The majority of people that fly into Port Vila, Vanuatu, will be immediately whisked away to a resort of some description, from which they will not emerge for the duration of their holiday.
For those who are interested in getting out and about however, there are a number of sights in and around Port Vila that are worth seeing.
Port Vila (pronounced veela) is the capital of Vanuatu. It has a population of less than 50,000, and contains few buildings above 5 storeys in height.
Tourism is one of the key industries in Vanuatu. Downtown Port Vila, accordingly, is full of hotels, souvenir stalls, and surf-wear shops. It lends the city a perpetual summer holiday vibe.
History of Port Vila and Vanuatu
Port Vila is located on the island of Efate, which sits roughly in the middle of a chain of 82 islands (65 of which are inhabited) that comprise the nation of Vanuatu.
Efate was inhabited by the Lapita Culture, the ancestors of modern day Polynesians and Melanesians, and has been populated since at least 1200 BCE – a date that has been corroborated through the carbon-dating of pottery shards found in tombs near the capital.
The Portuguese explorers, Pedro Fernandes de Queirós and Luís Vaz de Torres (after whom the Torres Strait is named), were the first Europeans to visit Vanuatu.
They arrived in 1606, and were under the impression that they had discovered the great southern land, Terra australis. They named the islands La Australia del Espiritu Santo (the largest island in the Vanuatu island chain still bears the name Espiritu Santo).
French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (whom the Bougainville Islands in Papua New Guinea are named after), visited Vanuatu in 1768, he named the islands the Great Cyclades.
And when Captain James Cook sailed in six years later on HMS Resolution, he thought the islands were just about due for a re-branding, and bestowed them with the name the New Hebrides (a title they kept until their independence in 1980).
Captain Cook named Efate Sandwich Island, after his benefactor, the Earl of Sandwich.
Iririki Island is a privately leased resort island located smack bang in the centre of Mele Bay. It’s only three minutes from Port Vila by ferry, meaning it is easily accessible for a day trip.
Guests passes aren’t cheap though.
Hideaway Island (Mele Island)
A little further afield – it requires a 20 minute bus trip – is Mele Island (known locally known as Hideaway Island), another privately leased resort island with a steep day pass for visitors. It has nice sandy beaches though, and there are patches of coral around for snorkelling over.
It’s also home to the world’s only underwater post office.
Ten kilometres outside of Port Vila is the privately owned Mele Cascades. The 35 metre high cascades are surrounded by a mix of natural forest and manicured parkland.
It’s popular with picnickers on the weekend, but go there on a rainy day and you’ll have the place to yourself.
Port Vila Markets
Port Vila Markets are a laid-back affair where you can expect minimal to nil hassling.
Fruit and vegetables are the main order of the day. There is also a section of carvings and handicrafts for tourists to peruse.
Is Port Vila worth a visit?
Yes! Port Vila may not be overloaded with tourist sights, but there is still much to enjoy about this sleepy Melanesian capital.
Bauerfield international airport has flights to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and other Pacific Islands. Flight time between Brisbane and Port Vila is 2.5 hours. More transport info here.