A holiday to Vanuatu promises romantic sunsets, relaxing mornings spent poolside and plenty of indulging on fresh, tropical cuisine. But put your book down and forget that second beachside cocktail, and try these top adventures instead. From driving through cow paddocks on the outskirts of Port Vila to flying over remote northern islands and diving one of the best wreck sites in the world, Vanuatu has adventure covered. Here’s our guide for couples who want to be captivated by the beauty of this popular holiday destination, from the air, land and under the sea.
Bird’s eye view
Flying low over the remote northern islands of Vanuatu is an off-the-beaten-track bucket-list experience for adventurous couples. Squeeze into a seven-seat Cessna on Efate (Vanuatu’s main island) for a one-hour journey to rugged Pentecost Island – the home of land diving. Make sure to have your camera ready to capture the jade islands dotting the aquamarine sea and the reefs disappearing into the deep. You’ll pass incredibly close to a volcano on Ambrym Island, with your view momentarily masked by rising smoke and steam as the pilot banks sharply over the rim.
Once you touch down on Pentecost’s small airstrip, a band of ni-Vanuatu (local) men will greet you before you’re led into the jungle to watch the age-old tradition of land diving – the original bungee jumping. The act of diving headfirst from a 20-metre-high wooden tower with only vines tied to their ankles is a rite of passage for the island’s young men and boys, and also blesses the yam harvest. It’s a spectacle of bravery that’s as exciting to watch as the flight is to get there.
Tip: Take motion sickness tablets as the flight can get bumpy near the volcano, carry a water bottle for when you’re sitting in the heat watching the land diving, and, whatever you do, don’t forget your camera.
Details: Air Taxi Vanuatu
Related article: Vanuatu: A Diverse Destination
Blue hole wonders
After such an adrenaline-fuelled day, you may want to slow things down, although only slightly. Travel to Oyster Island Resort, a two-minute boat ride from Espiritu Santo across a channel, for an adventure with a touch of romance. In a double kayak, paddle with your loved one away from the quiet shores of Oyster Island to the peaceful Riri River. There’s no rush, so take your time to appreciate the tropical beauty surrounding you. Vines dip their tendrils into the clear water; a smattering of leaves drifts in the gentle current on the surface; and shards of soft sunlight filter through the forest canopy to complete the Blue Hawaii scene. It’s a beautiful experience to share with your partner and gets even better when, after about 45 minutes, you reach your final destination – Matevulu Blue Hole. As you would imagine, the hole is a large, but private, pool of liquid sapphire. A rickety wooden ladder leads from the water up a towering bankside strangler fig, from which you take turns swinging from a rope and dropping into the surprisingly cool water.
Tip: Leave yourself as much time as possible here as it’s the perfect place to rejuvenate your mind and body.
Details: Oyster Island
Walk on the wild side
Back on land, swap the kayak for a four-wheeled, open-top buggy that feels like it belongs more in an amusement park than on the roads of Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu located on Efate. Strap in with your partner and tackle the city’s traffic and dust before driving into the suburbs and eventually off-road, leaving the bitumen behind.
You won’t be able to hold back the laughter as you bounce across rolling green cattle properties, being splattered with mud, and, um, other stuff you find on cattle farms. Be warned: the the operators, Buggy Fun Rental, guarantee you’ll get dirty on this Jungle Safari tour.
You’ll take a different route when you return to Port Vila, travelling in convoy through rural villages and the outskirts of the city, and stopping for a break in one of the villages. Friendly locals will quickly proffer a platter of fresh fruit while their children climb all over the buggies, giggling and playing. The visit adds a nice cultural touch to a fun tour that’s popular with active couples.
Tip: Wear dark clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty.
Details: Buggy Fun Rental
Ever floated down a river in the middle of a jungle? If not, you’re in for an adventure when you sign up for a tour to Mount Hope Waterfall on Espiritu Santo. Friendly tour guides will meet you at Oyster Island Resort and take you on a wild ride into the rainforest, sitting in the tray of a ute. You’ll travel past kava plants, taro crops, banana trees and an abundance of American rope, an introduced vine that adds an ethereal charm to the tropical landscape.
At Sarakata River, brave tourists jump off a road bridge about 10 metres high into the water below, but you can launch yourself in, feet first, from about three metres high instead, or ease in at the water’s edge. As you travel downstream for 30 minutes, tiny moths flutter under overhanging rocks covered in moss. At the end of the stretch, there’s a brief bankside walk before it’s time to jump back into the water at Mount Hope Waterfall.
The river flows fast as you swim to the opposite side, where you’ll climb out and scale smooth boulders as water rushes over your feet. The journey finishes with an easy rainforest walk and a bumpy return drive.
Tip: If you own a pair of reef shoes, make sure to pack them, as well as a light waterproof camera for river and waterfall shots.
Details: Oyster Island
Under the sea
A hawksbill turtle swims gracefully past as you descend to the bow of the wreck. Sunlight filters through rusted portholes, embracing you in a soft aqua glow. This is scuba diving on the SS President Coolidge, one of the world’s most accessible wreck scuba dive sites. At 200 metres in length and 27 metres wide, the sheer size of the Coolidge (as locals call it) is breathtaking. For ocean lovers, this is sure to be a holiday highlight, and is a magical experience to share with someone special.
The former US troop carrier is within swimming distance from the shores of Espiritu Santo, and a quick boat ride from Aore Island, where Aore Adventure Sports and Lodge (PADI certified) is based. If you stay at Aore Island Resort, the dive master and skipper will meet you at the pier and tell you the history of the Coolidge as you head to its underwater grave.
The Coolidge has been resting here since 1942, when she hit two underwater American mines and was run aground on a reef. Out of more than 5,000 troops on board, all but two survived. The ship is now a spectacular artificial reef, accessible to all levels of divers. With coral-encrusted military trucks, ammunition shells and medicine bottles to see, this is one adventure you won’t want to miss.
Tip: Book a minimum of two dives on the Coolidge and take an underwater camera.
Details: Aore Island
Related article: 5 Things Couples Should Do in Vanuatu