on Motu Mute from Tahiti and other islands.

Rental cars and bicycles are the transport used on the islands, with two-seater buggies for hire in Vaitape.

Explore Bora Bora (capital Vaitape) and the nearby islands with our Google map. Zoom in to find the resorts.

You can check out the latest accommodation here or search below.




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