Not far from paradise

Last updated 05:00 08/01/2014
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HAPPIEST COUNTRY: Locals with hearty laughs wearing wide smiles will welcome you to Vanuatu.

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Five Melanesian children splash in the calm, turquoise bay while their mum washes clothes nearby.

Tanoliu, a tiny village on Vanuatu's Efate island, is only about 40km from the capital, but it's not far from paradise.

My partner and I have been exploring the island on quad bikes all morning.

We're staying in Port Vila, a resort centre and transit point to the salubrious outer islands.

There are numerous guided tours available, offering waterfalls, turtle feeding and custom village experiences.

But we don't want to spend a day on and off a tour bus, being ferried about the tourist traps that inevitability cost more than what you agreed to when you set out.

So we rent quad bikes from a Frenchman and head southeast out of the city.

Rolling through the verdant countryside we see cattle grazing between coconut palms and beneath giant banyan trees.

Despite high poverty and unemployment, Vanuatu was recently ranked the world's happiest country on the New Economics Foundation's Happy Planet Index.

With every person we pass on the road stopping to wave at us with big warm smiles, it's easy to understand why.

As we slow down to ride through villages, children run out for high fives and older people tending to vegetable patches down tools to greet us.

There are hardly any other vehicles - Vanuatu's off-season is November - and for most of the 120km ride the road is empty.

We take our own detours, rounding bends and coming over hills to find starched white beaches lapped by azure waters.

The road runs past steep forested hills smothered by vines and thick weeds like a great green carpet.

This part of Vanuatu doesn't make the glossy brochures, but it's really something special.

Far from the urban throb and with the wind in our hair, we're getting closer to paradise.

Tearing down narrow, shady lanes lined with hedges and pretty flower beds, kicking up fallen leaves in our wake - it's hard not to ride with a smile.

Fishermen, graziers and men holding huge machetes all break into a grin and wave as we zip past.

Towards the end of the morning we come over a hill and the vast Havannah Harbour opens out in front of us.

Hemmed by tall green islands of Moso and Lelepa, the harbour's calm, crystal inlets call out to us.

We pull over next to a quiet bay to take in the scenery.

To our left there are a few colourful corrugated iron shanties surrounded by coconut palms with mountains rising up behind them.

To the right, an idyllic scene with those children playing near their mother in the bay.

My partner snaps a photo of the water, while I close my eyes and breathe in deep.

We've found what we were looking for.

The road sign says Tanoliu, but it should say Paradise.


Vanuatu's most commonly spoken language, Bislama, evolved as a mix of Vanuatu's indigenous languages, French and English.

English speaking visitors shouldn't have much trouble sounding out most words including the basics:

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Hello - Alo

Goodbye - Tata

See you - lukim you

Please - Plis

Excuse me - Skiusmi

Thank you very much - Tank yu tumas


Other Bislama terms are more descriptive:

Child - Pikinini

Excellent - Nambawan

Call the police - Singaot long polis

Freshwater - Fres Wota

Sea - Solwata

Seagull - Pidgeon Blong Solwata

Some terms seem to take descriptiveness to the extreme:

Bra - Basket blong titi

Prince Charles - Nambawan Pikinini Blong Missus Kwein

Violin - Wan smol box blong white man, oli scratchem beli I singout gudfala

And although the Bislama term helikopta is widely used, the old term for helicopter - Mixmasta Blong Jesus Christ.

STAYING THERE: Port Vila has a large range of hotels and resorts, but there are also a range of places to stay around Efate if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle.

Breakas Beach Resort has 26 beachfront thatch huts with open air coral shows set along a private beach on the outskirts of Port Vila.

The resort and Virgin offer packages including return flights, transfers, five nights accommodation with breakfast and comprehensive insurance for about $1400 per person.

PLAYING THERE: A range of activities is available on Efate including cultural and nature tours, cooking classes, adventure sports and diving. There are also plenty of restaurants and bars for gourmet travellers.

You can hire a quad bike or motorbike for $48 a day from On Wheels Rental in Port Vila.

The writer travelled at his own expense.



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