I promised I would start blogging in detail about specific destinations to travel with your kids. No better place to start then, than Vanuatu, one of my top three favourite places in the entire world.
|Local kids at Champagne beach|
|Air Vanuatu - and the airport at a nearby island|
It only takes a heartbeat to fall in love with Vanuatu. It’ll hit you the moment you step off the plane – after a surprisingly brief three and a half hour direct flight from Sydney (a godsend when you’ve got the little ones!) – and you are swamped by a sensory explosion of warm sea breeze, the pungent smell of sweet tropical frangipanis (as opposed to the other familiar pungent smells we parents are usually swamped by), the sights of lush verdant jungle as far as the eye can see and the foot-tapping drums and melodic voices of a local band to welcome you at customs.
And when I say customs, I mean two blokes sitting behind a wooden desk smoking cigarettes and smiling because they have possibly just had kava for lunch. You know this is going to be a great holiday.
As far as the kids are concerned, this is the lushest playground they’ve ever seen. An instant dose of freedom and let me just say outright, our kids are like sharks, they can smell our fear, and our state of relaxation – and when you step foot in this South Pacific Island Paradise, all your usual stresses will evaporate, faster than your first cocktail, and somehow, your kids will just follow suit!
|My evaporating cocktail|
Western rules don’t seem to apply in Vanuatu. And for most Aussies, that’s the best reason to go somewhere for a little time out. Vanuatu has no parking meters, no speed limits and word has it, if you’re caught drink driving it’s a $50 on the spot cash fine and then you’re sent back on your merry way… behind the wheel. In fact, you will notice almost every car on the road simply has the kids sitting on laps, front seat and all, no carseats required. I'll leave it up to you if you choose to embrace this culture while you're there.
|Isabella's first driving lesson|
Not that I judge a place purely by its lack of regulations, and as a parent, I’d like to think we are not driving around with drunk drivers on the roads, but it is a reflection of Vanuatu’s culture in general. It was no accident this tropical smorgasbord of 82 islands in the South Pacific was voted the happiest place on earth in 2011 by the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index.
|The happiest people on earth|
It’s hard to be depressed in a place where the water temperature never dips below 22 degrees even in the heart of winter. A place that’s known as the premier scuba diving destination in the South Pacific for it’s vibrant and untouched coral reefs… a place where the average café will have coconut shell crab and fresh banana and pineapple juice smoothies on the daily menu. Your kid’s taste buds will explode here, while your wallet won’t!!
|Fresh lobster for lunch anyone?!|
And if you’re thinking this is just another tropical island getaway where you spend all day every day working on your tan, dozing in a hammock under a coconut tree with the smell of freshly caught fish grilling along side while your kids play happily by the shoreline giggling with the island children who teach them how to catch crabs - sure, you can do that.
you can also go high octane, if that’s more your style and if the kids are a
little older and need some stimulation… Like abseiling down the middle of a roaring
waterfall. Or standing on the edge of an active volcano on the island of Tanna,
watching the fluorescent orange sparks of lava spew into the air right before
your very eyes… one of the only places in the world where tourists are
permitted to do this. Whatever your energy level, Vanuatu promises to keep your
kids entertained and deliver the best family photos your fridge will ever see!
|When was the last time you finished a book?!|
What most people don’t realise about Vanuatu is that it’s an archipelago of volcanic origin. And apart from watching it at it’s most fiery, you can also witness the effect it has on the colour of the water that flows from the volcanic mountain ranges underground, through limestone caves and then back up into pools of luminescent azure called ‘blue holes’. As the water filters through the limestone it is naturally purified resulting in fresh water swimming holes. To swim in these, found dotted within lush jungles throughout the maze of islands can be described as a celestial experience. Imagine if the little ones could boast learning to swim in a pool like this!
|The Blue Holes in Vanuatu|
You would think the locals would worship these swimming holes as their religion, but here’s the quirky part. Still on the island of Tanna, a short flight from the capital island of Efate, the Ni-Vanuatu (inhabitants of Vanuatu) have chosen a rather unorthodox deity to revere… none other than the United Kingdom’s Prince Philip. It’s an official movement, within which Prince Philip is recognized as God, since his visit to the island in the late 1940’s. But if that’s what makes them happy then perhaps we’re the ones missing out.
This free-spirited island mentality goes beyond religion. In the north of the islands, a person’s wealth is determined by how much one can give away to others. As you can imagine, the wealthiest men in these villages change rank much more rapidly than those on our traditional Forbes’ lists.
After a trip to the Volcano and the Blue Holes, and perhaps a quick visit to worship Prince Philip, you’re going to need to feed the kids up with a decent meal. And it seems you’re in luck. The main source of income for 65 per cent of Ni-Vanuatu is agriculture and fishing. Although the number one produce, over that of food crops is Kava, an age old herbal drink derived from the root of a pepper plant, with hallucinogenic properties, Vanuatu being a tropical fruit climate is never short of spices, papaya, mangoes, pineapples, sweet potatoes, and coconuts, all of which form the basis for most meals, along with the fresh local fish affectionately known as Poulet Fish (Chicken fish) due to its abundance in the warm waters – and more specifically, the fact they can pool a broad range of different fish into the one title. Every menu boasts Poulet Fish. Even the most determined little eater won’t be able to resist the flavours of Vanuatu’s menu!
|Find time for a romantic meal at The Havannah|
(no kids allowed here, sadly!)
Need a nap? Afraid of getting hit on the head by a falling coconut and keen on the idea of air conditioning for a good night’s sleep? Then you have a plethora of choices, whether in and around Efate’s capital Port Vila, or a short drive around the island to more remote luxury resorts, or perhaps you choose to venture further afield to a nearby island such as Hideaway, Espiritu Santo, Iririki, Mele, Bokissa or Erakor, there’s something for every budget and every taste, and ALL of them LOVE kids! (with one exception, the child-free resort of Havanna).
And if the kids need entertaining in between their watersports and jungle zipline adventure tours, you can teach them a little bit of the national language Bislama. It’s a pidgin language, more widely spoken than the official languages of French and English and has a comical array of expressions such as “big bird in sky belong Jesus Christ”. Which means, airplane.
|The kids chatting amongst themselves in Bislama|
But the part that will tear your heart out most as you head to the airport for your flight home is discovering Vanuatu is an income tax haven. Like me, you’ll be scribbling down the local real estate agent’s phone number while stocking up on your new favourite coconut oil shampoo and Tanna coffee, convinced this is a better way of life and you’ll be traumatised at the thought of how many parking fines you’ve got waiting for you when you get home. Thank God – or should I say thank Prince Philip – it’s so easy to return here.
THE KID FRIENDLY SPECIFICS:
FLY: Air Vanuatu operates two flights a day into Port Vila on the island of Efate - the Capital of Vanuatu. The flight is just over three hours from Sydney and if you book early enough, they can be really reasonable.
STAY: There are SO many accommodation options available. The best thing is, almost every option is a kid friendly one, with swimming pools, wide gardens and warm clean beaches on offer. Some of our personal favourite hotels / resorts are:
1. Mangoes Resort.
2. Irririki Island Resort
3. Paradise Cove Resort
However, if you are brave enough, I would also suggest looking at private villa / beach house rentals that can offer a full time cleaner, babysitter, chef etc. Of these, you simply can't go past:
1. Villa 25, Dream Cove
2. The Boathouse, Dream Cove
EAT: Port Vila itself is a very basic little town centre. (My fave is Elan).There are a couple of cute little cafes here, but if you're staying in your own villa, you're going to need to do your groceries - and there's a great little supermarket just out of town (not the busy one in the town centre) called Bon Marche. Please note that for some very odd reason, Vanuatu doesn't have (at all!) fresh milk. It baffles me, being a dairy producing island, but the only milk you can buy is long life milk. Took me ages to get my head around it. This can be an issue if you have little ones. You will also need to be wary of the water situation if your kids need sterilised water. Although it's nothing like Bali, it's probably still safe to buy bottled water and to boil all bottles etc.
And as a small little sanity-saving note for the parents - I HIGHLY recommend you hire a babysitter (just book through your resort or villa $25 per 8 hour day, seriously!!) and take yourselves over to The Havannah Resort (about a 35 minute drive from Port Vila) for a romantic lunch on the pontoon. Book in advance to secure the best spot!)
TO DO: There are fantastic little local craft markets in town most days. I always find beautiful baskets, rugs, jewellery, kids clothes, hats, sarongs etc here. Shopping wise, don't rule out Bon Marche for a stack of seriously cheap kid's toys, especially for water sports. (i.e., don't bring the stuff from home, its so much easier buying it here - even the reef walking shoes!). The other shops in town mainly consist of hot dollar style asian shops, with the bonus of loads of cheap dvd's and tourist knick knacks... and one or two fabulous boutiques for the serious shopper to be found (Frangippani Bay). There's also a fantastic new kid's shop in town that's owned and run by Aussie expats with an eye for great kids toys and all the practical paraphernalia you may need for your holiday at local Vanuatu prices (The Red Elephant).
Other than shopping, be sure to visit the blue holes through a local tour group. Evergreen Vanuatu is a good one. They can also likely line you up with any water sports activities you may like to do. Canoeing is a definite! Horse riding on the beach is also a winner.
And don't forget the waterfall abseiling!
|I'm on a horse.|
|That's actually me there at the top!|
|Canoe into a blue hole|
I recommend booking in for a lovely little sunset boat cruise around Port Vila's harbour one evening. It's a fantastic way to see the island as the sun sets across the bay. Meridian Charters do a lovely one.
I also suggest hiring a car and doing a little road trip to a resort called Tamanu for a relaxing lunch. It's surprisingly easy to get around here. And if you get lost, it's part of the adventure!
HEALTH: There's a great little French Medical Clinic in town in the event of any emergencies. The Doctor is one of the best i've ever met. And we did meet him once, when Isabella had a strange rash the week we were there. He pointed out that infection can be one of the big problems for kids, as there are so many island-borne bacteria there that our kids aren't usually exposed to. Also, Malaria does exist in Vanuatu. The chances of you or your kids getting it are very slim, but always good to be aware of and for this reason, I am always adamant about mozzie spray while we are there.
|Isabella helps with the dishes|
MENTAL STATE: This is where the most important information lies. The best thing about being away from home - is exactly that, you're away from your usual routine, your usual rules and your usual woes. Let yourself enjoy this trip, because if you can't let your hair down in Vanuatu, then where in the world can you?(Actually, you won't have a choice in Vanuatu, it's so humid your hair will have a mind of its own!). The kids will love you for your laid back island holiday style - and so will your hubby - and you may just find cutting a few corners makes you see your home routine in a new light by the time you get back. Remember, letting the kids climb into bed with you while you're away, or letting them eat dinner in the sand is not going to ruin them forever. In fact, it may surprise you just how well behaved kids can be when they're having the time of their lives!
|The happiest kids on earth.|