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Vanuatu

Vanuatu is the classic adventurer's playground. Not only is it remote, beautiful and practically empty, it's also home to several best-in-the-world experiences that very few people know about: the world's most active and accessible volcano; wreck diving the SS President Coolidge in clear warm water; cascading waterfalls; a banyan tree the size of a soccer field, and a cultural encounter few have ever experienced, staying in the jungle villages of friendly hunter-gatherers.

Vanuatu is exactly the sort of place Aspiring Adventures is all about – living culture, real adventure, and massive travel cred. It’s captivated us since our first visit, and we’ve been running the most comprehensive adventure tours in Vanuatu since 2008.

Our Vanuatu trip, the Naghol, is named after the land diving ceremony that takes place on Pentecost Island. The Naghol is the original bungee jump, where men hurl themselves off canopy-high jungle scaffolds with vines tied to their ankles in an effort to encourage a good harvest.

All this, and palm-fringed paradise too – Vanuatu’s picture-perfect white sandy beaches are beyond beautiful, and there’s plenty of time to chill out and enjoy them. In an increasingly globalised, similar-looking world, Vanuatu is a true escape. Be careful though - you won't want to leave!

DEPARTURE DATE INFO:

Our Vanuatu adventure tour, the Naghol, is named after the land diving ceremony that takes place on the island of Pentecost in April and May each year. Our listed departures are carefully coordinated to coincide with the ceremony, so that you can witness the rare and unusual spectacle. We also run customised Vanuatu trips at other times of year upon request, however please note that the land diving ceremonies take place exclusively in April and May.

US$3,375

(for 4 to 12 guests)

The Naghol

From Espiritu Santo to Port Vila

  • Kayak with dolphins
  • Naghol land-diving
  • Trek to remote jungle villages, waterfalls and cascades
  • Optional diving in the reefs and wrecks of Espiritu Santo
  • Mt. Yasur - nature’s own fireworks display
  • Try laplap, tropical fruits, and kava
  • Swim, snorkel, and relax on the beach!

Our award-winning Naghol trip takes you straight into the heart and soul of Vanuatu, a small and amazingly diverse group of islands in the South Pacific. We steer clear of the bubble-wrapped resorts and explore unique, little-known attractions on no less than six stunning islands – Espiritu Santo, Pentecost, Efate, Mele, Erakor, and Tanna.

You’ll choose to hike to remote mountain villages or dive the SS President Coolidge for three days. We’ll be drawn into the remarkable custom of land-diving. We’ll experience an active volcano, Mt Yasur. We’ll swim, snorkel and kayak in crystal-clear waters with tropical fishes, corals and dolphins. We’ll hike to waterfalls and Kastom villages to see dancing and fire-walking. You may not know much about Vanuatu yet, but you'll soon understand why the locals smile so much…

Day 1Arrive to Luganville, Espiritu Santo

Halo mo welkam long Vanuatu - welcome to the adventure island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu! The Portuguese adventurer, Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, who thought he’d discovered Terra Australis (the great Southern Land, later to be known as Australia), named the island La Austrialia del Espíritu Santo in 1606. These days the island is locally known as ‘Santo’ and is home to a wide variety of adventure activities – the perfect place to start our trip!

We’ll meet you at the airport and head through the sleepy village of Luganville to our seaside bungalows. We’re on the best beach on this side of the island, and the swimming is terrific – so relax, get yourself into island time, take a swim, or simply catch some rays while we pick up people arriving at different times. If you’re keen to explore the rainforest, we can help organise an optional hike for you. In the evening we’ll meet up at 7pm in the relaxed restaurant of our resort for dinner and a chance to get to know each other.

  • Accommodation: Beachfront Resort, Espiritu Santo (D)

Day 2Hike to Millennium Cave

After breakfast we’ll head to Vunaspef village, a short drive inland through rainforest and coconut plantations in a 4WD for a full day active experience at the Millennium Cave. Only recently discovered, the Millennium Cave was literally stumbled upon when a man from the village accidentally fell into it! Soon after, in the year 2000, it was explored by Samuel, son of the village chief, and his team,who discovered that the cave was several kilometres long, and had a high ceiling of over 50 metres. We’ll have a chance to safely explore this dark cave full of bats and sparrows and have a play in a waterfall before lunching in the tropical rainforest on the riverside. Later we’ll swim or hike our way back to Vunaspef, then head back to Luganville to get organised for our three-day hiking or diving adventures.

  • Accommodation: Beachfront Resort, Espiritu Santo (B,L,D)

Choose Your Option (click to open)

OPTION A: HIKING TRIP TO MARAKAI VILLAGE

Day 3Hike to Tabunbotari Kastom Village

This three-day trekking trip has been specially designed for Aspiring Adventures. Steve scoped out the area in 2008 with the help of Mark, a villager from Marakai, and is proud to offer you this entirely unique experience. After breakfast at the resort, we’ll meet our local guide, and together we’ll take a 4WD to Namoru, a small village on the south coast, where our hike begins. With the Wylapa River to our right, we pass coconut plantations, and small villages with friendly natives keen to say hello as we venture further into the jungle. Once we reach a huge banyan tree high on some slopes with awesome views of the jungle and islands beyond, we’ll pause for some fresh coconut before heading down a bit to the village of Tabunbotari – arriving about mid-afternoon. Here we’ll stay in a traditional nakamal (community bungalow), and there’s plenty of time to relax and look around the village while our guide makes us kae kae (dinner) by candlelight!

  • Accommodation: Tabunbotari Village, Southern Santo (B,L,D)

Day 4Hike to Marakai Kastom Village

After breakfast we hike onwards to the star attraction – Marakai. Situated almost 2000 feet above sea level in the depths of the Espiritu Santo jungle, the people of Marakai don’t often receive visitors, but when they do, there’s certainly a big song and dance about it – literally! We’ll arrive late morning, which gives us plenty of time to relax into “Kastom-life”, explore the village and surrounding area, and spend time with these amazing people. Kastom simply refers to the rules or customs following ancestral legacies and beliefs – however it is far from simple in terms of practice. Boys from the age of about 12 go through a series of initiations followed years later in manhood by large nimangki ceremonies to reach societies highest status levels.

Upon arrival we’ll likely be greeted by Chief Moli Sula or Assistant Chief Redion, invited to the guest nakamal, and then have lunch. Later we’ll go for a swim in the nearby river, and for those interested partake in a kava ceremony – you can even help the men prepare a fresh batch if keen! If there’s room, one of the chiefs will offer to sleep in the nakamal with us – to help protect us from any bad spirits. This is a day you will always remember…

  • Accommodation: Marakai Village, Southern Santo (B,L,D)

Day 5Hike to Fimele Village, return to Luganville

The entire village gathers together this morning after breakfast to sing to our farewell. It’s a deeply moving experience, ensuring the memory of the people of Marakai will stay with you. Our hike back down through the jungle takes us to Fimele Village where we’ll take a 4WD back to Luganville. Later we’ll meet up with the divers to swap stories over a well-earned dinner.

  • Accommodation: Beachfront Resort, Espiritu Santo (B,L,D)

OPTION B: SCUBA DIVING REEFS AND WRECKS

Day 3Diving Million Dollar Point

If you love coral reefs and warm tropical waters, we’ve got just the thing! Diving in Vanuatu is gaining a reputation as some of the best in the world, and in particular the diving at Luganville. At this time of year the water temperature is a balmy 27 – 29°C (about 80 - 85°F), and the visibility generally about 20 - 30 metres – likely the best diving conditions you’ve ever experienced! Because we're in the Southern Hemisphere, April and May are great times for diving, with calm, warm waters and well-protected dive sites.

After breakfast we’ll meet with our diving guides to go through our gear and briefings for our six dives over the next three days. We’ve teamed up with local experts, Allan Power, who have been diving this area for over 35 years, have an impeccable safety record, and excellent gear for us to use (although you can bring as much of your own gear to use as you wish). There is a wide variety of dives available to us, and we always make the first dive an easy one in case you’re out of practice. Today for instance we may take an initial dive over the SS President Coolidge, and also dive Million Dollar Point, an entirely unique dive site where hundreds of tonnes of US equipment was dumped after World War II ended. It’s a veritable metal graveyard from bulldozers and aero engines to trucks and jeeps – amazing!

  • Accommodation: Beachfront Resort, Espiritu Santo (B,L,D)

Day 4Diving the SS President Coolidge

Considered by many divers to be the best wreck dive in the world, the SS President Coolidge was a luxury passenger liner converted to a troop carrier during WWII. While entering the Santo harbor in October 1942 she struck friendly mines, sinking in less than 90 minutes; bad news for war efforts, but great news for modern day recreational divers keen to explore a remarkable underwater playground! Almost completely intact, you can swim through the numerous holds and decks viewing the reminders of her glorious days as a cruise liner and the remnants of her days as a troop ship. There are guns, cannons, jeeps, helmets, trucks and personal supplies left by some of the soldiers, as well as the beautiful porcelain statue of “The Lady,” chandeliers and a mosaic tile fountain. The wreck is covered in coral and is the home to a plethora of sea life such including turtles, barracuda, lionfish, and a host of reef fish.

You could easily do 20 plus dives on the Coolidge and still not see everything! Resting in 20-70 metres of water, she’s 200 metres long, and a number of specific dives have been created to fully appreciate the grandeur of this wreck – Promenade Deck, Engine Room, Medical Supplies, Swimming Pool, and of course “The Lady”. We’ll experience two of these dives today.

  • Accommodation: Beachfront Resort, Espiritu Santo (B,L,D)

Day 5Diving the Coolidge

After breakfast we’ll head out for our third and final day of diving. We’ll likely leave “The Lady” until today when you’ll be feeling comfortable with the depths, of course, if you’d prefer shallow dives, no worries! At a depth of 40 metres (130 feet) ‘the Lady” is one of the most famous wreck dives in the world. After swimming through the first class dining saloon we’ll visit the ceramic figure of the lady and her unicorn (feel free to give her a kiss for good luck!). On this dive we’ll also swim through the first class lobby, library and continental lounge to see the beautiful Italian mosaic fountain, porthole skylights and brass mushroom-shaped ceiling lights. Simply stunning! Later we’ll meet up with the hikers to swap stories over a well-earned dinner.

  • Accommodation: Beachfront Resort, Espiritu Santo (B,L,D)

Day 6Travel to Pentecost, witness Naghol land-diving

We have a 45 minute chartered Air Vanuatu flight this morning from Espiritu Santo to the island of Pentecost. We’re here to see one of the most amazing customs you’re ever likely to witness – naghol (land-diving). The namesake of our trip, and the inspiration for bungy jumping, land-diving only takes place on specific days in May and June. Men (and boys as young as eight) will tie liana vines to their feet and make a daring leap of faith (and courage!). The purpose? To appease spirits to ensure a bountiful yam harvest. It’s truly an awesome event, nail biting yet mesmerising – and the costumes, singing, dancing and whistling add a powerful raw energy that you can literally feel in the air around you.

Of the few people that venture this far away from the beachside resorts of Port Vila, most fly in and out the same day. However, there’s more to Pentecost than the naghol. We’ll spend two nights here and gain an insider's experience of this little-visited island. After the diving we head south to the small village of Salap. Dinner will be served in a dining room with a difference – it’s on the beach!

  • Accommodation: Nangol Bungalows, Pentecost – doesn’t get more relaxing than this! (B,L,D)

Day 7Explore Ratap Village on Pentecost Island

You’ve got a tough decision to make today! You may find yourself keen to spend the day hanging out at the bungalows reading a book or wandering along the beach – it’s your call. The other option is a hike to the ultra remote kastom village of Ratap. Depending on abilities, we’ll hike part of the way or take a 4WD and head towards the centre of the island. The Ratap villagers are a friendly bunch and they’ll perform a typical custom dance of the region, just for us. After lunch we’ll wander back to our bungalows – there may even be time for a detour through the lush tropical rainforest to check out stunning waterfalls and giant banyan trees.

  • Accommodation: Nangol Bungalows, Pentecost (B,L,D)

Day 8Travel to Efate Island, explore waterfall terraces

After a relaxed breakfast of local produce we wave goodbye to our hosts and head to Lonorore for the short flight back to Port Vila. It’s possible to travel between these two islands by boat, but there are two very good reasons to fly – for a bird’s eye view of the Naghol and diving towers and the many islands of the Malampa and Shefa provinces, and more importantly because the ocean currents and waves can be quite treacherous here! Upon arrival in Port Vila, we’ll head straight to Hideaway Island. You’ll feel miles away from anywhere as you sit in your private bungalow with stunning views over the water. Hideaway Island is a short boat ride across the lagoon - if it's low tide, you can even walk it!

  • Accommodation: Hideaway Island Resort, Efate (B,L,D)

Day 9Free day in Port Vila area

Today is free so you can choose your own pace!

Hideaway Island is tiny, but you can spend the whole day doing activities such as snorkelling, kayaking, diving, and yachting - or nothing at all if you feel so inclined! If you’ve never dived before, this is the perfect place to take an introductory dive, and both snorkellers and divers can post a postcard home in the world’s only Underwater Post Office (we’ve tested it out, and it really works!).

We're close to Port Vila so you can also spend part of your day wandering around the sleepy capital, shopping for traditional handicrafts, exploring the market, or people watching. Locals hint: try out the uniquely Vanuatuan dish “laplap”. Also, passionfruit are at their best at this time of year. If you feel like doing something else, Steve's here to help you organise other activities in the area such as cultural tours, scenic air tours, fishing trips, diving trips or even parasailing. Another great way to enjoy the tranquillity of Hideaway Island is by reading a book or lazing on the beach in the sun…

  • Accommodation: Hideaway Island Resort, Efate (B,L,D)

Day 10Travel to Tanna, 4WD across ash plains, fire-walking

After breakfast we’re off to Tanna, a small island to the southeast of Port Vila. In the local tongue, Tanna means earth. And that’s the reason for us coming here – to witness the raw power of one of the greatest spectacles on the planet; an active volcano!

Upon arrival at Lenakel, we’ll take a 4WD across the centre of the island, passing small villages, smiling happy children, enormous banyan trees and thick tropical jungle. About halfway we’ll reach Loanialu Lookout and our first glimpse of Mt. Yasur. The cone-shaped volcano and surrounding ash fields are a stark contrast to the lush greenery of the jungle. Occasional puffs of smoke billowing from the depths add to the volcano's eeriness. Within a short distance we’re cruising across the ash fields, around the base of the volcano and onwards to Turtle Bay where our seaside bungalows await us. To add to the magic of the day, tonight we’ll head to the local village to watch a fire-walking performance. Don’t try this at home!

  • Accommodation: Sunrise Bungalows, Tanna (B,L,D)

Day 11Explore Turtle Bay, “Nature’s Fireworks” atop Mt. Yasur

Sunrise over the South Pacific Ocean here really is worth getting up early for, and after a tropical breakfast, we’ll take time to walk barefoot along the stunning secluded beach. Dip your feet in the sea, or bury them in the sand in certain spots and you’ll notice something special – geothermal activity in the area mixes with seawater, and the result is deliciously warm.

In the afternoon, we’re off to Mt. Yasur Volcano. If you watched “Survivor: Vanuatu” back in 2004, you may recall the female tribe was named after this very volcano! Our 4WD will take us almost to the top: Yasur is one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes. Officials closely monitor Yasur’s activity, and the level on the day determines how close we’re allowed to go. On a good day we’ll reach the upper rim for a chance to look into the heart of the volcano. Of course, the action is happening well away from us, but the excitement of the roaring and steaming and billowing black smoke, and lava exploding into the air then thudding and crackling inside the crater, will have you gasping at the awe-inspiring beauty and power of Mother Nature. And the best part is yet to come! As evening descends and the light fades, the molten lava bombs become our private fireworks display. This is a day you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.

  • Accommodation: Sunrise Bungalows, Tanna (B,L,D)

Day 12Back to Port Vila, exploring Mele-Maat cascades

This morning we’ll retrace our steps – travelling around Mt. Yasur, over the ash-fields, up to the centre of the island for our last glimpse of a volcano we now view with a vast respect, through the hill villages, and onwards to Lenakel for our flight to Port Vila.

After lunch we’ll explore the Mele-Maat cascades – pools of crystal clear water softly shaded by the rainforest, with a spectacular 35 metre waterfall thrown in as well. The views out over Mele Bay and our own Hideaway Island will have you scrambling for your camera! An option this afternoon is to abseil down the cascades – ask us for more details when you book, if you’d like a little extra adventure today (yes – you will get wet; yes – it will be loads of fun!). Later we head back to Hideaway Island for our final two nights together – this place is simply too good to miss! Later tonight if you’re keen, it's possible to head out to a local kava bar to try out the muddy, peppery concoction – it’s not for the queasy!

  • Accommodation: Hideaway Island Resort, Efate (B,L,D)

Day 13Kayaking around Mele Bay

It’s our last full day together, and we’ve got a great day’s activity ahead of us. After breakfast we’ll meet our local Sea Kayak guides for a kayak trip to visit a hidden coral atoll. Every kayak is glass-bottomed, and you’ll be mesmerised by the coral and tropical fishes, and the often-sighted playful dolphins and turtles that reside in the bay. Along the way there’s a chance for swimming or snorkelling too. You don’t need to have any previous experience with kayaking – we’ll give you all the instructions you’ll need, and you’ll find it to be a relaxing and fun adventure. To end the perfect day, we’re heading to the perfect restaurant for our final dinner together on Erakor Island.

  • Accommodation: Hideaway Island Resort, Efate (B,L,D)

Day 14Homeward bound…

Today is the last day of your adventure in Vanuatu. After breakfast together we’ll take you to the airport for onward journeys. If you are flying out later in the day, you’ll have one last chance for a dip in the ocean, and if you’re staying on a bit longer we can pass on useful advice for your continuing adventures. It has been a pleasure travelling with you!

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