An island in the sun
Mum-of-two and photographer Tetu Wichman celebrated her
40th birthday in Vanuatu, with a week of luxury, complete with
uninsurable plane rides and an active volcano.
Well ahead of time, I let it be known that I wanted to
celebrate my 40th birthday on an island, piña colada in hand, and
kids - mine and anyone else's - nowhere to be seen.
My husband (who deserves the title of
Events Co-ordinator of the Century - he even filled out my arrival
and departure cards) whisked me away to Iririki Resort, Port Vila,
on Efate Island in Vanuatu, an archipelago of 83 islands. There I
was treated to seven days of luxury living in a waterfront
bungalow. I was wined and dined and scrubbed down with salt at the
spa. I was flown to another island to meet a volcano that is
active, but apparently safe (is there such a thing?). Best of all,
I was allowed to just sit and enjoy my book, the view and pretty
For those looking for action
holidays, Vanuatu has it all,
including bungy jumping without the bungy (check out YouTube for
this particular flavour of madness that takes place annually on
Pentecost Island). Events on offer that you can get insurance for
include scuba diving, helicopter tours, parasailing, off-road buggy
tours, sailing, snorkelling, fishing, and horse riding.
In Port Vila you can also hire a car or
4WD to trip around the island (135km round trip + almost
exclusively dirt roads = 1 very long day). My husband, being Mr
Adventure, wanted to hire a motorbike. I immediately thought about
the 1cm-thick layer of dust that would coat my freshly
salt-scrubbed skin but, having married the man, I replied, "That's
a great idea", and kissed my hard-earned glow goodbye. I actually
thought it would be great, but it turned out there was only one
rental motorbike on the island with enough grunt for the both us
and it was sitting in a workshop. Mr Adventure nearly cried.
Instead, we added a snorkelling trip to
the agenda, along with catamaran sailing (though neither of us
knows how to sail, which might have made that idea a recipe for
divorce). In any event, I was roughed up by an uncommon cold for a
couple of days, so the fish had to do without me, but I
single-handedly saved our marriage.
My cold left me with no energy,
but who needs energy to read, slip into the resort's
dreamy blue pool, eat great food (Michener Restaurant at Iririki
Resort, 100m from our bungalow) and drink beer? Not me! On the
second evening of my illness, I even managed to beat my husband at
table tennis (the resort has a games room). He, being a man, will
probably dispute that.
The hands-down highlight of the week was
the trip to Tanna Island (Unity Airlines' overnight package tour,
59,900VT per person) to see its volcano. We left for the island in
the morning and returned just before noon the following day. The
brochure stated the flight - using a multi-engine aircraft - would
take two hours and there would be an in-flight interactive
commentary and refreshments on board. With five passengers, the
single-engine (goodbye, insurance!) plane was full. The fight took
one hour, the engine noise was so loud that if there was any
commentary no one except Superman would have been able to hear it,
and refreshments consisted of a drink (carton-plus-straw combo)
tucked into the seat pocket. Hmm.
Dodgy beginning aside, we were greeted
with real refreshments upon arriving at our accommodation, Lenakel
Cove Resort. After an hour's break, we set out in a 4WD to the
volcano, Mt Yasur. If you think Port Vila's roads are bad, check
out Tanna's. The upside was that we had to travel slowly, which
allowed us to peer into the population's (about 1,000, I was told)
backyards - an intriguing and humbling experience. Life is pretty
basic on Tanna. It does have schools, and people wear Western
clothes and sometimes shoes, but there appear to be few jobs
outside tourism. Except, that is, for that age-old job of raising
your family: Growing and finding food, making sure the kids don't
drown or get hopelessly lost, and ensuring you have a couple of
pigs on hand to give to the in-laws-to-be come the time when a son
wants to marry.
Unfortunately, we didn't stop
at local villages, as the brochure
promised. Maybe Jack, our driver, could no longer bear the
native-gazing close-up. When asked if he liked his job, he replied,
pleasantly enough, that it was boring. I admire that kind of
honesty from a tourism operator.
Mt Yasur is covered in sandy ash. You can
choose to climb it (about an hour's hike) or be dropped off on the
other side, from which there's just a 10-minute walk to the crater.
Seeing as I was becoming an expert layabout, I chose the
The volcano is impressive, regularly
throwing hot rock and ash up into the air, with the odd loud boom,
one or two of which me made jump. At dusk it turns into a fireworks
display. It's the perfect tourist volcano: It's well-behaved,
entertaining, and slightly scares the tourists without killing them
(not yet, anyway). Mt Ruapehu could learn a thing or two from its
Melanesian counterpart. Volcano-gazing is a year-round activity
which, done with restraint, need not upset the ski season.
Early the next morning I
headed to the beach with my camera. I came across a dozen kids
(some only a couple of years old) messing about in the water. I
spotted signs of their breakfast - freshly stripped mango stones -
being exported out to sea. Most preschoolers (mine for sure) would
trade in their parents for this lifestyle.
Port Vila, I indulged in yet another massage to "recover" from the
volcano trip. Fittingly, it involved hot stones. But too many
massages can make one sluggish, so I decided to do some snorkelling
(a two-minute walk from our bungalow, and Iririki Resort loans out
gear for free). The tourists have killed off the coral close to the
shore, but a five-minute swim away there's a coral playground for
tropical fish and snorkellers alike. Who needs a boat?
After seven days, my husband
and I reluctantly left the island, scheming about how we could
return. But after reviewing the budget, my husband told me that for
my 50th birthday the closest I would get to an island was Waiheke -
for a weekend.
Tetu Wichman lives in Auckland and is the mum of two busy girls who
keep her guessing, and the wife of Frank, her partner in wine (and
guessing). Tetu spends her spare time developing her photography
and searching for her daughters' AWOL socks. Her new blog is
As seen in OHbaby!
magazine Issue 9: 2010
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