Where are we

Saturday 9 September 2023

Part 3 - Espiritu Santo to Aoba and back to Port Vila, Efata

From Luganville we headed north to a very sheltered bay with a tricky entrance requiring a high tide, waypoints and nerves of steel.  We anchored in the outer bay when we first arrived to check that all was as expected and waited for the next high tide.

It was very much worth the worry and wait. Inside the bay was wonderfully sheltered, the shore dotted with holiday villas. It was also a place where we thought we might see a dugong, but didn’t.

Once anchored up, we dinghied ashore to look around and found the homestead of Philip, Reena and their children. It was manicured jungle walk with well maintained gardens with a beach at the mouth of a fresh water river. 

Philip walked us up to the village and then back down to the beach with the whole family in tow.

They are hoping to become licensed as a tourist destination and are more than happy to allow visitors to use their beach and the tables and benches by the beach.

Sheena and Willis. Apologies for the repetitive waffling in video.  Should have had a longer think before pressing record. There is also a language issue; all speak the local dialectic and may also speak more or less English and or French and it can be hard to tell.

 Boys playing football on the beach. It is a wonderful backyard.

This is the mouth of the river, looking out into the bay. Everything about the river was pretty and best of all it lead to a blue hole. 

Even the US Army built bridge we passed under was enhanced by its surroundings.

On the far side of the bridge, we were surprised to be hailed by a man sitting on the bank with a slingshot. There is an entrance fee of 1,000 VT per person to visit the Riri Blue Hole. This was expected. We paid and carried on up stream. Colin and Thant Zin were following us and spoke longer with the man.  The slingshot wasn’t for trespassers or non-payers, but for parrots. They grow rice nearby and they have problems with parrots eating the rice, thus the slingshot. Colin has run across exactly this in other countries. On our way back from the blue hole, there were half a dozen boys with slingshots festooning the bridge. With current and tide both with us, I was too slow to get a photo as we shot past them.

I would have like to see how they grow the rice, but time did not allow.

 The river was long and winding. It was a blustery day on the bay, but calm on the river. In wider sections of the river, we could see the wind whipping the treetops.

And here we are. The river just opens up and then ends. On the bottom you could see tiny pale peaks where the fresh water came out. You couldn’t see it but if you got close enough you could feel warm areas.

Swimming refreshing as it was much colder than the sea. Tim had a short swim, but Colin and Thant Zin could not be .

The dinghy looked quite surreal appearing as it does poised above the water. 

I think all the pale/white areas on the river bottom are where the fresh water is filtering up from the depths. As it’s white it must mean that the water is bring up coral sand… sound reasonable? I have tried to get more info on blue holes but any internet search results in blue holes in the open ocean. Spectacular, yes, but not so restful and shady as this.

Riri Blue Hole must have been well maintained in the past. There were steps, a concrete dock, a seating area and paths but all were in various stages of disrepair. It did not detract from the beauty of the place though it did make you careful about where you put your feet or what you sat on.

Heading back down river. I was thinking how nice it would be to paddle down in complete silence when around the bend came a canoe with a paying passenger. Unfortunately,  almost the minute they came around the bed, I shifted my grip on my phone and put my finger over the lens, which I managed to edit out eventually.

By the time I realised I’d missed most of it they were passing Colin and Thant Zin.

We enjoyed this so much that the next day we went up another nearby river to see the Matavulu Blue Hole.

The river journey wasn’t as nice as the day before, but it was worth it!

This is our arrival. It was very impressive and looked like a set from the film ‘Avatar’. 

It was a bigger, deeper, a little colder pool than Riri and no one fancied joining me for a swim.

We were the only group there. Instead of swimming, the guys chose to walk part of the track to the old airport. I was still swimming when they got back. It is such a treat to swim in fresh water. I had no idea how unusual that is having grown up on Lake Huron, one of The Great Lakes.

Tim, Thant Zin and Colin.

These two ladies maintained and managed the site on the day we arrived. They welcome visitors, keep the gardens tidy, collect the 1,000 VT fee and then wave them goodbye. Visitors can also come by road.

Heading back down the river I was wondering if one could swim it or how nice it would be to not use the engine to better hear the birds, when around the bend came a canoe.

Our man with the slingshot exchanged it for a paddle and tourist.

These two days were our favourite experiences thus far in Vanuatu.  I would happily swim in blue holes every day of the week, but there appeared to be a favourable weather window for heading south in the offing.

The red line is northbound and the green southbound.

The islands of Vanuatu run north- south more or less and the prevailing winds are from the southeast. This makes it easy to sail north, but more challenging to sail south.  The farther north you go the more more weather windows you could need to get back down.  A window might only be open long enough to get you to the next island, where the waiting begins again. 

Almost from the moment we left Efata, Tim was eyeing up potential weather windows daily in every 10 day forecast to come back down south.  We were also resigned to leaving from Luganville on Santos if a window never came.

As chance would have it, more southerly wind than normal was forecast for two days time and would be followed in a week or so by two days of easterly winds with perhaps a hint of north in them. 

A plan was formed to over night at the nearby island of Aese and the next day use the southerly to go further East to the island of Aoba. 

Aese has a beautiful sandy beach on one side and a windward side of exposed volcanic rock. Only one family living permanently on the island, but as we arrived a church group were pitching tents, digging and outhouse, settling up cooking areas with military precision.

Tents going up.

The windward beach. 

No photos were taken on the walk across the island. It was a mix of trees and grassy areas but throughout was a thin strong creeper vine that tried very hard  to trip you.

Thant Zin is SO at home picking through tide pools and clambering over razor sharp volcanic rock.

I am a lot more cautious and stopped walking till I could look where I put my feet again.

Jennifer and her family. She has the best smile.

It’s one thing to buy them in a shop but I had no idea that chayote/christophine grow on a vine.

I love this video of Jennifer. I had wondered how she was going to reached the chayote.

(I wasn’t able to put it on YouTube as they converted this to a ‘Short’ that I wasn’t able to insert here. So I deleted it despite the fact that it had had 3,600 views and 26 likes.)

The next morning we headed east from Aese to Aoba.

Lovely sailing.

Restful too.

The anchorage outside the village.  We moved to the village anchorage but due to the protective reefs, the bay is best entered at high water.

For scale, Burmese Breeze anchored near the cliffs.  

The tree above were full of bats. You could see them coming and going, twittering like birds.  We had bananas ripening on the aft deck so we covered them at night in an abundance of caution. In the Caribbean, fruit bats will swoop into boats left open with with ripe bananas on display. They poop on the fly and make a terrible mess. 

In the heat of the day in search of the local market, we walked to the east coast of the island. 

In the distance is the island of Maewo, which looks amazing but is also know for sorcery. All about Maewo - it was tempting but we didn’t have time to stop. One must also ensure that you are not ashore when, once every two weeks or so, the sorcerers  ‘self medicate’ and roam the island. Anyone not sheltering inside risks being beaten.


Tim, Colin and Thant Zin made a long hard walk to see the lake in the caldera. Luckily, it was baking day for me.

This is Celia and her daughter Samantha. 

Celia has the best shop in Lolowai and she specially ordered bread for us to be collected at 10.00 the next morning. The bread came early and not being able to make me understand from the shore the need to come and get it now, Celia and her daughter delivered it. It was Sunday and there was big event on the East side of the island and she and her family hoped to go. She invited us to go along too but transportation is an issue and the distance was too far to walk.

I sent these photos to Celia’s son who is 14 and at flight school in Fiji. Celia has a phone but has no idea how to use it. Hopefully when he next visits he can put the photos onto her phone.

Onions are priced individually depending on size.

When we shop, we buy far more at a time than the local people. We have refrigeration and are away from shops for long periods. In remote areas or when produce is scarce, it’s better to leave what there is for the locals.  They don’t have visitors often and can be more generous than they should be.

When Celia, delivered the bread and after chatting with us for a while, said she would gift us the bread if she had baked it, but the baker needed to be paid.  

The departure of the ferry and panorama of the bay. You can see the route the ferry takes to keep clear of the unseen reefs.

From Aoba we sailed to Port Vila, Efata over two days.  

The winds were forecast to be from the East and maybe a little from the northeast.  We decided to use our staysail, which is smaller than the main jib and is hanked onto a removable inner forestay. We set it up before departure and then haul it up once under way.  

The headsail made a huge difference sailing with the wind ahead of the beam. Our main jib is much bigger and gusts can make it quite a lively sail. With the staysail, the ride was much smoother particularly behind the island where the seas are flat but the wind very gusty. It allowed us to have more main sail up, which is great for stability and comfort and keeping the speed more consistent. 

We anchored for the night on the north west coast of Ambrym. We arrived just after dark and we’re glad of two other boats already anchored there.  I’ve anchored between them.  The next morning the tide turned and the wind picked up into the anchorage and we were forced to start our journey a little earlier than expected.

The next leg from Ambrym to Efata was more challenging.  The wind was strong and although in the open sea it would probably have been blowing from the East North East it was quite different behind the islands.

The wind tends to bend around and accelerate down a islands coastline. With the wind coming from the east, the wind direction we experienced depended on the direction of the coast line.

So as you go along, the wind comes from this direction then that direction and so on. It makes for a meandering coarse over the ground.

From Ambrym we had 24 hours of hard sailing. Not as hard as Burmese Breeze had.  They were about 12 hours ahead of us having opted not stopped for the night.  We seem to have had a much better sea state for a lot of the passage, but it was still a fast rough passage with little sleep had by any.

We were very glad to get into the lee of Efata, but the 2 hours of motoring up to Port Vila to arrive at 0400 in the morning was horrible in its utter tedium. We were very glad to drop anchor and sleep.

We are now sticking to the Port Vila area, and on the lookout for a weather window to New Caledonia and Australia.

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