I rushed home from work on Thursday afternoon, stuffed all my last minute items into my bags and power walked to the tram stop. Shortly after I met Alex at Southern Cross station to catch the bus to the airport. We were headed to Sydney to meet our cruise ship the following day, which was also Alex’s 30th birthday. It was a gift that I too could enjoy. The best kind.
I had never really considered going on a cruise before, but Alex had been thinking about it for a while since our trip to a resort in Costa Rica a few years back, where we enjoyed the luxuries of a relaxing vacation. After so many holidays roughing it out in hostels, Alex decided that he wanted an easy trip for his 30th. His brother also went on an amazing Caribbean cruise for his honeymoon and could not stop raving about it. A Caribbean cruise was out of the question unfortunately, so we decided on a nine night trip to Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
We spent the morning of Alex’s birthday in Sydney, visiting a revamped art gallery and enjoying our favorite city food market.
I will spare you the details of the cruise itself and head straight to the excitement of the island visits, as I’m sure you can imagine, for most of the cruise all we did was eat, sleep, read, relax and go to the gym. Tough living really.
As the cruise days went by and we sailed further and further north, the days became hotter and more humid. A nice change from Melbourne’s quasi-winter. By day four we had arrived at our first destination, Port Vila, the capital city of Vanuatu.
Growing up, Vanuatu was always thought to be a very exotic place, alongside Fiji and Tahiti. It was very exciting to finally arrive and inhale the damp air, our eyes noticing the lush greenness of the hilly island town. After departing the ship, a bombardment of men soon followed, whispering in our ears (as Alex said, “As if they were selling us something illegal”), asking us if we’d like a lift to the city, if they could be our tour guide for the day, and so on. It was a refreshing change of pace from the most recent overseas trip we’d taken to New Zealand, where we didn’t feel as far from home.
We jumped in a mini-van which cost AUD $3 each to the city (although the driver claimed to have no change so he had a good morning). Much to the driver’s surprise, Alex and I didn’t want to go on any tours; we just wanted to explore the town on foot. So off we headed, not really knowing where. We wanted to perhaps rent bikes, but it was that hot that we decided to head to the reef to do some snorkelling. We asked around, looking for the free ferry to a nearby island. A local tried to convince us that he’d take us to a better island but wanted to charge us too much. We had trouble finding authentic services and weren’t sure which deal was best. We wandered around and found a tourist office. The lady was exceedingly helpful and friendly and advised us of the best way to get to Iririki Island.
The island was literally two minutes away by water taxi. As the island is a resort, we had to pay to use its facilities, however this payment was credited towards lunch at the resort, which was fine with us.
Stepping off the water taxi, we already noticed clear blue reefs with colorful fish swimming near the surface. We signed into the resort and headed towards Snorkeller’s Cove, passing several friendly locals on the way. We arrived at the snorkelling area, got into our gear and stepped into the refreshing and clear water. The flippers and snorkel took some time getting used to as I’d never snorkelled before. In fact, I was behaving rather embarrassingly, flapping my arms and feet around quite ridiculously. Poor Alex.
I finally got the hang of the breathing and kicking at the same time (I wish people wouldn’t generalise women as being excellent multitaskers). Turns out I was also biting on the tube incorrectly, hence why I was copping a mouthful of water every time I surfaced. Whoops.
Snorkeling was amazing. I loved it and am looking forward to doing it again and again. Generally I am petrified of sea life – I think this fear began at a young age when I saw my pet fish struggle when I first cleaned his tank. In fact I don’t eat seafood at all and am particularly terrified of octopi (although I do think whales are phenomenal). I loved seeing coral of all shapes, breathing anemone, clams, but most importantly, the fish! Particularly the bright colored fish. It was incredible to be so close to them. We brought a cheap disposable waterproof camera, hence the following awful photos.
Meanwhile, I didn’t even think to put sunscreen on my back, and my back became brutally red. Very disappointing.
After one hour or so of chasing fishies, we relaxed in the sun for a while. The sun was worse than Australian sun. On a hot sunny day in Melbourne you can feel the sun burning your skin. In Vila, we could feel it cooking our skin. Time to go.
We had our lunch overlooking the bay and enjoyed a lovely mocktail, served with a Hibiscus flower. Very tropical.
We ventured into the resort and enjoyed looking at tropical plants, Alex remembering Costa Rica, and me going nuts with the camera.
We visited a quiet beach and soaked our feet in the cool water. It was then time to head back to the grind of the city.
Port Vila is a small and rather undeveloped city. Its denizens all wear sandals and do not sweat as much as we did. Chocolate is not a wise food choice.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the main street. I was very excited by the produce market, where I envied the racimos of plantains (and various other unique banana fruits), sacks of cassava, peanuts still attached to their roots (incredible), soursop, ornamental coconut plants grown from the visible coconuts, ginger plus their plant sprouts, coconut leaf baskets… I wanted to take some home.
We decided to walk back to the ship port as it was only 5 km away. We regularly got beeped at by cab drivers but no, we wanted to walk. It rained a little on the way but it was nothing too extreme. We arrived at customs and were farewelled by a gorgeous little Vanuatuan boy.
We arrived back to our room muddy, sticky and much more worldly.