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Port Vila, Efat

Written by Cathy Siegismund
September 2003


We had decided to do an overnight passage from Tanna to Port Vila, Efat. We had a clear sunny day with virtually no wind for our 28- hour trip to Efat.

We motored all but about 3 hours, when off the southeast corner of Erromango the wind picket up to 15-18 knots. We have no problems turning the motor on, at least when we know we're heading somewhere with fuel available .

After a very quiet night, we arrived to a hot, clear, and windless morning in Port Vila. After the quiet bay and village of Port Resolution, Port Vila was a metropolis. Port Vila is the capital and largest city in Vanuatu with a population of around 40,000 people. The bay was full of boats anchored and on moorings. Port Vila is the largest check-in port and has a freighter dock as well as a separate pier where an Australian cruise ship docks on their weekly run out from Sydney. As the bay was quite crowded, we were happy to find an available mooring, which is rented for 7,000 vatu/week by Yachting World. Yachting World is the primary contact for cruisers. They have a fuel dock, free water, trash collection and laundry service in addition to their moorings. The bay at Port Vila is extremely well protected and is considered a cyclone hole with number of private cyclone moorings.

Felicity on the mooring at Port Vila

After a couple of hours, we had the boat tidied up, the dinghy in the water, our sun awnings up, and a huge pile of laundry ready to go ashore to be done.

View of the Port Vila from our mooring

Our main purpose in Port Vila was to visit the Australian Consulate to obtain a long-term, multiple entry visa. We had heard this could take up to a week, so we got cleaned up and headed into town to find the consulate and look around. We were quite impressed with all the nice shops, restaurants, and grocery stores in Port Vila. We hadn't seen anything quite as nice in the tropics since Tahiti. We also were a little surprised at the  U.S. pricing on most items, after spending so much time in New Zealand and Fiji, which were both relatively inexpensive.

We found the Australian Consulate, only to be given an application and told to return the following morning, between 0830 and 1130 when we could talk to an immigration officer. We decided to take the opportunity to run some errands and explore town a bit. We got new passport photos for our visa applications, explored the very nice grocery stores and specialty shops, and had lunch at Jill's American Cafe. Jill and her husband, both from California, have lived in Port Vila for a number of years and re-created a little bit of the US in their American Cafe. You can have big juicy burgers, thick American style milkshakes, and even good Mexican food.

Ken getting ready to dine on a huge burger at Jill's American Cafe

Jill was also helpful in answering some of our questions about Port Vila, where to shop, who had the best beef and chicken, etc. Vanuatu is known for its beef, some saying it is only rivaled by Japanese Kobe beef. We did have wonderful burgers and have been very impressed with the grocery stores all around. Port Vila's colonial past and large ex-pat community of Brits, French, and Aussies have helped to create quite a sophisticated, and expensive, city in the middle of Vanuatu. We have found excellent restaurants, specialty food stores (that are on par with Larry's in Seattle) lovely shops, art galleries, a theater, several golf courses, a fitness and tennis club and a equestrian club.

To the detriment of our wallets, we have taken advantage of the extravagances offered in Port Vila. I joined another cruiser for a lovely trail ride at the Club Hippique and have taken a few aerobic classes at the fitness center. Ken and I also spent a couple of mornings doing four dives with Nautilus Scuba. The diving wasn't as nice as what we had done in Fiji, but we did do a couple of nice reef dives, and a wreck dive on a scuttled island freighter. Strong surge prevented us from exploring a cavern, called the Cathedral.

   

Cath at the entrance to the Cathedral

   

Reef dive with a nice pair of Moorish Idols

   

Nudibrach and Clown Fish

Another sunny day in Port Vila, we decided to explore the further reaches of town and rented scooters for the day from Nautilus Scuba.

Ready for our day of exploring greater Port Vila on our scooters

We first hit Hannahs, a really nice cafe and deli, for a cafe au lait. We all have our priorities. Next we scootered up a hill above town to a vista that provided a great view of Port Vila and the bay.

Downtown Port Vila, its bay, and Iririki Island

We next went north out of town toward the village of Mele where we went for a nice walk in the park-like setting of the Mele Cascade Waterfalls.

After a short walk about halfway to the falls, one of the side trails popped out to a panoramic view of the coconut plantations and Vila Bay

Mele Cascade Waterfalls

After a nice hike through the various pools to the waterfalls and back, we returned back through the village of Mele. We stopped at a roadside art stand, where a man was selling woodcarvings. We picked up a small replica of one of the Ambrym Tamtam drums.

 

Mark Bernie, a woodcarver from Ambrym, holding our model Tamtam drum

The man had done the carvings himself and was from Ambrym. His name was Mark Bernie. He said his father had worked for the US troops during WWII and had a US serviceman friend named Bernie. Mark Bernie was born in 1942 and was named after his father's friend. The island of Ambrym is known for having outstanding wood carvers. We look forward to meeting some of the artists and further adding to our woodcarving collection.

 We made our way back towards town, stopping at one of Port Vila's two golf courses. We didn't play, but wandered around and talked to a local that worked there.

Ken in the car park by a large banyan tree

We returned to town for lunch at Hannahs; then set out to explore the south end of town. We went down to the commercial wharf, where the cruise ship docks and got another view of Port Vila.

View of Iririki Island and Port Vila

We next set off to find the Michoutouchkine & Pilioko Foundation Art Gallery. The gallery is named after two artists, Michoutouchkine a Franco-Russian artist and Pilioko a Wallis Islander artists. The two have been in Vanuatu for over 40 years. They have a shop in Port Vila and there are several murals done by them throughout town. The gallery is free of charge and is loaded with Vanuatu art and carvings. Their collection has been on several world tours including one of the USSR, France, and Japan. They also have a botanical garden of sorts with palms and trees from all over the world, each labeled.

   

   

   

   

   

Michoutouchkine & Pilioko Foundation Art Gallery

On our way back from the Art Gallery, we spotted a sign for another artist's studio, Diana Tam. Diane had recently opened quite a nice new gallery at her house. Diana is an Australian trained artist, who had some lovely oils, prints, clothing, ceramics and jewelry. She has lived in Vanuatu for 12 years. We ended up being quite taken with one of her reef paintings and decided to buy it. It will be shipped directly to the States from here, and join our collection of art and carvings that we will eventually get to enjoy when we return home.

Diana Tam and Cath and our new Diane Tam painting

Our exploration of Port Vila, also took us out to Pango Point, just to the south of the bay. We made the trip to see a very large banyan tree. The canopy is claimed to be over 70 meters across. We ended up seeing two of these huge trees.

   

Huge banyan trees seen around Port Vila

We also stumbled across, what looked like the high rent district in Port Vila. We had seen some lovely homes on the beach when we had entered the bay by boat. To our best guest we now were looking at the beautifully maintained street and back yards of these quite impressive homes.

   

Lovely area on Pango Point to the south of Port Vila

For the last few days, we have concentrated on boat projects and preparations to start heading north to explore more of the islands in Vanuatu. I have been working on a Web site update. Ken found a marine store with more dinghy repair fabric and glue, and finally has fixed the leak. We are thrilled to not be pumping up the dinghy floor several times each day. We also rebed Felicity's whisker stay (one of the wires that holds the bowsprit in place), which we believe is at least one of the leaks in the v-berth. Ken also checked and tensioned our rigging, which seemed to be getting a little loose.

We finally picked up our passports, with our new 12 month, multiple entry Australian Visas. We know of another boat that received four year multiple entry visas, but the consulate here said they hadn't heard of those and the longest one's they were able to give were 12 month. This jibed with what we had been told at the Aussie Consulate in Auckland, so we've caulked up the four year visa from Suva as luck. Our visa is renewable in Australia, and we will talk to immigration once we reach Australia.

We are now in the final preparations to leave Port Vila in the next day or so. I've re-provisioned the boat with fresh foods. For those of you heading here on a boat, I would recommend the Au Bon March downtown and Centerpoint for supermarkets. Hannah's Cafe Deli has wonderful, but expensive specialty foods from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the US. We got very nice fresh boneless skinless chicken breasts at Toa Farms wholesales store and fresh beef and produce at Traverso Butchery. The large local market, next to Au Bon March, is great for both wonderful produce as well as some small crafts and tourist items.

We also will need to get both dinghy gas and diesel fuel here, but there is an accessible fuel dock at Yachting World and a gas station a short walk away. Our last stops will be at customs and immigration. Here, as in Mexico, you must check in and out of each city which has a customs office. You also need to have a cruising permit for the islands.

We have enjoyed Port Vila very much, but want to spend the rest of our time in Vanuatu exploring the real country, which is the villages away from the big city, ex-pat community, and tourist hotels.

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