Port Vila is a short distance from major Pacific airports – Sydney and Auckland are approximately 3½ hours flying time; Brisbane - 2½ hours; New Caledonia – 1hour and Fiji – 1½ hours. Such short flying times makes Port Vila a very accessible destination with regular flights offered on Vanuatu ’s national airline, Air Vanuatu (code shared with Qantas) and Air New Zealand. Twice weekly flights from Fiji and New Caledonia are also available. The P&O and Carnival Cruise ships also visit Port Vila regularly. A trip to explore the outer islands is worth the investment, but finding local travel can be difficult, so your best option is to contact your hotels customer service desk, or the Vanuatu Tourism Office located in the main street of Port Vila. Travel to the Shepherd Islands group (Emae, Tongoa, Epi) is usually by Air Vanuatu’s Domestic service, or on occasions you can travel by ship / ferry (either a passenger or mixed cargo transport). The domestic airline timetable often changes so it advisable to check the latest schedule before your trip. Transport to islands closer to Efate (Lelepa, Nguna, Pele, Emau) requires catching the public transport truck (or hiring a car) from Port Vila and catching a small boat from Emau wharf.
There is regular public transport in and around Port Vila on to northern Efate. Many market trucks (public transport) and minivans (island buses) regularly drive the ‘around island’ route to transport locals and travellers to various locations around the islands. This form of travel is unique and it can be interesting as the locals are usually interested in where you are from and where you are going. The usual public transport fare to Emua wharf or Takara landing is 500 vatu per person, the journey from Port Vila takes about 1 hour. In Port Vila you can ‘hail’ a minivan from the side of the road, remember that this is shared transport, so you may not get dropped off directly as other passengers are transported to their destination. However, if time permits this is an interesting way to see Port Vila and its environment. Most journeys cost 150 vatu per person, but those journeys that are a little further than the normal city route can cost 200 – 300 vatu per person. It is advisable to give the driver the correct fare, otherwise you may end up with a pocket full of loose coins. If you are planning on a journey beyond the city always confirm a price from the driver before you accept a ride. Taxis (car or minivan) are more expensive as you are paying for exclusive use of the taxi. For large groups this could be a cheaper way to travel to the sites outside the main city limits – again confirm a price from the driver before accepting a ride. Most taxis charge around 300 vatu per kilometre, but this is not metered so the drive will judge how far your journey is and give you a price. Ask your hotel or a local what the standard fares are for the various tourist spots around Port Vila. If you wish to drive yourself around there are many rental car companies based in Port Vila, your hotel reception can advise you on where to locate these businesses.
Lelepa, Nguna, Pele, and Emau
Visit to the various islands off Efate can be arranged via the Port Vila call centre. If you don’t want to hire a vehicle to drive the 1 hour journey to either Lelepa Landing; Emua wharf or Takara Landing, public transport is the cheapest option. There is a daily scheduled trip around the island to these points (usually leaves Port Vila around 12.00pm) with various operators. The Port Vila departure point is in china town, outside Lin Ping or YuYu store (in the block next to the Police station) or at Au Bon Marche Manples. Talk to the locals who look to be waiting for a ride, tell them where you want to go and they can help you find the right vehicle. The route does not always run on Saturdays and Sundays however arrangements can be made if there is a demand, sometimes this will incur an additional charge. Alternatively, if you have a large group it may be easier to hire a taxi or minibus which can cost between 5000 – 10,000 vatu. The public transport trucks have the letters “PT” preceding the numbers on their number plate.
Crossing to the islands of Nguna and Pele requires a 35 minute boat ride where you will disembark near Taloa village (Nguna) or Worearu (Pele). If you have arranged accommodation on Nguna your host should met you, or the boat driver can point you in the right direction. A shared boat ride costs 500 vatu per person, if you are the only ones taking the boat you may need to charter the boat at a cost of 3000 vatu. Speedboats for Emau island leave from Takara. The 30 minute crossing passes over deep water and can be rough, wet and lots of fun when the swell is up. A shared boat ride costs 500 vatu per person, if you are the only ones taking the boat you may need to charter the boat at a cost of 3000 vatu. Transport between the islands is by boat and can be arranged by your host or a local. The cost of such a trip will depend on where you want to go and it you are prepared to charter the boat.
Access to Epi is either via the domestic airline (Air Vanuatu website) or local passenger ferries and cargo boats. There are daily flights (Mon-Sat) to Epi which has two airports – one airport is not an all-weather airport which can sometimes mean that flights will be cancelled. Air Vanuatu has a regular schedule to service both ends of the island, but always check with Air Vanuatu the day before your flight to confirm that the service is still on schedule.
Currently there are two main options for travel by boat. The Big Sista operates a weekly passenger service to Santo, via Epi. This is an overnight trip that takes approximately 8-10 hours. Bookings can be made at the Big Sista office in Port Vila. Alternatively ‘The Efate Queen’ is a smaller, quicker boat that operates passenger trips to the outer islands and leaves Port Vila on a Sunday.
For more details and to get the latest flight schedules , visit the Air Vanuatu website.