Sitting peacefully in the South Pacific, is the fascinating tropical paradise of Vanuatu, which includes a group of over 80 islands. Extremely diverse, with around 100 different languages spoken and an ancient culture that is still proudly evident in daily life through “kastom” (village life), Vanuatu is too often earmarked as a ‘flop and drop’ destination. Many travellers never make it past the alluring capital of Port Vila, with its postcard perfect beaches, turquoise lagoons and indulgent resorts.
The rewards are immense for those who travel deeper into the country, as it is in the outer islands that the true soul of the country begins to reveal itself. Here you can truly go off the grid and experience kastom (village life) and the warm hospitality of Vanuautu’s Ni-Van people, far from the crowds. Travelling further will allow you to discover the sheer beauty of Vanuatu’s landscape, from volcanic islands to empty and pristine white sand beaches that will feel a world away from the busy capital.
The Maskelyne Islands, (often referred to as the Maskelyne’s,) are remote cluster of islands accessed by flying from Port Vila to the tiny airport of Lamap, in South Malekula. A window seat is a must for your flight as the view of the islands, sprinkled in the aqua sea is exceptional.
After driving to the coast, you travel by boat from the mainland of Malekula to the Maskelyne’s, where you will step into a true laid-back tropical paradise with thatched huts, swaying palms, outrageously beautiful beaches and local fishing boats making up the idyllic scenery. Vehicle free and peaceful, you will adjust quickly to the relaxed island pace.
Experiencing a local festival is one of the most fun and immersive ways to get to know a community and understand what is important to them. Cultural festivals are frequent occurrences in Vanuatu, and in the outer islands, an unmissable local event is the Maskelyne Canoe Festival. Starting with a canoe parade that showcases the incredible skills involved in the creation of the locally carved canoes, it continues to a canoe race, open for all the village to compete in.
You will see incredible carved masks being painted, witness the carving of canoes and some tribal wars and mask dances. You may even have the privilege of witnessing a circumcision. The warm and welcoming environment make it the perfect place to learn about and enjoy this incredible culture.
Swim with Dugongs
A highlight not to be missed whilst in the Maskelyne’s, is the chance to swim with the gentlest of giants, the adorable dugong. The Maskelyne’s are a global hotspot for these shy and graceful creatures (often referred to as sea cows) and swimming with them is an extra special ocean experience because they are curious creatures, who show an interest in swimmers and are comfortable and relaxed in their company. Interest in the dugongs has helped the island communities restrict local hunting and turn towards environmentally responsible tourism to support dugong conservation instead, and guidelines are in place to ensure any interactions are a positive experience for the wonderful creatures.
Central to the incredible spirit of Vanuatu is kastom, the cultural tradition that has been passed from generation to generation, and which once governed every aspect of village life including economics, spiritual beliefs, art, performance, and magic. The island of Uluveo in the Maskelyne’s has several villages where you can see authentic kastom in action, with ceremonies still being performed in the same way that they have been for hundreds of years.
Seeing a cultural performance in this environment is spectacular – be consumed by the island chants, the swish of grass skirts, and the vibrating thump of their feet on the earth. The passion of the Ni-Van’s for their culture is infectious, and you will quickly realise what makes the country so special – it’s amazing people!
Explore the Ocean by Outrigger Canoe
Ringed by incredible reefs teaming with colourful tropical marine life, the sapphire waters of the Maskelyne’s are home to a tangle of mangrove estuaries, and giant clam gardens. The best way to experience this ocean wonderland is travelling as the locals do – by traditional outrigger canoe. Glide effortlessly across the sea, exploring isolated beaches and secluded islets. Dive from your canoe to into the warm and clear waters to snorkel pristine reefs, keeping an eye out for turtles, dolphins and of course, dugongs.
Keep It Simple
One of the best things about the Maskelyne’s is that they are remote enough that you are forced to leave the world behind and adjust your clock to island time. Not only will internet rarely be available, but electricity and hot water can also be in short supply. Accommodation on the islands is simple – imagine thatched island bungalows on the edge of a lagoon or on the beach, equipped with mattresses, mosquito nets and shared bathroom facilities. While basic, the location is idyllic, and it is the perfect opportunity to have a proper kastom experience. Embrace this incredible chance to sink into island life.
Join our Maskelyne Canoe Festival small group tour to make these experiences yours!
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.