Efate Island | A Great Island to Take a Trip Around.
One of the popular things to do while in Port Vila, is ‘Around the Island’ (Efate) which depending on how your approach it can take as little as a couple of hours, through to a whole day. Efate Island like most islands in Vanuatu, has flatter coastal fringes and a higher hilly interior (which has fewer villages, and consists mainly of dense bush). There is little reason to have roads winding their way into the interior, so unless you have a specific reason, it is little explored. The coastal road meanders around the perimeter of the island, but not always along the coast as you might think, and large sections duck into inland, with nothing but dense bush on either side.
The Efate Coastal Road.
Some years ago, doing the ‘around the island’ trip held a fair bit of mystic and was a more intrepid thing to do compared to today. Back then it was a gravel road and just getting around was a feat in itself, and anyone who had completed it felt as thought they had been truly been to the ‘real’ Vanuatu and experienced village life. Today, thanks to the ‘Millennium Fund’ (originally American aid money, but having to be substantially topped up by Australia and New Zealand) the road has been upgraded and sealed. It still has some notably horrendous corners and slopes, which can catch you unawares, so drivers still need to be careful when the passing through hills and valleys. The bad engineering is not due to the incompetent consultants, but more to the fact that a lot of land owners tried to charge outrageous prices for their ‘Kastom land’ to improve the road’s alignment. To avoid massive cost overruns, it was decided to keep the road in its previous path, which was set in stone at the time of independence.
A Perspective On The Trip Itself.
In terms of the trip itself, its value is more in seeing the island in its global perspective, rather than coming across a fantastic set of attractions. I suppose its like anything, its up to you what you take out of it ….. if you just sit in the car, watch through the window and never stop to get out, then its likely to be a pretty boring trip. On the other hand, if you get out, explore a bit, walk along some beaches talk to the local villages and stop at a few of the local restaurants and stops, then I’m sure you’ll have a great time. As for the big ticket attractions …. well you would need to book these and they are things that you would do as a separate activity rather than as a part of the round island sojourn.
Is it worth doing then ? – of course. There are plenty of things that you will remember afterwards.
Hire A Rental Car ?
How you do the trip really depends on your length of stay on Efate, and whether you plan to do a number of specific excursions. There are a number of car rental companies and a lot of visitors rent a car at least for a day to do the trip. Driving is easy despite driving on the right hand side of the road, and the ring road is now completely sealed so most of the trip is comfortable. For those that like independent travel, and enjoy investigating the trip beforehand and exploring during the trip, car rental is definitely the way to go. Take a picnic lunch as there are some great spots to stop at along the way, and even if you take a turn into a place that ‚”just appears interesting”, most people are friendly, and more than willing to help or explain things.
On the drive, you will see and get an idea of the topography of the coastal areas, where large quiet bays occur, sheltered by groups of offshore islands, and where there are long stretches of exposed coral and sandy coastline, pounded by surf, with a few idyllic sandy bays dotted around here and there.
What About An Organised Tour ?
Alternatively, you can hire a mini van with a driver or do a organized “around the island tour”, just for yourself and your group, or a part of a larger group and this has the advantage of the drivers local knowledge. By doing it this way, you may get to see parts which you might miss otherwise and if you have a good driver with plenty of conversation, the trip can be a highlight. Conversely, a quiet or lazy driver (fairly rare), can make it‚”ho hum”.
The Must See Attractions and Activities.
Now this is a bit difficult, as there are a few things that are on the way that you could do, and would definitely be in the not to be missed category, but as they would take half a day in themselves, they have not been included here. Further, something which is must see in one direction, is not necessary practical in the other (and vise versa). A look at the list may seem a bit disappointing as they are mainly restaurants and watering holes, but on refection, the nature of the trip itself is having a look at small places that interest you and then moving on. It’s therefore hard to refer to any of these as stand out attractions, but they are what makes the tour worth doing. The list below does provide you with a couple of places to stop and take a break that have a point of difference from Port Vila. With this in mind the places that are definitely worth spending some time at include (in no particular order) :
• Mele Cascade Waterfalls.
• Tamanu on the Beach, Restaurant.
• Picnic and lounging on one of the Northern Beaches.
• Eratap Resort for Lunch.
• Stroll around the coastal walk at Eton Beach.
• The beach Bar, Mele for a Drink or Pizza.
• The Havanah, for a drink at sunset.
Which Direction to Start - Clockwise or Anti-Clockwise ?
Believe it or not, it makes a big difference which way you go around, and what time you start, mainly because of the timing for where you may or may not drop into for lunch, or a drink … even dinner. It is one of those excursions where you should make a whole day of it and perhaps spend a bit of time at places, and restaurants that are a bit further out and which you probably wouldn’t otherwise go to.
While you can travel the ring road in either direction, it would be natural for guests staying at Sanddollar to do it in a clockwise direction, as you this starts you straight into the trip through to ‘Mele Cascades’ and up ‘Kleims Hill’. If you where planning on making a full day of it it would allow you to have dinner in Port Vila before coming home. You do need to be organized though if taking a picnic, and make sure you have all your food and beverage in beforehand.
Going the other way does allow you to head into Port Vila for breakfast, go to Bon Marche No. 2 to get your picnic stuff and proceed on, perhaps finishing for drinks at ‘The Havanah’ and perhaps dinner at ‚’Benjor’.
Either way it can be a big day, and should probably be followed by a quieter day, lounging around the pool the following day at Sanddollar.
What Time Is Best To Start.
Again, this really depends how long you intend taking in going around the island.
If going clockwise, it’s best to start about 9.00 am or so if in the hot wet season, or a bit later if midyear as its a bit colder). The reason being is that Mele Cascades is up first and by about that time it will be warm enough. You are bound to spend at least an hour there, and will get down to Havanah Harbour late morning and onto ‘The Havanah’ for a late morning lime and soda (or whatever you prefer). This timing means that you should get to a good beach for a picnic around 1.00pm or so. With the rest of the journey, you will end up at a Restaurant for an early dinner sometime after 5.00pm … perfect.
If going anticlockwise, you will start later, and the whole trip takes place later in the day. Also, you wont feel like you have truly started until after you get out of Port Vila on the other side. Its best not to buy your picnic until going through Port Vila, so its fresher. best to have a look at blue lagoon ( A bit run down0 and then drinks at either Eratap or Tamanu ( probably need to ring first to see if you are permitted to do this), and have a walk along the beach, which can have some large waves and really feels like a white sandy surf beach. At this point you end up at ‘The Havanah’ for drinks at sunset, which can be absolutely awesome, and then onto ‘Benjor’ for Dinner on the way home.
I will go into a bit more depth in regard to both clockwise and anticlockwise itineraries in upcoming blogs.