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Page: Efate Island - Home to Port Vila and Bauerfield International Airport

Efate Island

The main administrative island and gateway to Vanuatu

Efate island is the administrative centre of Vanuatu and home of Port Vila, Vanuatu's capital. It's also home to Vanuatu's only international airport, Bauerfield International Airport, located just outside of Port Vila. Efate island is part of Shefa Province, one of 6 Vanuatu provinces, established in 1994.

Efate Island name origins

The first humans to settle in Efate were the Lapita people, who probably arrived from Papua New Guinea via Solomon Islands by sea-going canoes, possibly 3,500 years ago. The name Efate seems to mean ‘a place where we will settle’.

Captain James Cook was the first European to visit this island, which he promptly named Sandwich Island, after the patron of his voyage – Lord Sandwich (who “invented” the sandwich, as we know it). But fortunately the indigenous name of Efate Island eventually prevailed.

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The town of Port Vila is scattered on the hills around Port Vila harbour, where some of smaller islands are also located, such as the best known Iririki island.

Port Vila

The majority of 50,000 people living on Efate island reside in Vila. Port Vila is the capital of Vanuatu, gateway for visitors (via its Bauerfield International Airport) and an important business and commercial centre for Vanuatu and South Pacific.

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A trek leading to the beach in Mele village, on Efate island.

The town of Port Vila is a lively mix of services, offices, banks, duty free shops, restaurants, gift shops, boutiques, hand-craft galleries, cafes, Chinatown and the colourful Port Vila market. It blends the elements of Melanesian, English, French and Asian cultures. This is reflected in its many restaurants and cafes – French, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Melanesian and others.

Efate island is dotted with beaches, resorts, places of historical, cultural and artistic interest and significance. The Vanuatu Cultural Centre contains one of the most extensive artifacts collections in the South Pacific. The Museum and Art Gallery provide a good introduction to Vanuatu’s geology.

There's plenty to see and do on Efate island and in Port Vila. From lively Port Vila markets, duty free shops and harbour restaurants, to great sightseeing spots, day and night tours, and round the island day tours.

Bauerfield International Airport

Situated 5 kms from Port Vila, Bauerfield International Airport is Vanuatu's main international gateway. It's home to Vanuatu's international airline, Air Vanuatu and its domestic carrier, Vanair - ideal for island hopping. Bauerfield international airport was originally built by the Americans during WWII, when they were stationed on Efate island.

The airport is named after Bauerfield, an American WWII pilot. After flying from French Caledonia to Vanuatu, Bauerfield heard of Battle of Guadalcanal and flew straight to Solomons Island without refuelling. He joined the battle with Japanese and shot down 6 Japanese planes. Some weeks later he was reported lost at sea. The airport was named in his honour.

Bauerfield airport serves Air Pacific (Fiji's international airline), Air Calin (New Caledonia's international airline), Pacific Blue (New Zealand subsidiary of Australian Virgin Blue airline), QANTAS (Australia's international airline) and Air New Zealand.

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Vanuatu's Bauerfield International Airport building seen here from an arriving airplane

South Pacific University

Efate island is also the home of The University of the South Pacific (USP) Emalus Campus. The University has 14 campuses throughout the South Pacific, situated in 12 Pacific Islands countries. The Efate island University campus includes Law school.

The USP is a public university doing teaching and research on Pacific culture and environment. Its academic programmes are recognized worldwide.

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