Expat tales: True blue Luganville

WET AND WILD: A beachfront bungalow in Vanuatu. The SS President Coolidge wreck sits just off the shore of Espiritu Santo, the largest of the Vanuatu islands.
WET AND WILD: A beachfront bungalow in Vanuatu. The SS President Coolidge wreck sits just off the shore of Espiritu Santo, the largest of the Vanuatu islands.

The warmth of the South Pacific is a welcome change for Cantabrian Mary O'Reilly.

Why did you move to Vanuatu?

I applied for a two-year Volunteer Service Aboard (VSA) assignment based on the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu and I live in the main town, Luganville.

EX-PAT: Former Cantabrian Mary O'Reilly is enjoying the Vanautu way of life.
EX-PAT: Former Cantabrian Mary O'Reilly is enjoying the Vanautu way of life.

What do you do there?

I work as a waste management adviser for the Luganville Municipal Council and the Sanma Provincial Government. My role is to develop a plan for the region, improve waste collection, introduce recycling options and increase overall awareness of waste management issues.

What do you like or dislike about life there?

I love the pace of life in Santo. "Island time" is a big thing here. When you first arrive, it can be frustrating not knowing when - or if - things will get done. However, once you learn to work with it, it teaches you to not sweat the small stuff; as a result I genuinely do have a wonderful work-life balance. How does the cost of living compare with New Zealand? Vanuatu is more expensive than New Zealand as it needs to import almost everything. However this is balanced by being able to buy cheap locally grown fruit and vegetables, such as a bag of 10 passionfruit for $2, a coconut for 50 cents and a bag of peppers for $2.

What do you do on weekends?

They are most often spent relaxing at one of the beautiful beaches in Santo, the largest island in Vanuatu. It is very easy to get around, particularly the East Coast Road, which is home to the famous Champagne Beach, and the stunning Blue Holes (underwater sink holes with natural fresh water springs). I am spoilt for choice. More often than not you will have the beaches entirely to yourself; it doesn't get more magical than that.

What do you think of the food?

The fresh tropical fruit has to be one of my favourite things in Vanuatu. The mangos are so sweet, the watermelons are huge and the local coconuts are so refreshing on a hot day. In 1906, Vanuatu was jointly claimed by the English and the French and, while independence was gained in 1980, we still have stores baking wonderful French bread several times a day; the smell when you walk past is delicious!

What's the best way to get around?

Luganville is quite small so it is very easy to walk everywhere but, because of the heat, I use taxis a lot. They are very cheap and there are loads of them so you never have to wait long and the drivers are always keen for a chat to practise their English and to find out more about New Zealand.

What's the shopping like?

In Luganville there are many small stores selling everything from canned meat to clothes and wash buckets to school books. There are two second-hand clothes stores where good bargains can be found for "Western clothes" and one supermarket. So it's not the place for retail therapy but you can buy everything you really need.

What's the nightlife like?

The nightlife in Santo is based mainly around the local restaurants and resorts. In town there are two bars - the one on the beachfront is popular for after-work drinks in the sea breeze. The local resorts often have Island Nights or themed events which are always entertaining.

What is your favourite part?

My favourite place in Santo is Aese Island (pronounced Ice). It's a 15-minute boat ride from the mainland and it is the most beautiful deserted island. The water is crystal clear and several shades of blue and green at the same time, the sand is golden and so soft, there is fabulous snorkelling on the reef. It is the most relaxing place on Earth.

What time of year is best to visit?

As a Cantabrian who has lived through my fair share of chilly winters and not-so-hot summers, I think anytime is a good time to visit the warmth of Vanuatu. However, the best time is April to October as it's the dry season, with less humidity and less chance of rain, so it is a much more comfortable heat.

What's your must-do thing for visitors?

It would have to be visiting the Matevulu and Nandas Blue Holes. You have never seen a blue this blue. Champagne Beach is also a must see. This is where the tourist guide pictures come true and you realise they actually aren't Photoshopped. The colour of the water is amazing, swimming in the warm waters is so relaxing and it's likely you will have the entire place to yourself. Bliss.

What are your top tips for tourists?

My top tip would be to make sure you give yourself enough time to see all that Santo has to offer, swimming at beautiful beaches, snorkelling at Million Dollar Pt, fishing for mahi-mahi and wahoo, scuba diving the [ocean liner] President Coolidge, horse riding among the coconut plantations, relaxing with sundowners at one of the many beachside resorts and enjoying getting to know the friendly locals.

How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?

It is a 45-minute flight from Santo to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, then a three-hour flight to Auckland.

If you know an expat who wants to share the inside knowledge on their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

Fairfax Media