History, Geography & Customs
Vanuatu has been ra nked sixth on the Lonely Planet’s list of the Top Ten Countries in the eagerly-awaited annual publication titled Best in Travel 2011. Lonely Planet’s Asia-Pacific travel editor Shawn Low says that Vanuatu made the list for its unrivaled authentic cultural experiences.
The Republic of Vanuatu is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago is located some 1,750 km east of Australia, 500 km north-east of New Caledonia, west of Fiji and south of the Solomon Islands.
It was named New Hebrides during its colonial period. Vanuatu is only 2.5 hours flying time North East of Brisbane and 3.5 hours from Sydney and under 4hrs from Melbourne, Australia. It’s a little over 2 hours from Auckland, New Zealand. There are regular Air Vanuatu flights from Noumea, Honira and Fiji.
Many of the islands of Vanuatu have been inhabited for thousands of years, the oldest archaeological evidence found dating to 2000 BC. In 1605, the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós became the first European to reach the islands, believing it to be part of Terra Australis. Europeans began settling the islands in the late 18th century, after British explorer James Cook visited the islands on his second voyage, and gave them the name New Hebrides.
In 1887, the islands began to be administered by a French-British naval commission. In 1906, the French and British agreed to an Anglo-French Condominium on the New Hebrides.
During World War II, the islands of Efate and Espiritu Santo were used as allied military bases. In the 1960s, the ni-Vanuatu people started to press for self-governance and later independence; full sovereignty was finally granted by both European nations on July 30, 1980. It joined the UN in 1981, and the Non-Aligned Movement in 1983.
Since 1994, Vanuatu has been divided into the six provinces of Malampa, Penama, Sanma, Shefa, Tafea and Torba. The main Islands within these provinces include: Banks and Torres (Torba), Espiritu Santo (Sanma), Maewo and Pentecost (Penama), Malekula, Ambrym (Malampa), Epi, Efate (Shefa), Erromango, Tanna and Aneityum (Tafea)
Most of the islands are mountainous and of volcanic origin, and have a tropical or sub-tropical climate. The nation’s largest towns are the capital Port Vila, which is situated on Efate, and Luganville, on Espiritu Santo. The highest point in Vanuatu is Mount Tabwemasana, at 1879 m (6158 ft), on the island of Espiritu Santo. There are several active volcanoes in Vanuatu, including Yasur on the island of Tanna, one of the world’s most accesible volcanoes, as well as several underwater ones.