21st September 2016
There are plenty of reasons to hang around in Vanuatu's capital Port Vila, not least of which is that it's one of the most accessible Pacific Islands to Australia's shores. Set your body clock to the chilled out vibes of 'island time' and experience some amazing coral diving right off the shore. However perhaps more importantly, it's also a great way to support our Pacific neighbours who are well and truly back open for business after almost being flattened by Cyclone Pam in March 2015. Not that you'd know it now with all the freshly renovated resorts, iconic restaurants and new local breweries that have popped up.
The last resort to open post-Cyclone Pam, the Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu has had a total revamp with a 9-hole golf course and veranda restaurant with the same great family-friendly vibe. Offering access to a serene swimming lagoon just a 20 minute stroll from Port Vila, the resort offers an excellent range of onsite facilities and activities including diving at amazing coral reefs at nearby Hideaway Island Resort and Marine Sanctuary where incredible coral is just metres from where you stand on Mele Bay.
In town, it's an easy wander to explore what Port Vila has to offer. Beginning at the northern end, start with coffee at Chantilly's before passing the colourful wall art of French artist Aloi Piliol by the post office. When you've worked up a thirst, stop in for a Nambawan beer at the new Brewery Restaurant & Bar before heading up the hill for views of the beautiful and most photographed part of Port Vila. Take in some local history and culture with the suitably chill National Museum of Vanuatu where you can find traditional wooden houses, carved upright drums known as tamtams, the fascinating story of Chief Roi Mata and some UNESCO-recognised sandroing (sand drawings).
When it's time for lunch, the waterside location of the Lava Lounge makes it a popular spot to pick up a pizza or, if you're up for something a little different you've got to try a Vanuatu version of fries - shards of coconut treated like chips, fried and salted. If you're after something a little more familiar the War Horse Saloon at the far end of town with its number plates and bull skulls has the feel of a proper saloon. They've got Tusker on tap, but for something a little more boutique try the locally brewed Seven Seas Amber Ale.
Most of the cuisine offered in Vanuatu is fairly familiar for Western tastebuds, but if you're feeling a little adventurous then you must make a visit to French restaurant L'Houstalet. A Port Vila favourite for over four decades, this restaurant is serving up a famous dish - flying fox marinated in herbs, garlic and red wine. A popular local protein, this meat may challenge the sensibilities of Western visitors but with a French spin on its flavours, it's a bestseller at the restaurant and should be on your list to try just so you can say you did.