Travel

Vanuatu is Reopening to Australians. Here’s Where to Go First

Venture deep into the Pacific’s hidden paradise to discover the beauty of Vanuatu.

things to do vanuatu
Photo: @ulrika.wanderwoman

Set your watch to island time, Vanuatu and all its provinces are reopening to international travellers from July 1. The beautiful nation of Vanuatu is home to over 80 individual islands, each offering a completely different experience. Whether you want a tropical jungle safari, a relaxing, luxurious resort holiday, or a cultural experience, you will find it in Vanuatu.

Before you pack your bags, there are a few things you need to know.

How to get to Vanuatu

Flights to Vanuatu are available to book now, with Air Vanuatu offering five non-stop flights from Sydney, one direct service a week from Melbourne, and three non-stop flights a week from Brisbane to Port Vila. For more information or to book, visit airvanuatu.com.

How to get into Vanuatu

To enter Vanuatu come July, tourists will simply need to provide a certified negative Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) result within 24 hours of departure or a certificate of infection and recovery within 28 days of departure, if they have recently had Covid-19.

Once in Vanuatu, there is no arrival testing required. However, travellers will be asked to play their part in keeping both locals and visitors safe by practising good hygiene and physical distancing. 

If a traveller tests positive for Covid-19 while in Vanuatu, they will need to isolate for seven days in a managed Government designated and approved facility—this may include hotels and resorts or other government health centres, subject to availability.

Current restrictions to know

Regarding travel between Vanuatu’s provinces, both Shefa, the home of Vanuatu’s capital of Port Vila and Sanma, which boasts the country’s largest island, Espiritu Santo, have reached Health Recovery Level 1 status and will be ready to reopen to tourists from 1 July, in line with the Vanuatu Government’s Roadmap to Reopening.

Please visit covid.19.gov.vu to view the most up-to-date information on Vanuatu’s provinces/islands and their statuses. 

things to do vanuatu where to eat
Photo: @tamanubeachvanuatu

Where to eat in Vanuatu

Vanuatu food markets are a great place to get local cuisine and try fresh produce. Mama’s Market is a hive of activity, with locals and visitors flocking to the market for everything from a healthy snack to berries for a picnic.

Depending on where you’re staying, Tamanu on the Beach is a beachfront air restaurant with panoramic ocean views and is renowned for its superb food and quality service. The chefs create mouth-watering dishes using fresh, locally grown organic produce that Vanuatu has to offer, complemented by an extensive wine list featuring Australian, New Zealand and French wines.

things to do vanuatu water music

Experience Water Music

Water music originates from Gaua Island, but you can also see it at Leweton Cultural Village in Espiritu Santo (which was founded by Ni-Vanuatu Sandy Sur and his extended family who came to Santo from Gaua and Mere Lava islands. The family worked together to create this experience in order to share their culture and customs with others). The women dress in traditional attire and take to the water to create mesmerizing music—evoking the sounds of thunder, boiling water and gushing waterfalls. The tour on Gaua invites female visitors to join in as well. 

things to do vanuatu naghol
Photo: Olivia Magoffin

Naghol on Pentecost Island

Pentecost is a small island, pristine and untouched with unspoiled rainforests, beautiful waterfalls and crystal clear ocean waters. Each year, local men on Pentecost, climb a hand-made, 30-metre tower of native wood and stand above the crowd of nervous spectators. Tree vines wrapped around their ankles, they chant to drum-up excitement in the crowd before diving head-first to the ground. When done right, their shoulders graze the dirt—granting them a good yam harvest for the year ahead. It’s an annual cultural experience not seen anywhere else in the world and makes the island of Pentecost famous (April – June). 

things to do vanuatu cooking classes
Photo: @papayavillavanuatu

Try a cooking class

Papaya Village cooking class is located on 1.6kms of pristine privately held beachfront, palm trees and coral coves tucked away in an old copra plantation. Join owner Marcus for a cooking class among the scent of saffron and bay leaves, a glass of Papaya Village’s own special tropical sangria and some mambo tunes. The class is a relaxed and fun session where you learn how to make a typical island or Caribbean food and best of all, you get to eat what you make.

things to do vanuatu best blue holes
Photo: @parky.au

Dive into Santos Blue Holes

Vanuatu is home to blue holes, many the product of freshwater springs trickling from the belly of the islands’ mountains, while some oscillate with the tide, filling with fish that dart in their crystal depths like wondrous, native aquariums.

The pools range in accessibility through the islands, some almost feeling like your own private outdoor spa, a world away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. There’s often an entrance fee that helps cover the amenities provided by the local owners.

things to do vanuatu where to stay
Photo: The Havannah Vanuatu

Where to stay in Vanuatu

In terms of where to stay it depends on where you want to go, but here are some great options. The Havannah Vanuatu caters exclusively for adults. This barefoot luxury resort is a short drive from the nation’s capital Port Vila and offers a slower pace, immersed in nature.

Located just off the coast of Vanuatu’s largest island of Espiritu Santo, Aore Island is a divers’ paradise. Family-owned, this private resort features a collection of modern bungalows situated on a pristine waterfront location, offering world-class scuba diving experiences at the doorstep.

Surrounded by pristine tropical gardens, with a gorgeous outlook over the lagoon on the island of Efate, lies Mangoes Resort. A beautiful, private adults-only property where travellers can unwind in tranquil surroundings.

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Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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