Once upon a time on an island in Vanuatu there was a great warrior who had special powers to predict the future. He predicted the arrival of the first missionary. He also predicted independence. He knew that the volcano would become silent and how he would die….
This story belongs to the warrior of Mt Marow, Nguna (pronounced Noona) Island, Vanuatu.
Take a tour to Nguna, and your guide Jack will tell you tall tales and true of this special island where he grew up. Your own adventure can range from a hike to the top of the majestic Mt Marow’s volcanic crater, an escorted village and short walk tour, or just time on your own to appreciate the picture perfect environment.
The ride to Nguna Island takes about half an hour in a local boat from Emua wharf, North Efate. If you have your own road transport you can arrange to meet Jack at the wharf at a set time, where he will be waiting with the boat. Alternatively, he can arrange a pickup from your accommodation.
The easy, scenic drive to this northern part of Efate takes about 45 minutes from Port Vila, heading west and then north, winding through local villages, lush vegetation and coconut plantations. As you head north over the hills, your first stunning sight of Nguna appears over the turquoise waters of Undine Bay. The road continues to wind through plantations and verdant grazing land to the village of Emua and the wharf. There are many points of interest along the way including Ernest’s famous WWII museum at Tanaliu Village. This is ‘a must do’ and will only take 15 minutes, but it could be best left for the trip back to Vila if you are doing the hike up Mt Marow, as it’s a good idea to start this early, before the day warms up.
The boats that bustle around the Emua wharf are the lifeline to the surrounding islands of Nguna, Pele and Emao, and regularly transport produce and people to and fro.
From the wharf, the boat will head directly across the bay where on arrival at the beach, there will be a warm welcome and a cool fresh coconut drink to greet the tour. It’s a good idea to carry your walking shoes until you are off the beach or they are likely to end up wet as you exit the boat onto the sand. Depending on the individual booking, the tour will then continue up to the volcano rim or go to the village. Any excess bags with swimmers, towels etc can be kept at the village for those who are doing the volcano walk.
Nguna Island is approximately 30sq km and there are twelve villages dispersed along its beaches and through the highlands.
The three hour return hike to the volcano rim takes you through fruit and vegetable gardens, coconut palms and bamboo groves and past trees bearing the local ‘bush kai kai’. At the relaxed pace of the tour, there is plenty of time to stop and sample these delicious fruit and nuts in their shady rainforest surrounds. The whole day offers a fantastic opportunity to make a foray into Vanuatu’s natural wonders as well as a cultural experience and of course, incredible sights. From the top of the mountain, the spectacular view stretches north across the islands towards Mataso, recognizable as a sharp volcanic peak, and on clear days, as far as Epi Island. To the east, you will see the islands of Emao, Pele and Kakula and to the south, Moso and Efate.
To the visitor, walking through the villages and gardens offers the chance to chat to the children, families and your friendly guide Jack, and provides a reflective experience and a glimpse of a very different way of life.
As remote as these villages are, they are also relatively well-resourced. In the centre village of Malaliu, which Jack says is the ‘coming together place’ for all the villages in the island, there is a large, solidly constructed health centre, supplied by the central Port Vila hospital – though there are never enough supplies of course. There is also a primary school up in this village and many dwellings and churches have polyurethane water tanks fed by proper guttering and downpipes. Merging with these communal resources are traditional thatched huts with smoky cooking fires, mamas weaving and making bush brooms to sell and sleepy village dogs lazing around in the shade while pikininis too young for school keep each other amused.
The crater of the volcano is home to food gardens which thrive on the rich volcanic soil inside the crater, making the long walk up to them worthwhile for the villagers. A long way from the local supermarket, these villages must be quite self-sufficient.
Freshly picked local vegetables are the ingredients of the custom kai kai ‘Bunya’ lunch that can be prepared as part of Jack’s Tour.
Bunya is a dish usually prepared for special occasions. The ingredients are simple and traditional as is the cooking style. Fresh root vegetables and island cabbage are mixed with freshly strained coconut milk and then wrapped in lap lap leaf. The package is placed on a fire over hot volcanic stones, covered with more stones, and allowed to bake for an hour or so. This dish is tasty and moist, but a dash of Chief Thomas’ home grown and ground chilli powder can add a bite too!
On Jack’s tour, the mamas prepare this delicious meal in the shade of the Komal Navat or Bone Cave at his home village of Nekapa. Jack says this cave is so called ‘because ancestors, who met in the cave to share food and stories, threw the bones of their meat to the back of the cave’.
There are many options to keep busy or laze around after walking up the mountain in the morning. The beach is long and sandy with interesting rocky outcrops, ideal for exploring. The marine sanctuary is open to swimmers and snorkelers, but no fishing is allowed. A half-hour guided rainforest walk up to the plateau where the original village once stood, offers spectacular views back to Efate. This short walk begins with a stroll through the village and stories of daily life, gardens and the history of the island and its people.
Morning refreshments of tropical fruit in season and home-made lime juice, Bunya lunch and afternoon lemon grass tea are welcome inclusions in the day. It is quite okay to bring a small cooler with a few ‘coldies’ of choice too, and if you would prefer, you can bring your own picnic lunch. Just let Jack know!
Whether you simply want some ‘island time’ or an energetic climb up the mountain, Jack will accommodate you. The cost of the tour will vary accordingly and will be suited to your request.
If one day on this beautiful island is not enough, there are several accommodation options. All locally-run island style bungalows, managed by small families, they are the perfect way to enjoy traditional Vanuatu. The timeless and unhurried nature of the island will let you experience a different world and no doubt, slow down your internal clock as well!
To book accommodation check www.positiveearth.org/bungalows/SHEFA/nguna.htm
Story and photography by Anne Smith.