New Caledonia, Vanuatu & Solomon Islands

The start of every good holiday is the booze you drink on the way to and in the airport leading up to your flight departure. If I have an afternoon flight I tend to drink a few while I pack, take a water bottle filled with wine¬†for the journey to the airport and the check-in line up and then as many as I can fit in at the airport bar before the flight is called. It was no different for the start of my Pacific Island adventure! I’d booked this trip earlier in the year when my South America plans fell through and roped in my friend Chloe to come along for the journey. Chloe and I are polar opposites, you could say she’s a bit of a princess and I’m a little rough around the edges, so us and all of our friends were intrigued to see how the trip would pan out!

We flew from Cairns to Brisbane and then had a connecting flight to New Caledonia. Its amazing how much wine you can drink in one days travel so the whole trip was quite the entertainment, I’m sure not just for us but for the people around us. We were juggling a few bags between us as we had to pay for luggage on some of the flights. In Brisbane I picked up what I thought was Chloe’s bag and started wheeling it out of the airport to take a bus to the international terminal. Until a girl stopped me and asked me what I was doing with her bag.. Sorry lady!

We arrived at the international terminal, with not much time to spare for our next flight where we were told if we didn’t have printed copies of our flight schedules we wouldn’t be allowed to board. Its fucking 2016, but some countries still require paper?! So we managed to beg the guy in Flight Centre to print out our itineraries for us, I’d expected it to be printed on diamond encrusted paper when he told me he wanted $8 for it! Turns out the lady at check in was full of shit and we didn’t need one printed itinerary for any country, but the paper came in handy with a certain “situation” later on in the trip ūüėČ We stepped off the plane expecting to be blanketed by tropical humidity only to discover it was actually… COLD. I’d not once thought in my trip research to check the weather temperature and didn’t imagine New Caledonia ever got cold at all. I ended up having to wear pyjama pants and the same jumper every day we were there! We were also let into New Caledonia as “Dolphin Trainer” and “Form Filler Outerer” on our Immigration cards without question :p

We arrived at our hostel in Noumea (the only hostel in Noumea) in the middle of the night and were put into a dungeon of a room. As we were falling asleep Chloe asked me if this is what prison felt like – Haha! But we woke in the morning to the most glorious view over the city which made it all the more better. We spent most of the first day trying to plan our next 5 days in the country. I thought it would be a great idea to “wing it” as that’s my preferred way to travel. Turns out it was school holidays in New Caledonia meaning the entire country was almost completely sold out of accommodation for the weekend so winging it probably wasn’t the best idea. Going into this trip Chloe agreed to travel more “my style” in budget accommodation, but had said she absolutely 100% wouldn’t camp. I agreed that was a fair deal and decided camping was out of the question. That was until the following morning we picked up a hire car and decided to head north to Poe Beach, but the last room in the hostel had been taken overnight as we were too late to reply. So I called the hostel in the morning and with Chloe standing next to me I was told they could pitch us a tent and we could use the hostel facilities, but the rest of the town was completely booked out… Not to mention almost the whole country! I tried to explain that my travel partner wasn’t really one for camping without indicating to Chloe what was going on. I said I’d take her to breakfast and talk her around and we’d see them in a few hours.

It took a little less convincing than I thought and we were on our way North to Poe Beach to sleep in a tent pitched in the hostel yard. New Caledonia is a part of France meaning they drive on the right hand side of the road. Chloe hadn’t brought¬†her license so I was the sole driver and it had been years since I’d driven on the opposite side to what I’ve grown up with.. and the years before when I had it was in a county town in Serbia so I basically took up the whole road anyway and the only other traffic was an odd tractor and occasionally another car. So we jumped in our tiny Micra and headed off through the city, almost side-swiping every parked car on the way through. I even managed to go directly across a traffic light in the wrong lane with a car coming at me head on. Luckily the guy driving right towards me parked across the middle of the road, stopping all of the oncoming cars so I could safely cross back onto the right side of the road. Panic!

We drove the few hours North to Poe Beach stopping along the way for some amazing views over the ocean and mountains. We arrived at the hostel to discover absolute beachfront paradise, a huge yard with palm trees and the white sandy beach just a few metres ahead. We spent the next few days discovering the region, visiting beaches, doing hikes to discover the most ridiculously amazing views, eating bread & cheese all day everyday and we even went to the local Agriculture fair which was the absolute highlight of the region for the year! It was basically a small show with food stalls & markets, a bunch of tractors and farm machinery for sale, some rides for the kids and a daily Rodeo. We ended up sleeping 3 nights in the tent, despite the¬†hostel having a room available for the last night. Turns out Chloe didn’t mind the old camping experience ūüėȬ†We spent the last day driving back to Noumea completely lost everywhere we went. Running low on fuel we still decided to take a turn to head to a lookout not really knowing how many kilometres it was. The road was bumpy & windy and full of potholes, we drove for about half an hour until the fuel light was on empty, deciding whether to turn back or keep going hoping we’d make it to the viewpoint and the road would lead us back to the highway. Instead we reached no view point and were greeted with a river that our little Micra could not cross. So back we turned, to head back down the same windy road, this time putting the car in neutral to roll down every hill in the hopes not to run out of fuel on the way down!

We spent the last night in an Airbnb close to the airport before our flight out to Vanuatu the following day. Overall New Caledonia had some incredible scenery, amazing sunsets and beautiful beaches. But there is basically a zero fun factor, if a nightlife exists we didn’t find it, there was only one bar in Poe Beach which was more of a restaurant. There is much less English spoken than I imagined, the population speaking predominantly French. Everything is expensive, especially the accommodation. When people tell me a country is expensive I take it with a pinch of salt having been to places like Tokyo, Iceland and living in Australia, but it really was! To me the country felt like France on an island; same language, food & atmosphere.

Thinking of visiting New Caledonia? Read my blog Top Travel Tips New Caledonia 

Next stop was Vanuatu where we were staying for 4 nights. The minute we landed we loved the place, with smiling friendly locals and beautiful countryside. It was slightly warmer than New Caledonia, but still colder than we expected and unfortunately the first 2 days we were there it rained solid. We booked to stay at Hideaway Island Resort which is only 10 minutes drive from the airport and a quick little boat across to the island. If you only have a short time in Vanuatu and don’t want to spend a fortune flying to the other islands then I definitely recommend Hideaway! We made ourselves at home on the island making friends with some of the staff and knowing all of the other guests. We snorkelled right off the beach where there is the worlds only underwater post office. One of the staff Louisa accompanied us into the town on our first day to the supermarket, markets and shops. I bought what I thought was a cheap bottle of local rum to make myself some cocktails later only to discover after the bottle was gone that it was actually Whiskey. The market stalls were amazing! I wanted to smuggle kilos of ginger back in to Australia, it was so incredibly cheap and fresh. We were told by some staff that the town wasn’t 100% safe, but I’d never felt safer in my life. Even with some of the scary looking locals, as soon as you locked eyes a giant grin would appear on their faces.

The following day another staff member Brian took us to his village, the largest village in Vanuatu called Mele. Anyone is welcome to go there and walk or drive through. We took a huge box of lollipops to give to the kids and I’ve never been so famous in my life! There are animals running wild, kids bathing in buckets, men drinking Kava in the little Kava Bars and there was even a wedding celebration while we were there. We had a bowl of Kava before heading back to Hideaway for the Melanesian night. I’d signed us up earlier for the feast but mistakingly wrote the number 5 next to both mine and Chloe’s names for the amount of people in our group thinking thats where I wrote our room number. The poor bastards thought we were a group of 10 and that 5 of those were vegetarian! Haha :p There was a local band playing music and a huge feast with fresh fish and local food. We sat around a fire in the rain, eating & drinking with the other guests and finished off with some “dancing” which was pretty much walking in a circle around the fire with a bit of a spring in your step.

The next day was Chloe’s birthday so I went out to a Chinese¬†supermarket and picked up an awesome looking cake, some candles and a pack of balloons. Turns out the cake tasted like cardboard and after I’d offered it to half the island I told them all not to be polite and try to eat it, it tasted like it’d been sitting in the cabinet for at least a year. The candles looked as though they’d been used and put back in the packets, all with burnt tips. And the balloons that were supposed to say Happy Birthday all said “I love you.” Awkward as I’m sure most of the island thought we were a couple anyway! I wrote “Happy 40th Birthday Chloe” on a chalkboard in the bar, even though it was her 26th birthday. I was giving her shit for having a nap on her birthday, which she totally deserved. Turns out most of the island then thought she was actually 40! Haha – That night was the famous fire show at the Beach Bar, across the water. We arrived early, after several cocktails and got out front seats for the show. And it was EPIC! I’ve seen a few fire shows in my time, but this was truly incredible!! We then went out to hit the “clubs” of Vanuatu. When I say “club” I mean seedy looking bar, dungeon like, playing 90s music such as¬†Aqua and barely a female in sight. When in Rome they say, we danced all night anyway.

Going to Vanuatu? Read my blog Top Travel Tips Vanuatu 

After our awesome little visit to Vanuatu the next stop was Solomon Islands for another 4 nights before heading home. There is so much hype around the safety of traveling to the Solomon Islands and as its one of the most unvisited countries in the world we’d only met a handful of people who had actually been there. Majority of these were men who had been there 10 years ago and were in the military.. Their stories weren’t great. We booked an Airbnb run by a couple that also ran a little restaurant for the first 2 nights as the hotel prices in the capital Honiara are extortionate. We also thought the hosts could provide us some great advice for further travel and what to do in the city. We took a taxi from the airport to our Airbnb which was on the other side of the city, along the coastline. The drive was interesting, watching the scenery & locals go by. And like most¬†third world country’s capital city it wasn’t the most pleasant looking place. We were greeted by the security and our host at the Airbnb who made us feel totally at home. We dropped our bags and decided to venture into the city. There are local buses (minivans) running along the main road into town every few minutes that cost $3SBD which is equivalent to around 50c Aussie for a 15 minute drive. These vans stop every km or so to pick people up from the road and jam as many people into the van as possible. The first one we jumped in that day was driven by a guy who looked about 14 years old and insisted we get into the front with him because the back was too hot. He spent the entire drive staring at my legs, I’m not even sure how he didn’t crash. Everyone time Chloe caught him looking he would still just keep staring. At my boring legs..

We arrived in the city and decided to sneak into a fancy hotel and use their pool. And when I say “fancy” I mean 3 star that they claim is 5 star and charge an absolute fortune for. Wifi is pretty scarce in the Solomon’s so when trying to log on to use theirs it was only accessible by room number and last name. I tried “Smith” and a couple of room combinations without any luck. Then looked around to discover that the guests were predominantly Asian so tried the last name “Lee” and with the third room number I was in! What are the chances? Thank you Mr Lee ūüôā We returned to our Airbnb where our host was having some drinks with his friends in the restaurant. We joined them for a couple of wines and grilled them with questions on everything there is to know about the Solomon Islands. We told them we’d thought about hiring a scooter the following day to head West along the beaches and they agreed that was an awesome idea. So, that’s what we did! We headed into town in the morning and hired ourselves some pimping scooters for the day and headed West. As soon as we left the outskirts of the city we were driving through tiny little villages, little huts as houses, people selling fruits on the side of the road, propped up¬†bottle shops every km¬†or so and kids playing in the rivers. It was unlike any experience I’ve ever had driving through there that day, and incredibly hard to explain in writing. Firstly, motorbikes are not a common thing in the Solomon’s, and neither are 2 white girls riding them through villages 30km from Honiara!

Kids ran out to the side of the highway to wave at us, adults waved and cheered, some peoples faces registered only shock when they spotted us. It was such a surreal experience, I am sure for some people, especially the kids, this was the first time they’d ever seen a white person. We’d pull up at a river where there were kids kayaking and swimming, I would make¬†a little song from the horn of my bike and they would dance and laugh and pose with us for selfies. I honestly felt like I was the Queen driving through a city where everyone knew I was coming and made sure they were there to spot me and have a wave. I guess thats what it feels like to be famous! Some beaches and areas we drove past we definitely knew not to stop at. Some places were full of dodgy characters hanging out, drinking, chewing Betel Nut and looking very uninviting. I think if you avoid certain situations in the Solomon’s you’ll have no troubles at all. We drove for hours until we finally reached the beach area we had set out to see. We had to get some fuel so we stopped at 4 or 5 places that had signs for fuel and were told they were all closed. Finally we found a place with a bunch of kids playing out front that went and collected a man who filled us up. He told us all of the beaches were “full” and we’d have to turn back to Honiara. I knew you had to pay to go onto the beaches here, but I didn’t realise they could be “full.” – Maybe that was his way of saying to get ourselves back to safety. So we turned back and shortly after we spotted a huge church on the beach so we decided to drive through to the beach there as it was surely safe. And it was! The pastors all came out to chat to us and ask us where we were from and what we were doing there. They let us have a swim at the beach and we were on our way back.

For the last 2 days we had arranged to go to Nugu Beach Resort which is around 2 hours by boat, or up to 4 hours depending on the weather. There is barely any information online about this resort, its so remote they have very little visitors, no internet and no easy way to make a booking. Luckily our awesome Airbnb host arranged everything for us and we set off at 8am the following morning to head to our island paradise, no idea what to expect. I’d read somewhere that it was a “wet & bumpy” ride to the island and was on a “banana boat” which I hadn’t a clue what that was. We got to the port to discover the tiniest little boat with a little sheltered front for bags and a few hard wooden seats to sit on. We set off into the open ocean and the next 2 hours were an absolute nightmare, one of the worst experiences of my life! Imagine someone forcefully throwing a bucket of sea water in your face for 2 hours straight. The sunscreen I had just applied ended up being my breakfast as it dripped down my face and into my mouth. And although my mouth was closed shut I had to spit out the salt water at least 200 times that journey. We couldn’t talk to each other because we couldn’t open our mouths, I couldn’t see anything because my eyes were full of sunscreen and my sunglasses covered in water. It was the longest 2 hours of my life and I already dreaded the journey back 2 days later! Luckily, when we arrived we were greeted with absolute, 100%, pure paradise!

We jumped off the boat where a little local girl put leis around our necks and we were welcomed by the sweet owner Alfred. The resort (which is not actually a resort, but a few basic bungalows on the beach) was all ours for the next 2 days, they had no other guests there! The water was crystal clear and there was an abundant reef just 1m from shore which I could have snorkelled for days. It was pure, relaxing bliss! I snorkelled and saw fish &¬†sealife I had never seen before. The colours of the coral were so bright & so untouched. The beach was lined with palm trees and the rooms surrounded by beautiful gardens. We laid on the beach, read books, snorkelled and were called to the dining hut when our basic, but amazing meals were ready. Its not often I actually relax on a holiday, but this was all I did and I loved every minute of it! Luckily, the boat ride back to Honiara was 1000 times smoother, the weather was calm, the boat wasn’t as heavy with supplies and we could even talk as there was no sea water being sprayed into our faces.

Planning a trip to Solomon Islands? Read my blog Top Travel Tips Solomon Islands

All in all, we had a taste for 3 amazing and completely different Pacific Island countries and experienced different cultures, food & landscapes. And I cannot wait to go back and explore some more!

Have a question about traveling to the Pacific? Email me or comment below, I’d be happy to help!


1 Comment

  1. pv
    September 1, 2016 / 5:40 am

    Lovely as always. Happy to hear about your adventures. I NEED to travel with you crazies. Kisses.

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