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Exploring the resorts of Vila, Vanuatu 2009

A much-anticipated working holiday to scout out the best wedding and honeymoon destinations in Vanuatu was unfortunately cut short when our South Pacific expert, Tonia Timmins, fell and broke her ankle.  However in less than a week Tonia was able to look around seven great resorts and is keen to share her experiences and recommendations...

 

“I feel that Vanuatu is under-rated as a wedding destination here in New Zealand and is often over-shadowed by the ever-popular Cook Islands and Fiji wedding destinations.   However in my short time in Vanuatu, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it as a destination for a holiday, wedding or honeymoon”, says Tonia. 

“Efate is the most visited and tourist-friendly island in Vanuatu’s 83-island archipelago due to the International Airport in Port Vila.  Surrounded by villages scattered down the coast, Port Vila is the capital city - vibrant, yet laid-back, with a mixture of European, Vietnamese, Chinese and Melanesian cultures.

Exploring the lagoons, waterfalls, coral reefs and native rainforests will keep you busy in Vila.  On a Sunday I drove around the coastline of Efate, stopping off at friendly villages where the locals were dressed in their colourful Sunday-best.  The beauty and variety of Vanuatu’s undersea-world is highly regarded in the Pacific, along with the gourmet dining available in Vila.

As well as experiencing seven great resorts – Le Lagon, Erakor Island, Paradise Cove, The Moorings, The Meridian, The Melanesian and The Sebel – I met with key wedding coordinators on the island.  Unlike Fiji and the Cook Islands, where most resorts have their own wedding coordinators, in Vanuatu independent wedding coordinators plan all wedding arrangements, which allows you seemingly limitless choices, especially in terms of locations.

Here are my impressions of the resorts I visited in Vila, catering to a variety of budgets:

Le Lagon Resort

This is a great resort for couples and families and offers a great choice of accommodation to suit all budgets. Le Lagon is a large resort featuring an appealing swimming pool with a swim-up bar at one end.  The resort has two restaurants, the Lagoon Terrace Restaurant being the main restaurant that serves breakfast, and lunch as well as a themed buffet dinner daily with live cultural entertainment.
Le Lagon has a fine dining restaurant called Wild Ginger – an Asian Fusion Restaurant with an open exhibition kitchen.  The menu is a fusion of the freshest local produce, including Vanuatu’s world-renowned char grilled Santo Beef.  This prime cut of beef comes from Espiritu Santo, one of the northerly islands and is popular on menus across Vanuatu.
Swimming in the ocean can be enjoyed all day with the water changing from a green to a blue later in the day - it’s really quite amazing.  The garden and beachfront bungalows with their small verandahs are fabulous for couples and the beachfront bungalows obviously have a great view.   Le lagon Resort is well spread out and, although a large resort and one of the original resorts on the island, it is very well maintained and exudes a warm cosy feeling.

Erakor Island Resort

This resort is just across the bay from Le Lagon, located on a very small island and is ideal for those on a tighter budget but wanting an island holiday.  You can even dine here and charge back to your room at the Le Lagon, travelling across on a boat that operates 24 hours a day just beside the Le Lagon.  The Erakor Island Resort restaurant is waterfront with magnificent views and the food is very reasonably priced.  There is a sandy point at one end of the island where weddings can be held and they also have an open air chapel – which is a novel option to consider.  Erakor Island Resort has deluxe and waterfront bungalows and also family accommodation, however all rooms are fan cooled rather than air-conditioned.

Paradise Cove

This would have to be my personal favourite - a real tropical boutique retreat.  The 10 self-contained bungalows are all uniquely decorated and set amongst tropical gardens.   There is one staff member per guest at this resort so the attention and service to guests is top quality.  The staff are so friendly they will feel close friends by the end of your stay. 

The beach is great for swimming and the views from this resort are magnificent looking across to the town of Port Vila in the distance.  Weddings can be held on the beach or in the gardens.  In case of rain, part of the restaurant comes out on a point to meet with the waters’ edge and is under cover while still giving you the feeling you are on the beach.  Paradise Cove is small but big on service and you just won’t want to leave this little piece of paradise.  The only downside is that the last 10 minutes of the road to the resort is not tar-sealed and there are lots of pot holes - perhaps a free massage to and from the resort?

The Moorings

This is a great mid-range small property on the outskirts of town within walking distance of restaurants and bars.  The property is beachfront and very modern and, although the rooms are small, they are well-equipped and extremely airy.  The main gathering venue is the bar and restaurant which has a fun and relaxed atmosphere.  There is a deck built over the waters’ edge which would be great as a wedding venue – with plenty of room to celebrate into the evening afterwards.

The Meridien

As with most Meridien properties, there is that touch of luxury that awaits you on arrival.  This resort covers a huge area with lots of room for more development – in fact major renovations are planned for early next year.  The overwater villas are lovely and really romantic and this is where they offer the VIP experience.  This includes VIP meet and greet on arrival, hassle-free check in and check out, fresh fruit daily, canapes served in the villa every evening with a choice of beverage.  Continental breakfast is served daily in your villa with complimentary laundry service and free internet access.  These villas are on their own little island which has access to the main resort by a swing bridge (for those that have the courage) or a more stable road bridge for the faint-hearted. 

The Melanesian

This is a standard property offering affordable accommodation to the budget-conscious.  If you were staying here, you would probably consider the many beautiful locations elsewhere on the island for your wedding ceremony.

The Sebel

This is a great hotel situated right in town – with all the conveniences and dining choices but unfortunately no beach.  All rooms have a view out over the port of Vila and across to Iririki Island Resort.  The rooms are small but have all that is required for your stay.

Vanuatu is great for those who want culture along with the usual beachy things that island resorts offer.  The French influence has inspired many great restaurants such as L’Houstalet and Villa Chaumiere.  My steak restaurant recommendation would be to go to Chill Restaurant and Bar - the meat just melts in your mouth!  For a quieter more intimate evening, visit the local markets for the fresh veges and fruits, buy some of the local bread and pastries, pick up a bottle of French red wine, and dine on your own balcony.”


Climate

Wet Season: Nov – Apr, average temp 20 C
Dry season: May-Oct, average temp 23 C

Vanuatu is 2 hours behind NZ during daylight savings

Money Exchange

It is not possible to buy the local currency (Vatu) in New Zealand before your departure.  Money can be changed at the airport upon arrival in Vanuatu, however the local Goodies or 7/11 stores in town will give you a better exchange rate.  Keep in mind that stores and banks (except the airport bank) are closed in the weekend.  Change your money back before returning to New Zealand.

While credit cards are accepted in most places, you will need cash if visiting the local markets or supermarkets.  When using a credit card for payment (even at the resorts), there is a surcharge of approximately 2.5% depending on the card being used. 

100 Vatu = approximately NZD 2.00

Getting Around

Driving is on the right hand side which does take some getting used to if renting a car or even just crossing the street.  However the drivers are very courteous on the road and are used to tourists stepping out.

Taxis are plentiful and are all metered.  Mini-buses offer a frequent service and, although not time tabled, they can be flagged down and will take you anywhere in the local area for 100 Vatu per person.  This is the cheapest way to travel if you have the time and don’t mind the frequent stops.

Getting there

I travelled on Air Vanuatu leaving on the 31st of October.  Flight time is just 3 hours.  The crew on Air Vanuatu were friendly and really looked after the passengers well.  In a sense it was like going back in time to the days of good old-fashioned service, for example, tea, coffee and drinks were offered throughout the flight and not just at meal times.

Getting Married

Vila as a wedding destination has so much to offer and I am really excited to be able to promote this destination as another option for engaged couples. 

Weddings can take place in a resort’s on-site chapel or beach, but there is also an array of choice for ceremony locations elsewhere on the island.  I particularly recommend the Mele Cascades Waterfall which is an area surrounded by fabulous lush tropical fauna and magnificent  waterfalls - great for photographs.  There are areas out of town where it’s so deserted you will honestly think you are the only people on the beach.

 If choosing not to marry at a resort, I have made contact with a Wedding Co-ordinator in Vila who has lived there for 26 years and is highly regarded in Vila and able to organise all transportation to the site and every finer detail you could think of.  Genuine and enthusiastic, she will go that extra mile to make your day the very best.

Vila has something to suit everyone in the wedding party, with a good mix of lazing-around options as well as activities and beautiful places to explore.   Linger in Vila to enjoy your honeymoon or travel to one of the outer islands that make up the Vanuatu group.  I was to travel to Tanna Island which is most famous for its volcano Mt Yasur, considered to be the most easily accessible active volcano in the world.  My impressions of this island will be in Part Two of my story…