Slowing down in Malekula
If asked for three words to describe Malekula I would go with – raw, remote and paradise. It is not for people who want swim up bars, cocktails, spas and kids’ clubs, but for me it was paradise. Think of beautiful guesthouses made from local materials and owners who treat you like you are one of the family – Malekula has this coupled with a unique and fascinating culture.
Malekula sees only small numbers of travellers each year and I was fortunate enough to experience this hidden island gem. With a population of over 20,000, Malekula is the second largest island in Vanuatu’s archipelago, its people speak over 20 languages and I was there to discover the island’s intricate culture and remote island life.
Just over an hour’s flight from Port Vila we landed at Norsup airport, an airport unlike anything I had ever seen. Set in a beautiful lush location facing the sea surrounded by mountains, with a roofless building and certainly no perfume counter! It was picture perfect from the moment we stepped off the plane.
After grabbing my backpack I sparked up conversation with the locals who were hanging around. They didn’t appear to be actually waiting for anyone but just acting as an unofficial welcome party. They pointed me in the direction of my ride, the back of a 4WD ute, I climbed in with excited anticipation, eager to see where we would end up.
The bumpy drive took us over rivers, through lush jungle and past immaculate villages. Children came running out of houses waving and smiling enticing me to jump out of the ute and go and play with them.
After about two hours we reached Tam Tam Bungalows on the coast in the north east of the island. My definition of paradise – remote and so far removed from city life that my iPhone was only useful for taking pictures. No phone signal equalled absolute bliss.
The guesthouses at Tam Tam Bungalows make you feel like you are in a little Vanuatu village of your own. My advice is to take a torch, there is generator power only for a few hours at night.
My first immersion into island life was being greeted by a tasty home cooked organic meal. I was then taken to a nakamal bar to drink kava, the traditional Vanuatu beverage. From the guesthouse we walked down a pitch black lane through the village, I had no idea where we were venturing to but I could see we were walking towards little red lights. Now, while a little red light outside a door conjures up a very specific idea for Europeans and Australians, for the people of Vanuatu, these red lights showed there is a kava bar. We went inside and sat down with the locals feeling very a part of this tradition. Watch out kava is quite strong in Vanuatu! I had a few shells of Kava drink, chatted with the locals and had a very relaxing night out – certainly different to a busy Sydney bar!
The next couple of days were spent exploring the north of the island and the unique cultures found there. First, I visited a tribe of the ‘Small Nambas’ and they showed us the traditional way of life on the island through amazing kastom dances, intricate sand drawings, weaving and island cooking. The women of the village were beautiful and gave me some necklaces as presents and we all got together in a girly gaggle, laughing, despite not being able to speak the same language!
From there we went on to a ‘Big Nambas’ tribe village and we were shown around the village and invited into a family home and given local fruits and a place to rest. The people may not be rich in terms of finance but they have beautiful villages, plentiful food and big hearts to match their big smiles.
We were also invited to watch traditional kastom dances in this village and the Chief bought along all generations from the village to perform. One small girl stole my heart – I also later found out her name was Ana, my kindred spirit in Vanuatu.
I just wish I had more time on this island as there is so much more to see, from the beautiful beaches and snorkelling in the south of the island to tough trekking trips. The phrase, ‘time flies when you are having fun’ is certainly true here – but not to fear I will be back to visit these amazing people and beautiful island again, and that is a promise.
Anne Morris, Australian Representative Vanuatu Tourism Office
To book accommodation and tours on Malekula visit www.malampa.travel
To book flights to Maleuka visit www.airvanuatu.com
For more information about Vanuatu and its islands visit www.vanautu.travel