From our first visit to Vanuatu in 2010 I had wanted to visit Lelepa and Moso Islands in the Havannah Harbour. Finally, on visit number 5 to Vanuatu and clocking in about 8 islands, Lelepa and neighbouring Moso, finally made it to the list.
We had heard about the quality of the snorkelling / diving in the area from an ex-pat Queenslander, now living in Port Vila, so we felt confident in her advice. We had decided a day trip wouldn’t be long enough, so sought a way to stay on Lelepa Island. On a previous visit, we stayed at Travellers Budget Motel in Port Vila, Janelle the owner, had mentioned Albert Solomon a ni-Vanuatu man who ran day trips from Port Vila onto Lelepa and the possibility of staying on the island; and so it transpired.
Arriving at Port Vila airport, Albert Solomon was there to collect us. Around Mele Bay up the hills and within about 30 minutes we were at Gideon’s Landing, just off the bottom of “the” hill. Albert returned to Port Vila, where he now lives and Jabin from South Santo, but now living on Lelepa, was our boatman. Loaded onto the standard means of water transport in Vanuatu, a fibreglass banana boat took us the short distance to Lelepa Island. The village runs along the southern coastline with a rocky outcrop greeting you, with a narrow clear way for entry to the shore, but the boatmen knew exactly where to travel to avoid the coral and rocks. It was a short walk through the village to the house. We were surprised and impressed to see that most of the houses were of solid construction – concrete walls and floors with iron roofs; not the traditional bungalows that we had become accustomed to in other villages. Our accommodation was large, 2 bedrooms – double in one room, single in the other and another single in the main living area, and a large covered area immediately outside the house. This was used for our dining area and also for the day tours that visited the island, as the base for the village stopover. A separate toilet and shower block, tiled and clean.
We had previously arranged to join a full day tour around the island the following morning. Back in the banana boat, over to the mainland to Survivor Beach where part of the 2004 TV series was filmed. Other tourists arrived with Albert – all on board, back to the north eastern side of Lelepa, the water was blue as blue, and warm. Close to the shore, the bottom of the sea was easily visible. We were dropped off on shore for a bush walk with one of the villagers being our guide. The path was beautifully cared for with a border of a local aloe vera plant. A look at a cave where the coconut crabs hide and a demonstration of how the ni-Vanuatu catch their prey. On a little further, we arrived at the most breathtakingly beautiful beach – again used for the Survivor tv programme. A stunning sight – azure blue water and crisp white powdery sand beach. The colours were so intense. We didn’t have a chance to stop for long, as the guide suggested we follow the coastline around to the most eastern point where we viewed the wreck of a WWII American plane that had crashed. We could easily see Moso Island from this vantage point. The wreck was incredible – the aluminium was of such great quality that it had deteriorated very little and was well preserved, despite it laying exactly where it had crashed and exposed to the elements, scattered in the bush. We returned to the stunning beach we had seen earlier. The water was inviting, so in we went, to be met by an abundance of tropical fish and coral so close to the shore. Chief Rueben and his wife Nerry prepared a bbq lunch for us. All “fulup” it was time for a rest, followed by more swimming.
Back in the boat, around to the next small bay, a short bush walk we entered a large cave. It was once used as a “nursing home” for the elderly. One of the guides entered the cave first, lighting candles along the pathway. It looked so romantic, as we walked into the bowels of the cave for about 50 metres. Locals had decorated the cave with plastic skulls and toy witches! High on the roof of were squawking bats – the first time this kiwi had seen the tiny creatures. Not everyone in the family were intrigued with the bats! Back onto the boat again, following the sometimes steep and rocky coastline, heading northwest into a beautiful bay. Snorkel gear on again, off the side of the boat into the crystal clear water. We were stunned, having never seen such forests of coral. Layer upon layer of it. We later found out from Albert Solomon that 15 years ago there had been NO coral in the area at all. Since Albert and his family had commenced the day tours, and feeding the fish, the fish were transporting coral into the area, and his business was now reaping the rewards for their foresight. Albert had wanted to make the area a conservation area, but agreement could not be made on the island, so he was taking steps to arrange for legal status as a conservation area. Good on him and his team. We didn’t want to get out of the water – we were mesmerized but it had to come to an end.
Heading further norwest around the point with Hat Island to our right, were incredible sandstone cliffs towering on the western side of the island. Landing outside the village, afternoon tea was served, children entertained us with beautiful singing. An Australian family had brought with them a large quantity of school stationery and made donations to each of the children who were delighted to receive their own book, pencil and ruler. It was rewarding to see others practicing the concept of “paying it forward”. And that was the end of the tour. A full on day.
There is an easy walking track along the coastline from the village to the beautiful beach we had had lunch at. Day two of our island adventure, most of the family decided to walk to the beach again and have another snorkel. Albert’s brother, Aaron said the walk is about 20 minutes or so. 1 1/2 hours later we arrived. Little did we know, but in true ni-Vanuatu fashion, that current Day Tour were expecting us, although we had made no previous arrangements – they just “knew” that we would want to join them. Such is the natural intuition of the ni-Vanuatu people. And so we repeated most of the previous day’s activities – still with our jaws dropping at the pure beauty of nature on and around Lelepa Island.
If you are heading to Vanuatu and intending to stay put around Port Vila – consider a real island adventure. We highly recommend Lelepa Island Day Tours. Experienced and reliable, and you get a taste of ni-Vanuatu hospitality.
Yes Albert is holding a jar of the very best Virgin Coconut Oil you will get – Lav Kokonas Virgin Coconut Oil.
As for Moso Island, that is another story.