Vanuatu General Information, Pacific Islands

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About Vanuatu

General Information About Vanuatu

Image Source: John Nicholls. Lonnoc Beach, Espiritu Santo Island
Lonnoc Beach, Espiritu Santo Island
John Nicholls

Vanuatu is a South Pacific archipelago made up of 83 small islands that are of volcanic origin and cover around 12000sq kms. Around 65 of the islands are inhabited. The total population of Vanuatu is just over 200,000.

First inhabited by Melanesian people, Vanuatu is the island nation formerly known as the New Hebrides. Named by Captain Cook in 1774, the islands changed their name to Vanuatu in 1980 when they gained independence from the UK and France. The new name was founded from the word vanua ('land' or 'home') and the word tu ('stand') These meanings put together represent the independent status of the new nation.

The largest towns in Vanuatu are Port Vila, which is also the capital, and Luganville which is situated on the largest island of Espiritu Santo. The capital can be found on Efate which is the third largest island. The international airport is Bauerfield, which is only 10 minutes from Port Vila.

While well vegetated, most islands are now showing signs of deforestation. Areas have been logged for high value timber and also subjected to slash and burn agriculture. These areas have been cleared to make coconut plantations and cattle ranches.

Fresh water is also becoming increasingly scarce. Proper waste disposal, water and air pollution are increasing problems in urban areas and large villages.

Despite the tropical forests, Vanuatu has a limited number of native flora and fauna species however the region is very rich in sea life which is why Vanuatu is widely recognized as a premier holiday destination for scuba divers.

The main economic industries in Vanuatu are agriculture, tourism, offshore financial services and cattle. There is also substantial fishing activity. Exports include copra, kava, beef, cocoa and timber. Agriculture provides a living for 65% of the population while tourism brings in much needed foreign exchange.


English and French are the official languages of Vanuatu while Bislama is a pidgin language which has evolved from English. Bislama is the first language of many urban residents and the most common second language spoken elsewhere.

There are over 100 indigenous languages that are also spoken across the rest of Vanuatu. The country is considered to have the highest density of languages per capita in the world. Many ni-Vanuatu people speak four or more languages, some of which only have a handful of speakers and are in danger of becoming extinct.

Everyone involved in the tourism industry speaks English and about 40% also speak French.


Vanuatu maintains a strong cultural diversity through local and foreign influence and can be divided into three major cultural regions. The North measures wealth by establishing how much one can give away. Pigs with rounded tusks are considered a symbol of wealth throughout the islands. In the centre, more traditional Melanesian cultural systems dominate. In the south, a system involving grants of title with associated privileges has been developed.

Young men undergo various coming-of-age ceremonies and rituals to initiate them into manhood, the drinking of kava is also a popular ritual amongst ni-Vanuatu men. Villages also have male and female only sections.

Around 90% of the population is Melanesian. The remaining residents are made up of small numbers of Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders, Micronesians, Polynesians, Vietnamese and Chinese. The two most populated urban areas are Port Vila and Lunganville. Christianity is the predominant religion in Vanuatu and consists of several different denominations. About one third of the population adhere to the Presbyterian Church. Roman Catholic and Anglican are the other common denominations.

The cuisine in Vanuatu incorporates fish, root vegetables and fruit. Food shortages are rare as most families grow food in their gardens. Food is still cooked using hot stones or through boiling. Very little food is fried.

Important Dates

The following are a list of holidays observed in Vanuatu:


1 Jan – New Year's Day
21 Feb – Father Lini Day
16 Mar – Custom Chief's Day
29 Mar – Good Friday
1 Apr – Easter Monday
1 May – Labour Day
24 Jul – Children's Day
30 Jul – Independence Day
15 Aug – Assumption
5 Oct – Constitution Day
29 Nov – Unity Day
25 Dec – Christmas
26 Dec – Family Day


Flight Times

Air Pacific, Air Vanuatu, Aircalin, Pacific Blue and Quantas have regular flights to Vanuatu. Air Vanuatu and Pacific Blue offer direct flights to Port Vila from Brisbane and Sydney; Air Vanuatu also flies directly from Melbourne and Auckland. Flights via Nadi, Honiara and Noumea are also available.

Air Pacific and Aircalin also provide flights from Nadi and Noumea.

Time Differences

Vanuatu is 11 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT +11). There is no daylight saving in Vanuatu.


Shops are usually open from 8:00am to 11:30 am and from 1:30pm to 5:30pm, Mondays to Fridays and 8:00am to 12:00pm on Saturdays. Some shops and supermarkets are open on Sunday morning.

Restaurants, cafes, banks, supermarkets and the post office do not close between 11:30am and 1:30pm for 'siesta'.

Local markets are great places to purchase flowers, fruit, vegetables and handicrafts. Popular handicrafts include paintings, beaded necklaces, pottery and souvenirs.

Shopping in Vanuatu is a delight, so grab a City Map (free from the Port Vila Vanuatu Tourism Office in the Pilioko building opposite Sound Centre) and discover a colourful blend of French, English and Melanesian cultures. The market place and Chinatown (behind main street) are good spots to look for bargains in brightly coloured sarongs, hand-printed shirts, fashion wear and souvenirs, but there is another side to shopping in Vanuatu that may surprise you.

Port Vila remains one of the last genuine duty free ports in the Pacific. You're able to find fragrances, spirits and French champagnes, jewellery (especially Pacific black pearls), watches – including many Swiss brands, sunglasses and other fashion products you can find at home, most with savings of about 20-30% on the equivalent retail prices in Australia and New Zealand.


When Vanuatu claimed independence in 1980, the colours for the flag were chosen based on the party flag colours and a parliamentary committee chose the final design based on submissions by local artists.

The green represents the richness of the land, the red is the blood that unites the people, black is the colour of the indigenous peoples skin and the yellow depicts enlightenment through Christianity. The 'Y' shows the shape of the islands, the tusk of the pig represents prosperity and the namele leaf is a symbol of peace.

Image Source: John Nicholls. Yasur Volcano Image Source: John Nicholls. Yasur Volcano Image Source: John Nicholls. Yasur Volcano
Yasur Volcano
John Nicholls

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