Shéfa: Hideaway Island
From afar, Vanuatu’s Hideaway Island is the ultimate postcard destination. Up close, it’s still mind-blowingly beautiful, but thanks to truckloads of cruise ship tourists traipsing all over it in Crocs, it is slowly but surely turning into a coral graveyard. If you have hired a car, beware, because a) Vanuatu is left hand drive and b) the roads are so littered with potholes you may end up having to pay for a new tyre, which would obviously be a complete disaster. You could hitchhike, but if you do, prepare to squish into the tray of a ute with a minimum of 9 others. Alternatively, there are taxis (red vans) and buses (blue vans). Other than their colour, there is absolutely no difference between them whatsoever other than price, so get a bus.
To get there, jump on the “highway” (which changes names monthly, but as there are no street signs this is irrelevant) – the road that runs through the middle of town and all the way around the island – and head north-west. Once you pass a golf course, the turn off is to your left. From there, a water taxi goes to and fro all day every day. It is free, but it run on Vanuatu time, which means if the driver is going to take a nap when there are 40 people waiting, he will do just that. It takes about 4 minutes to get across, and when you get on, say “Tankyu Tumas” (“thanks very much” to those stupid enough to not understand Bislama at first glance).
Unless you are exceptionally good at speaking Bislama and passing yourself off as a local, you’re going to have to pay 1000 vatu admission to the island – about $12AUD. Devoed. They’re pretty tuned in too – I tried. You can buy snorkels in town for about 200 vatu, or they’re 500 to hire on the island. I’ve been threatened countless times that there are stone fish and beach shoes must therefore be worn, but I’m assuming they all died along with the majority of the coral from people walking all over them in beach shoes, as I’ve been there many times and never seen one. The shore is made of fairly sharp coral though, so if you have sensitive feet maybe wear shoes. But then again, if you have sensitive feet you probably aren’t reading this blog, in which case man up.
You can buy an underwater disposable camera at the island shop for 2700 vatu, which is the biggest rip off, but they do produce pretty hipster photos (which, mind you, cost another $13 to develop). Foodwise, the sweet potato chips from the bar at 120 vatu are not to be missed. They’re kept pretty close to the counter, so if you’re sneaky enough you could probably steal them, but the guys who run the bar are really lovely so don’t. In terms of snorkelling, the reef isn’t supurb, but it’s ok. There’s an underwater post box beneath the jetty platform on the right facing the sea, and it’s always a novelty to see if you can swim down and through it without drowning. The best reef is away from the bar and more towards the rocks, as it’s obviously been trodden on less. You can also scuba dive, but you can see the same shit snorkelling so it’s really not worth the money.
If you don’t suffer from cabin fever, you can also stay on Hideaway Island for much less you can in town – about $30AUD each if you stay in a 5 share room. According to friends, it’s not even bad and you get your own bathroom, which is a massive bonus seeing as the signs distinguishing between the ladies and gents public toilets are completely illegible.