We, a family of four, visited Vanuatu and the Louisiades of Papua New Guinea from September to November 2018. Despite spending far too little time in these most interesting and diverse places, we truly enjoyed meeting and trading with locals, exploring beautiful beaches, snorkelling between a large variety of corals and reef fish and hiking jungle, caves and volcanos. As cyclone season was approaching we only gained a glimpse of the hundreds of islands and had the chance to meet few of the most welcoming people, but were still rewarded with amazing memories. Herein, we report our highlights, our trading and cruising experiences and detail our anchorages as well as the services and facilities we found.
Most of Vanuatu and also the Louisiades are quite remote areas with very limited infrastructure especially for yachtsman. The last stop for major provisioning (more expensive as compared to Tonga and Fiji), fueling and obtaining spare parts on the way from Vanuatu to Indonesia is Port Vila, if one doesn’t plan a visit in Port Moresby or Australia.
With it’s 83 Islands and rich cultural background with over 100 languages, Vanuatu is a country were we could have easily spent months if not a whole cyclone season. As we were late in season heading northbound, we picked just a few anchorages from more than 100 described in the free Vanuatu cruising guide, which was very helpful for our stay.
The Ni-Vans are very welcoming people, ready to give without expecting anything in return. Outside of the urban centres Port Vila, Efate and Luganville, Espiritu Santo we experienced people as poor, in need of virtually anything (also basic supplies such as rice and sugar). They still would not beg but offer local produce from their gardens. Soon we figured that this was their way of trading and gave something in return. They were happy with anything we could spare (see trading section for details) and if asked were also communicating their biggest needs. At the more remote islands, especially in the Banks islands, people, kids first, would paddle out to our boat saying hello and for trading and were most honoured if invited on board for a coffee. Inviting locals on board may be a double edged sword as it may create opportunity for theft, therefore other cruisers have been hesitant about having locals aboard. During the length of our stay we never felt unsafe or had any negative experience, also not in the urban centres.
Lenakel (Tanna), Port Vila (Efata), Luganville (Espiritu Santo) and Sola (Vanua Lava) are the official ports of entry to enter Vanuatu.
Inbound: As the bay in Lenakel is rather unprotected against prevailing winds, we preferred clearing into Vanuatu at Port Resolution, Tanna. Inbound clearance is possible after seeking approval by Tanna customs 48h in advance (email@example.com). We sent multiple emails but never received a reply, thus went ahead and anchored at Port resolution without gaining advanced approval. When we entered the bay around noon, five other cruisers lay at anchor at Port Resolution, two of them just have been cleared in. The customs officer saw us approaching but had to leave. He had promised to come back the same day. Upon anchoring we beached the dingy in the northeastern corner of the bay and contacted Johnson from Port Resolution yacht club, who organised our inbound clearance as well as the ride to Lenakel and the tour to the volcano. At 5 pm the customs officer arrived the second time that day in Port Resolution after a 3h ride (one way) from Lenakel. He was most welcoming and completed the paperwork for inbound clearance including immigration. As we did not have enough Vatus to pay the clearance fees (8000 Vatu approx 72 USD for customs including his traveling expenses plus 1200 Vatu approx 11 USD per stamped passport), we needed to visit his office after drawing money from an ATM in Lenakel the next day. We received a sealed letter to be handed to customs in Port Vila (located at the container terminal) for completion of clearance.
Outbound: As we were heading northbound and visited the Banks islands the logical port for outbound clearance would have been Sola, Vanua Lava. As there is no ATM on Vanua Lava and we were unsure about upcoming clearance fees we decided to clear out already in Luganville, Santo. We were supposed to visit immigration, customs and the port office, but offices of immigration and port have been closed (public holiday). We have been able to complete outbound clearance just visiting customs. They stamped our passports and collected the fees (all together 7800 Vatu approx. 70 USD) for referring to the port office. Officially, we were supposed to leave the country within 24h after outbound clearance making our stay in the northern islands illegal.
As we visited Port Resolution, we have been surprised about the remoteness of villages. Later we learned that villages on Banks and Torres are even more remote. With the next shop for basic supplies hours away, people are strongly relying on their own produce. Fishing extending reef fish is not common, as the dugouts are not adequate to fish in the open ocean. In our experience people on the outer islands preferred trading items over receiving money, as shops are far away and are not selling all requested items. Monetary income however is also important for the villages , as school fees for secondary school are expensive (primary school is mandatory and free). In some villages, the whole village was saving money for one kid to go to one of the centers to secondary school. Primary schools with proper water and electricity supplies were functional in even the remotest villages. We tried to support the villagers a bit buying souvenirs and trading deals, giving more than we received.
What we have been asked for:
We have not been actively asked for needles, rubber bands and fabrics, but items were very well received when we offered them.
What we received in return:
Souvenirs and services we always payed in cash.
The approach to Port Resolution is neither buoyed nor lit. The entrance to the wide bay is rather narrow, but straight forward when entering during daytime in the middle between the land masses. Navionics Charts are on spot.
We anchored in 7 meters, more or less in the middle of the bay 19° 31.5' S, 169° 29.7' E. Holding was good. There are several bommies in shallower waters on the eastern and northern side of the bay, thus we had to navigate carefully even with the dingy.
The yacht club is located on the north eastern side of the bay. There is no dingy dock, thus we beached the dingy and went up the small path to the top. The guys from the yacht club are organising clearance procedures, tours to the volcano Mount Yasur and transport to Lenakel (roundtrip 4000 Vatu approx 36 USD). We joined a tour starting in the afternoon, enjoying the sunset at Mount Yasur, which was an intimidating but absolutely amazing experience. After nightfall the magma was glowing red and the eruptions much better to see. We needed to dress warm though, the winds have been freezing up there. Admission fees for the entrance to mount Yasur were 9500 Vatu (approx 86 USD) per person (kids 4 years and below were free of charge), transport from Port Resolution to the Entrance gate and return was 2500 Vatu (approx 23 USD) per person (no charge for kids). The village is a 5 minutes walk from the yacht club. There are two small restaurants offering Tanna coffee and lunch or dinner. For eating, both preferred booking one day in advance. On the southern side of the bay we visited the hot springs, cooked some eggs in the almost boiling waters and had coffee in the restaurant close by. From there it is possible to hike to another village through the jungle and see the steam geysers. There are also other hikes in the area we didn’t do.
The 150 nm passage from Port Resolution to Port Vila has been a fast one with strong easterly winds. Seas have been moderate to rough.
Port Vila is located on the eastern side of the Mele Bay, protected by two islands and surrounding reefs. Thus winds and swells have been much weaker after entering the mooring area. The approach to the mooring area on the east side of Iririki Island is buoyed and lit, but even though shallow at a few spots, especially after the last buoys. We therefore left and entered the bay during the day at a rising tide.
Before entering the inner harbour we requested a mooring buoy from the yacht club via VHF. A small boat has been sent to guide us to a ball (1600 Vatu/night, approx 14 USD). The buoys looked well maintained. Alternatively, it is possible to tie up to the pier.
There are many restaurants in town to choose from. We don’t have a particular one to recommend. As port vila is the capital several tour options are available at relatively expensive admission fees, e.g to cascades, snorkeling, traditional villages. As we came mainly for provisioning we did not join any of them.
We spent one night in the Mele Bay behind Mele island. The little island is surrounded by a reef, therefore we approached the anchorage during the day, well to the south before turning in and anchoring between the mainland and the island.
We anchored at 17°41.7 S, 168°15.9 E in 10 meters over sand, close to the local boats on moorings. The island protects the anchorage from southerly swells, but it is pretty much open to winds from the south. Holding was good.
We left Efata before sunset and sailed the 85nm to the Maskelyns overnight with quite strong winds and moderate to rough seas from the SE.
The approach to the anchorage of Uliveo is a bit tricky. We needed to pass through a quite narrow gap in the reef. A local in a dugout was guiding us, but a good lookout might also be able to give directions as the reefs are clearly visible in the water. Once the gap was passed water levels dropped again.
We anchored in front of the village (16°31.8' S, 167°49.8' E) protected from SE winds and swells.
We left the Maskelyns in the evening and arrived in Santo the next morning after a moderate to rough overnight sail in significant SE winds. Arrival is best to be timed on the tide, as there are significant currents around Luganville.
The approach to Luganville was straight forward. Tidal currents are significant here and worth to be considered.
We initially wanted to anchor in front of the Santo Hardware store, however the anchorage in front of the town was barely protected against SE winds and swells. We therefore continued 1 nm further west and anchored in a large, much better protected bay in front of the Beach front resort (15° 31.3' S, 167° 9.9' E). Holding was good.
Oyster Bay is one of the best protected anchorages in Vanuatu. It lies behind several reefs and a few small islands, thus the approach is tricky. We entered the lagoon close to high water according to Navionics waypoints, which were at the spot. Nevertheless water depts are quite shallow in the initial approach when crossing the reef (at some spots 2.5m only). Daylight and a good lookout is required.
We moored inside the lagoon, close to the resort (15° 22.4' S, 167° 11.4' E). Holding was good.
We sailed a good part of the 85 miles during the night and approached Gaua in the morning. There was a constant significant SE breeze and moderate seas. A school of false killer whales visited Moya and swam with her for an hour or so, which was a fantastic experience.
To access Lesalav Bay we entered the bay by a passage between the reefs, which is well charted by Navionics. The approach is not bouyed or lit.
We moored in front of the little village (14° 12.5' S, 167° 34.2' E)
We heard that locals are organising tours to the vulcano, but we only visited the little village. Some people welcome us wearing traditional masks and costumes.
Before we entered Port Patterson, we checked the anchorage in Sola, which was poorly protected from swells. As we expected strong winds we decided to move to Port Patterson. The bay is much better protected against SE swells and the approach is straight forward.
We moored as close to shore as possible to obtain best protection against swells (13° 49.5' S, 167° 33.2' E). Further inside the bay there are a couple of boomies. We anchored in 5m over mud. Holding was very good even in gusts of more than 50 knots (remainder of out of season cyclone Liua).
The approach (not buoyed nor lit) inside the crater of the volcano during daytime is straight forward. Locals were paddling out to show us the best anchorage.
We moored on the south side of the crater, close to the village (13° 32.5' S, 167° 20.5' E), not the anchorages charted by Navionics. Apparently, holding here is much better. Some swell is reaching the anchorage and also wind bullets shoot into the crater from time to time, both we deemed acceptable.
The little islands in front of the bay is surrounded by a reef, with breaking waves. We therefore approached from the NW.
We found mooring in Hayter Bay tricky as sand spots between the reefs are small and water levels are deep. It took us two hours to find an acceptable anchorage in 12m over sand (13° 14.77' S, 166° 35.75' E). The bay is not perfectly protected against swells and little from wind, but it is probably the best option in Torres.
Sailing between Vanuatu and the Louisiades was very enjoyable in constant SE winds. Especially the second half of the passage was quick sailing and good catching of fish. Initially we planned a stopover at the indispensable reefs, but couldn’t find a suitable spot for anchoring. The reefs are poorly charted, but google earth images are on the spot. At most parts the reef drop from basically zero to 60 m. The one location, where we could have anchored (around 12° 39.8' S, 160° 17.3' E), was 10m deep with sand and some boomies and quite protected in an inlay of the middle reef. We saw a number of dugouts, which must have been locals who paddled out all the way from Rennel. We left the place to find a better spot, which we never found. After 4 hours of searching the westerly side of the reefs we reluctantly decided to continue to the Louisiades. The reefs are beautiful with crystal clear waters.
We visited only a few islands of the large archipelo of the Louisiades. We would have loved to stay longer to explore, but we were quite late in season. In the past the Louisiades have been visited by many yachts, but since the australien rally stopped, only few yachtsman find their way in the beautiful archipelo.
Safety on the islands we visited was good. The only place were we felt not 100 percent comfortable was Missima harbour, but also here we haven’t experienced anything negative. We avoided PNG mainland and people aggregations. When we left the boat we always locked it and secured the dingy on land and during the night. Moreover, we stored loose deck items inside to prevent children taking them, as they sometimes climbed uninvited on board. Other cruisers avoided to have locals on board to reduce opportunities for theft or spying, but we invited locals who paddled out to Moya quite often and never experienced any issues.
Malaria on the islands is highly abundant. Locals even asked us for medication. We therefore always left the islands before nightfall and anchored in some distance to shore. As there always has been a light breeze, mosquitoes never managed to fly out to the boat. Medical infrastructure on the islands is spares. We visited the hospital on Nimoa, the only one on the eastern archipelo, which is run by nurses only. In case of emergencies it might be difficult to receive adequate treatment.
Trading in the Louisiades was quite similar as compared to Vanuatu (see section above), but the people on most of the islands were not as keen on trading as the people on the Banks. They also were not interested to trade for basic supplies such as rice, flour or sugar, which they basically can buy on any of the islands. Instead people asked primarily for snorkelling equipment, small to medium size fishing hooks, cloth, torches, solar light, medication and magazines. In return we received fruits and vegis, but selection was poorer as compared to Vanuatu, mainly bananas, papayas, sweet potatoes and island cabbage. People appeared not as poor as the people from Vanuatu’s northern island. Children were better dressed and virtually every village had a speed boat for traveling between the islands. We learned that villagers collect sea cucumbers and sell them expensively to China. That basic income is noticeable.
We entered the lagoon of the Louisiades through the snake passage (Yuma passage). The passage is not charted on Navionics, but google earth pictures are accurate. The passage through the reef is wide and more than 10m deep throughout the way and easily to navigate during daytime (we entered when it was raining). Outer entrance point is located at 11° 21.0' S, 153° 23.0' E from there the way inside the lagoon can easily made out. Exit point inside the lagoon is located at 11° 22.7' S, 153° 20.2' E. Further waypoints and passages are described on www.maranatha.id.au. According to locals the lagoon can be entered through snake at any tide without strong currents. That is in line with our experience.
Muhua Bay is close to the exit of the snake passage. The approach during daytime is straight forward.
We moored in 7m over mud (11° 22.4' S, 153° 18.1' E) with excellent holding.
We were greeted by a few dugouts. The next day we went a shore and hiked to the small village up in the lush green hills. Micheal showed us around and invited us on his terrace. Apparently only few yachts come visiting. People are very welcoming, we even received a goodbye letter thanking us for the visit.
Straight forward during the day.
We moored close to the jetty (11° 19.6' S, 153° 12.7' E), docking is possible also. The anchorage is rather poorly protected and affected by tidal currents. Nimoa island is close and better suitable to stay over night.
Up the hill there are some administrative buildings and houses with nice gardens.
It is usually possible to get SIM cards in the small store selling basic supplies, but they were sold out at our visit. The only other store selling SIM cards in the area is located in Missima.
The anchorage should be approached during daytime with a good lookout. Navionics charts are not very accurate, as in most parts of the archipelo.
We moored between the reefs over sand (11° 18.0' S, 153° 14.7' E). The anchorage is well protected against SE swells and winds.
We visited the hospital and school, both located on the southern end of the bay. The hospital receives supplies only two times a year and was thankful that we donated some medication. We met a lot of children, all of them nicely dressed, which we think is an indicator for the increased standards on Nimoa island.
The passage from Nimoa to Saberi is rather shallow with several reefs in between, which are not properly charted. A good lookout is essential.
We anchored behind the fore lying lime stone islands at position 11° 07.3' S, 153° 05.1' E over hard sand. The spot is nicely protected against swells.
There is a cave in one of the fore lying islands but entering is quite difficult. The lagoon behind the islands is scenic and ideal to swim at the small beach 200 m east of the village.
We left the lagoon of the Louisades through the Chubudi passage. The passage is not accurate charted in Navionics, the real passage is shifted to the west. There can be quite strong tidal currents in the pass, thus entry or exit should be timed to slack water. Epoke island is a small island with a large surrounding reef, thus we recommend to approach the anchorage only during daytime with good visibility.
We moored behind the reef on the NW side of the island over 8m sand between few bommies 10°52.9 S, 153°09.4 E. The anchorage is protected against SE swells, holding was fine.
Beautiful beaches, hermit crabs and good snorkelling.
None, also no internet. The island is uninhabited.
There is a small lagoon in the reef north of Kimutu. Entrance inside the lagoon is difficult. We recommend a good lookout and ideally support by locals. Navionics charts are not showing the lagoon and the passage at all. Phil Bailey from SV Maranatha www.maranatha.id.au describes the passage as dim passage (local word meaning white man) and provides on spot waypoints.
We moored behind the reefs (10° 50.4' S, 152° 59.2' E) in 5 m over sand. Holding was not great though.
There are two beautiful, little villages, which are rarely visited by cruisers. We were the second yacht in 2018 when we visited the village at the end of October. Locals were very welcoming and invited us to the church service on sunday and to a boat tour on a local outrigger. Beautiful beaches.
The town is not nice, stores are not well stocked. Our only reasons to come: eggs and internet.
The entrance to the habour is marked by white poles and also lit during the night. We still wouldn’t recommend entry during the night as reefs are close.
We moored close to the dock, leaving room for local vessels to manoeuvre 10° 41.3' S, 152° 50.8' E over mud.
Nivani lies in the Deboyne lagoon, but we didn’t time the entry to the lagoon to slack water and didn’t experience a major current.
We moored behind Nivani island (10° 47.2' S, 152° 23.3' E) over sand together with four other yachts (almost the only once we meet in PNG). The anchorage is not perfectly protected from winds and swells.