“Our land for
That’s the true meaning of the word ‘Vanuatu’ in the local language, which freed
itself from colonialism and became an independent republic in 1980. Discover this exotic South Pacific destination,
its origins, culture and native people.
The Story of Vanuatu
Vanuatu is an Y-shaped archipelago of 83 islands, stretching over
1,000 km from just south of the Solomon Islands to just north of New Caledonia.
The main islands are Efate (political capital), Santo (the largest),
Malekula and Tanna. Other larger islands are Erromango, Ambrym, Pentecost (the home of “land diving” – predecessor
of “bungy jumping”), Maewo, Gaua, Aneityum and Ambae. Click here for more info about Vanuatu islands.
Vanuatu was formerly known as New Hebrides. It was an Anglo-French
Condominium (which became locally known as ‘Pandemonium’), from 1906 until independence in 1980, when it became a
self-governing republic and a member of the Commonwealth.
Around 200,000 Ni-Vanuatu people (a Melanesian race) live on the
islands and speak over 110 local languages, the highest number of languages per head of population in the world.
English and French are widely spoken, although Bislama (a “pidgeon English”) is the lingua franca and national
The building housing Vanuatu Government offices in
with the national flag at the entrance.
Vanuatu has been inhabited for around 5,000 years. The first people to settle the 80+
islands, were the Melanesians from South East Asia. The European contact was made by the Portuguese in May 1606. At
that time, Pedro Ferdinand de Quiros “discovered” the largest island in Vanuatu group. He thought it was ‘Terra
Australis’ so he christened it, “Terra Australis del Espiritu Santo”. The last part of the name is still used
In the ensuing years, other European navigators also visited the
islands. Captain James Cook from England, during his journey in 1774, up the east coast of Australia
and into the Coral Seas, gave the name “New Hebrides” to the Vanuatu island group. European settlement came in
the form of Sandalwood Traders in 1825. They established trade with China for the valuable Sandalwood, which
lasted for many decades.
Later in the 19th century, both English and French settlers began
setting up colonies within the islands of Vanuatu. That lead to the unique establishment of the Anglo-French
Condominium of 1906. Certain islands of Vanuatu played a strategic role in the Allied forces battle against
Japanese invaders during World War II. The people of Vanuatu finally regained their independence from European
Colonists in 1980 on the 30th of July.
Culture, Food and Activities
The culture of the people of Vanuatu is one of the few in the
South Pacific that has successfully resisted total change from outside
influences. The more remote islands have maintained much of their thousands of years customs and culture. This
of course makes such islands very interesting to visit as part of a discovery holiday.
A visit to what is often described as the ‘Untouched Paradise’ of
Vanuatu, has certainly become popular with modern Europeans. For the last few decades the majority of visitors to
these islands have come from Australia and New Zealand. In recent years though, an increasing number of Northern
Europeans are making the extra discovery trip from Australia to Vanuatu for a short but memorable cultural
The local customs are an important part of Vanuatu
shown here in Vanuatu story play at the Melanesian Feast Night
Some of what can be easily experienced on Efate island are Melanesian Feast Nights, Kastom Villages, String Band Music and Kastom
Dancers. Efate island is the country’s main island. Both Port Vila (the Capital) and Seat of the central
government, are located there. Along with the Bauerfield International Airport, Efate has the best infrastructure
of all the islands in the Vanuatu group. Espiritu Santo being second most set up with a modern infrastructure. Of
course in both cases, the infrastructure is only in and around the main towns. The rest of the villages on Efate
and Santo and especially the other islands, are still very traditional or partially modernized.
One thing that is very unique to Vanuatu, is the many different
choices of international cuisine. Diners can choose from Australian, American or British styles, traditional
Melanesian Ground Oven cooking, French, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian cuisine. Restaurants, Bistros and Cafes are dotted all throughout Port Vila and
surrounds. Many hotels and resorts also have one or more restaurants or bistros to choose from.
The Port Vila downtown ‘Markets’
operate now 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The choice of fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables at very
affordable prices fills the markets daily. Many traditional root crops, such as Taro, Sweet Potato and Yams are
found in abundance at the Markets. Also a selection of hand-crafts, such as wood carvings and shell necklaces etc.
make ideal gifts or souvenirs.
As for activities, Vanuatu has much to
offer. Golfing, swimming in crystal clear waters, scuba-diving, sailing, Deep Sea / Coral Reef fishing,
horse-riding, kayaking, day and night crusing, etc. Or visiting the outer islands, such as Tanna with its active
volcano Mt Yasur, or Pentecost island in May during the “land diving” season. Or, relaxing and soaking up the sun
one of the many secluded, pristine white and volcanic sand beaches, strewn around Efate, Santo and other islands. Or, just come and experience the unique culture of the South
Vanuatu's Reserve Bank building is located on
one of surrounding hills
overlooking Port Vila town.
Offshore Financial Centre
Vanuatu also has another aspect besides tourism and various export
industries. It was set up as a Financial Centre with Tax Haven status as far back
as the early 1970’s by the British. This important industry contributes a sizeable percentage of Vanuatu’s Gross
National Product! Most of the offices of the well established and recognized financial industry representatives can
be found in Port Vila.
With no exchange controls, and the long established Financial Centre
industry, many companies have been established in Vanuatu to take advantage of its Tax Haven status. Likewise, many
Australian and New Zealand expats have acquired Vanuatu citizenship and
hold Vanuatu passport as their second passport.
Although Vanuatu was blacklisted for a few years by the OECD
(Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – the rich countries cartel), it has been now removed from
the blacklist by the OECD and continues to enjoy its Offshore Financial Centre status. Vanuatu citizenship is often sought by Australian and New Zealand expats.
Finally, Vanuatu has been popular with Honeymooners and people
wishing to get married on a South Pacific island, for many years. Many resorts offer special services for weddings
and honeymoon couples, all year round. Likewise, South Pacific cruise ships often visit Vanuatu and stop over at
Port Vila for an overnight stay. Christmas and New Year holidays are also popular with Vanuatu visitors, in
particular those who like spending a tropical Christmas.
So for many reasons, Vanuatu is the destination of choice for an ever
growing number of yearly visitors.
Mi lukim yu!