Floating down Rapids and Cats that Fish

Luganville (on the Island of Espiritu Santo) and Aese Island

July-August 2023

The 6-hour run from Malekula to Luganville was uneventful, with 16kt winds, but coming from behind so it was relatively pleasant. Because of the SE winds we approached Luganville from the West, going around Malo Island and then up the Segond Channel between Espiritu Santo and the island of Aore. It was quite a scenic route.

Our route from Malekula Island to Luganville, Espiritu Santo

Luganville is the second largest town in Vanuatu with a population of 18,000. The island of Espiritu Santo (usually just called Santo) is a mecca for yachts, cruisers and tourists, as it is very scenic and is the location for some world class wreck diving. More on that later.

Anchoring options are somewhat limited around Luganville.  There are some moorings available off the island of Aore and anchor spot or two along the Aore shoreline, but you would want to be very sure of your anchoring and depth as there is little more than a narrow shelf to set in before a steep drop to 35-40m.  The most popular and easiest spot to anchor is in front of the Beachfront Resort on Santo which is just to the west of the main street of Luganville.  The bay shallows gently and there is room for at least 15 boats, if you’re happy to be friendly.  The resort is quite welcoming for cruising yachts and boats. Unfortunately, if the winds are from the SE, as they normally are at this time of year, it can be a rolly anchorage and you are on a lee shore so ensuring you are anchored securely is a must.  On the positive side though, it is close to town, a taxi is easy to find and cost 150V for the trip into town, there is a dining area and bar at the resort, and you can dispose of rubbish for a small fee [rubbish disposal is a big thing for cruisers, you can’t just dump it at the islands].

The weather has been bad for quite some weeks for those poor tourists coming over to get some tropical sunshine. [We were told repeatedly that this was very unusual for this time of year].  Taz only just bothers to come out to make sure that Dad is setting the anchor correctly and check if there is any sunshine for a snooze before heading back inside to stretch out under the windscreen.

When we arrived, Tracey and Jeff’s catamaran ‘Zero’ was there already and so we anchored close by. There were another 8 boats also anchored here.  Jeff’s daughter Elsie, her boyfriend and friends were all staying at the Aore Island Resort, cloudy weather not withstanding they were making the most of their holiday and were out diving.  We headed over there that evening to meet them and have a meal at the restaurant; what a feast! The resort is very pleasant (more what most Australians would be thinking a resort should be) and the food is excellent. Elsie and her boyfriend Luke were great company and before we knew it, we had been organised to go onto a tour up into the hinterland the following day.

The next day, the clouds were threatening an actual downpour, but we went back over to the resort to join the others and then headed by ferry across to Luganville for the ‘Float’ tour. This involved hopping in the back of a ute and travelling upcountry for an hour and a half to get to a river in a gorge.

Jeff, Suz, Peter and Basil in the back of the ute

The scenery along the road was fascinating, a mixture of farmland and tropical bush. Santo is famous for its cattle and after trying out the steaks the previous night we agreed on the quality.  The trip up there in the back of the truck was an adventure in itself.  I think Basil (young lad in the photo) identified every single plant we passed, in between bouncing out of potholes – OMG the roads. 

The tour itself was one of the best activities we have done in Vanuatu. It involved putting on a life jacket, climbing down a well inclined riverbank before just jumping into the river.  We spent the next hour floating down a series of gentle rapids and under canopies of ancient trees.  The river flows within a gorge which made for some great scenery as we travelled along. The guides were very good especially around the rapids.  Twice I looked like not making the turn properly and there was an arm grabbing my life jacket to get me around the corner properly – at no point did we feel in danger.  The float ended at the foot of a wide waterfall/cascade. We took turns walking into the cascade and sitting down halfway across for a lovely back massage/pounding from the flowing water.  Walking up a rock face, with water pouring down around you, is a really exhilarating sensation.  Then it was a gentle half hour walk back to the ute and another fun (if damp – it had started to rain again) ride back to town.  We had been told that Luke was going to propose to Elsie during their time in Vanuatu and I was thinking that while kneeling in the cascades would have been a romantic gesture, it was fraught with disaster if the ring was not tied securely to Luke (which would have been less than romantic).  Luke opted for the safer and more conventional proposal back at the resort before tea that night.  Another delicious meal (with chocolate mousse dessert) at the Aore Resort that evening to celebrate the engagement and we slept really well that night. I now have sore tummy muscles from keeping my feet lifted (as you have to do when going over rapids). 

The cat story;

The Aore Island Resort sits on the weather protected side of Aore Island, directly across from Luganville; white sandy beach and you just walk into the water and snorkel onto coral.  We were having a drink there one night, when a youngster (9- or 10-year-old Aussie kid – obviously a city kid too) started shouting at his parents “It’s still alive”!  One of the resorts five cats was under their dining table happily eating the head off a 5-inch fish that certainly had just been alive.  We found out that the cats wait on the foreshore for the fish to get herded into the shallows by bigger predatory fish then the cats pounce and drag their tea out of the water.  These are the best-looking cats we’ve seen here; sleek shiny coats and they don’t give a toss about people.  They are locked inside at night to protect them from the island cats, but roam the resort beach, gardens and roofs during the day. The resort also does not have a mouse or rat problem.

Yesterday, we had to go into Luganville to do some shopping (I need eggs so I can turn a huge bunch of fast ripening bananas into muffins before they go off). 

The winds were whipping up a mess on the shore in front of the Beachfront Resort, so we took the tender around the point to the little bay in front of the Hardware store, just one street from the centre of town. 

We tied our tender (behind the green boat in the photo) onto the dinghy pontoon, but found that the green boat had also tied itself to the shore, and we couldn’t pull the pontoon close to the wharf to get off.  Thankfully a lovely young lad came over to help.  He pulled the brown boat (on the far left) close to the wall and we hopped into that and then shimmied (I’d like to say lithely or with style but I would be sooo lying) up the concrete wall.  The things you do for a carton of eggs. [The next time we came in for shopping, we noticed that there was a set of steps built into the concrete pier between the white poles, so that we could pull up, step off and then pull the tender to the end to tie up!! The things you learn, or notice when you’re not too tired.]

The town of Luganville itself is quite small with somewhat limited facilities. Having said that there is a decent supermarket, great Hardware store and a couple of nice restaurants/cafés (Natangora café and the Espiritu Hotel). It is also noticeably less clean than Port Vila, but that’s all part of a growing population in a small economy, where the town services lag the growth. Again, everyone is very friendly and happy to chat.

Jeff and Tracey left for Australia, so we were going to do some diving, but I had developed a head cold, so no diving just yet.  With the weather looking very average for the next week we decided to head around the south east of Santo Island to anchor on the lee side of Aese island where it would be far more comfortable.


Back to pretty sunsets

We spent the next few days just lazing around and snorkelling on some small, but beautiful little bommies (snorkelling is an excellent way to clear the sinus’). Peter also took advantage of the time to clean one side of the hull which came up looking a treat. Nobody else was there and it was very pleasant by ourselves.  I have to say in all honesty that I was quite happy that for a change there was no chief to meet and negotiate with.

The water is incredibly clear.  Between plains of huge broken and dead coral, there are bombies full of life.  Access is easy, you just fall in off the back of the boat, I could sit on the bottom looking at the show for ages.

Today’s snorkel was over some of my faves, the clams dressed in a luscious brown colour.  These photos aren’t processed (adjusted for being taken in the water).  The water is so clear that the colours turn out beautifully bright.

This is what crystal clear looks like, that flopper stopper plate is 5m below the surface.

It is raining steadily with the most unreliable forecast predicting 80mm overnight.  After a particularly long rain band went through (not 80mm though), we had a huge school of small mackerel like fish working the area around the back of the boat. The school was a good 50m across and stayed there for hours. The fish were very speedy as they were reflected in the moonlight and gave quite a show (it looked like they had headlights, but I couldn’t find them in the fish guidebook). They were interested in the swarms of flying ants that had also showed up after the rain, and completely ignored all Peter’s lures. 

The rain also flushes out a diaspora of unusually shaped ‘Sea Poison/Box Fruit’ seed pods floating off to see the world.

Tracey and Jeff left with a reasonable weather window, but that changed to moderately unreasonable their second night out, and then the weather changed to really unreasonable as they were negotiating Hydrographers Passage through the reef – the climate is changing and it is making life hard for the weather routers who guide boats.

On Saturday 5th of August we headed back around to Luganville – It was time to do some diving.

Research Ravings:

Barrington Asiatica; Sea Poison often called Box Fruit in these islands, is a beautiful tree with a shady canopy and pink fluffy flowers.  It is a very common tropical plant, generally growing in mangrove-y areas.  Every part of it is poisonous, hence the name.  It is often grown along roads to create a shady avenue, despite the whole poisonous thing. The pods have the shape of a square based pyramid and float with the pointed end down. The seeds can be dried and ground to a powder which is thrown in the water to stun/kill fish (but leaves the flesh unaffected). The pods can float around waiting to find land for up to 15 years (I wonder how scientists know that?)

Taz Talks:

Did someone mention fish?  All I can see are seed pods floating around.

Cruisers Comments:

Luganville taxi’s all charge 150V for around town trips

General rubbish can be left near a council bin for collection.  Put it into a red council rubbish bag, which can be purchased from the supermarket or hardware shops for 70V each.

The Beachfront Resort charges 200V for bags of rubbish (they don’t seem to mind about the size of the bag).

Meals at Aore Island Resort should be pre-booked if you are not staying at the resort (more so in wet weather, as normally visitors are sat on the verandah tables that can’t be used when it rains).

Navigation Notes:

[This is a record of our experiences and is not intended as a recommendation for others. Phone reception on ‘Opal Lady’ is assisted with the use of a StarLink satellite system. Dates are written in standard Australian format D/M/Y. We measure our depths from the lowest point of the hull (add 1.6m for actual water level depth).]

Anchored Luganville, Espiritu Santo Island: 24/7/23, at 15 31.419S, 167 09.832E, in 8.7m with ~ 0.5m tide, 40m chain, exit 160o.  Winds ESE 13.2knt.  Anchorage choppy in SE.  Shore access very difficult in SE and beach is shallow so tender must be dragged up to the grass line else will drift away.  Resort very cruiser friendly.

Anchored Aese Island: 30/7/23, at 15 26.572S, 167 15.011E, in 8.5m with ~0.5m tide, 40m chain, exit 270o.  Winds SE<15knt.  Anchorage was very sheltered and comfortable.

Banner Photo: Sunset at Aese Island

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Fascinating reading. The float trip sounds like a lot of fun. Where do you get the time to produce the very interesting blogs?

    1. The float trip was indeed a lot of fun Jill. The blog is based on the WhatsApps we send you and Dot, so a lot of the work is already done before we go through the process of putting up an entry. Suzi

  2. Wow, that is an ab workout I could get onboard with!

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