Vanuatu’s unique topography and culture offer visiting travelers many opportunities and experiences not found anywhere else in the world.
Vanuatu was first discovered by the Spanish in the 1600’s and then later explored and charted by the famous English explorer, Captain James Cook. Named the New Hebrides, the islands were ruled jointly by the English and French in a strange arrangement called a condominium government. The country was granted independence in 1980 and the name was changed to Vanuatu, which means “of the land”. In all, 83 islands make up the country known as Vanuatu, stretching more than 450 miles in a north/south orientation. Vanuatu’s outer islands are divided into groups according to size and location. The larger islands like Malakula, Pentecost, Maewo, and Umbae are separate entities while the smaller islands are grouped together, i.e. the Shepherd, Banks and Torrez groups. The Banks group has the Reef Islands, the only major coral atoll in Vanuatu, while all the rest of the islands are rugged and volcanic. The major tourist destination, the center of government and the largest population center in Vanuatu is the capital city of Port Vila on the island of Efate.
While there are 103 indigenous languages spoken throughout the islands, English, French and Bislama (pidgin English) are the official languages of Vanuatu. Therefore, the English speaking traveler will have no trouble wherever he goes.
There are two ways to visit the outer islands. Van Air the local inter‑island airline flies to many of the major islands, and inter‑island ferries or live‑aboard dive boats make frequent trips throughout the islands. Only two of the islands, Espiritu Santo and Tanna have facilities for tourists, and only Espiritu Santo has diving operations. Santo Dive Tours, owned and operated by Allen Power, leads dives exclusively on the Coolidge, Exploration Divers operates out of the Luganville area and Bokissa Isle Dive does all of the diving for the Bokissa Island Resort. All operators offer free round trip transfers from local hotels. The other islands remain undeveloped and very primitive, with village life and subsistence farming as the occupation of the inhabitants. Vanuatu has some of the most traditional people in the Pacific today, and it is in the out islands where you will find them. There are villages where the people have rejected the missionaries and retained a way of life that is thousands of years old. They dress, farm and perform ceremonies in the traditional ways. A visit to one of these villages is always fascinating. The National Council of Chiefs (malvatumauri) was established to protect Vanuatu customs, cultures and traditions. Malvatumauri was set up on April 27th, 1977 and chiefs from all islands are represented. One of its primary functions is to advise the government on all matters relating to custom, culture and tradition. The council has its own president who has an office in Port Vila where he coordinates all his work programs. Each year Custom Chiefs Day is celebrated on April 5th with a public holiday.
Through the National Council of Chiefs several programs have been established to protect Vanuatu customs and to make people more aware of the importance of their traditions.
The outer islands waters are teeming with life. For those willing to explore, there is true virgin diving available and a chance to be the first to see a new world-class dive site. Most of the diving could be characterized as open sea diving, since the islands are far apart and the waters between them are very deep. With walls extending down to 1,000 feet or deeper, large fish and pelagics are common.
The outer islands are notorious for sharks and one seldom does a dive without encountering at least one. Reef sharks, white tip and gray, are common and one will most likely encounter bronze whalers, graceful sharks, silvertips and other less common species on any trip to these remote islands.