We have just returned from taking a group of dive industry professionals over to Vanuatu – Port Vila and Tanna – to see how the nation and the dive resorts are recovering after Cyclone Pam, and to witness first hand how this Vanuatu Dive Cyclone Appeal has had an impact on the Mele Village community.
This is MARK GREEN’s account of his visit.
The most striking thing that hit me on arrival into Port Vila is the smile of the Ni-Vanuatu – you will not come across a more friendly and resilient people.
Cyclone Pam wreaked havoc in Vanuatu in March – it was the second strongest recorded cyclone – but this did not deter the Vanuatu people, they have just kept on going and they just keep on smiling!
We spent three nights at Hideaway Island Resort just outside of Port Vila. You can hardly notice that a cyclone passed over this resort, the only indication now being that a few trees are down and some vegetation is missing. All the accommodations are fine and it is business as usual at Hideaway. The Ocean Front Bungalows have incredible sunrise or sunset views depending what side of the island you stay on. There is also the Dorm for the more budget conscious – these are very clean and presentable with 2 double bunk beds per dorm room and shared bathroom facilities, as well as Twin Rooms with shared facilities.
Kathleen’s Bommie is a 5 minute boat ride from Hideaway. The top of the bommie is in 14-16 metres of water and visibility was a good 20-25 metres with fantastic sea life – moray eels, heaps of anemone fish and schooling pelagics.
Big Blue dive centre, based in downtown Port Vila, took us out to Twin Bommies with an amazing 40 metre plus visibility. I have to say this dive site has one of the best hard coral structures I have ever seen – staghorn, plate and vast colourful coral gardens with nice drop offs. There was plenty of sea life with schooling pelagics around the two bommies, a sea snake and turtles. This dive site was pretty much left untouched by the cyclone.
You could see some impact from the cyclone on Hideaway’s house reef but you can tell the reef is already on the mend and this is still a great dive with turtles , anemone fish and blue spotted rays – all this straight off the front of the resort.
Our second day in Port Vila was an important one for Dive Adventures and the diving community to give back to those in need. Since Cyclone Pam struck in March, Dive Adventures and the diving community have been raising funds for Mele Village near Hideaway Island Resort to assist with providing some basic supplies for the village. Essentially a lot of the houses and village’s basic necessities were destroyed in the cyclone.
Thanks to the diving community, the Dive Cyclone Appeal had raised another $1,700 of donations which has been sent over to Port Vila, enough money to buy packs of washing powder and pegs for each home in Mele Village. We took the ute packed with all the packages over to the village and distributed the washing packs to as many homes as we could in the limited time we had.
The group also took over used clothing to donate and a special mention goes out to Kel Bradley who collected over 11 boxes of clothes donations through the St George Underwater Dive Club – well done guys! The boxes were split between the two schools in the area whereby the teachers distributed them amongst all the students.
The schools are still in need of repairs. Some of the classrooms have a fair bit of water damage and at present, UNICEF has set up tents in the school as make-shift portable classrooms. The winds were so ferocious during the cyclone, that the roof got ripped off the main school building (whilst the school’s principal was still inside!), after which the concrete walls of the building just started collapsing all around him.
This was such a memorable day for everyone present – to be able to give back to the Vanuatu community and see the smiles and on their faces and their contagious excitement, especially those of the children as we handed out the supplies. It was such a moving experience.
Later that day we went for a tour of Port Vila to see the rest of the town and the impact from the cyclone. Overall, it’s business as usual in this bustling town.
In Tanna we stayed at White Grass Ocean Resort which now has an onsite dive operator offering shore diving. The resort, is a 3 ½ star property overlooking White Grass Bay. It has 14 bungalows catering for up to 40 guests with an amazing view from every room. The restaurant/bar area is situated on a point overlooking the bay with wood shutters that allow the breeze to come flowing through while you listen to the sound of the ocean and watch the amazing sunset. The resort is fully operational after the cyclone and there is no damage to the property except for a lesser amount of surrounding foliage.
We dived at Blue Hole One which is made up of 3 different sink holes that are inter-connected via swim throughs and caverns. These structures were formed via the wear of volcanic rock. The Blue Holes were only 50 metres from the shore and are accessible via shore dive.
We also did a dive into a pool of volcanic origin which was the beginning of an interesting dive. Crossing the pool revealed a swim through which is best described as a tunnel, which narrowed and opened, twisted and turned. Half way we discovered a washing machine tub in an opening called “The Laundry”. Continuing on, we emerged outside the reef and headed north to explore a myriad of volcanic and reef structures, absolutely punctuated with loads of swim throughs, some of which led to the surface.
In Tanna, the 6 hour tour to Mt Yasur is a must do! At 640 metres arriving at the Volcano was like a luna landscape with black ash everywhere. One of the only active volcanoes that you watch from the rim, you could see and hear its explosive eruptions. As the sun went down you had the glow of the redness of the volcano with the periodic eruptions lighting up the sky – simply spectacular!
On the way up to the volcano you can see the destruction of the rainforest areas and trees from the cyclone and some of the local communities – we can only wish them a speedy recovery with help from international aid agencies.
We did a tour of the local Tanna village to see their way of life and was shown the largest Banyan tree in the world – covering an area over 200 metres, growing more than 100 metres across and 80 metres high. Massive is the word! The local landowners say it is believed to be over 600 years old.
I would like to thank Hideaway Island Resort, Big Blue Dive in Port Vila and White Grass Ocean Resort for their hospitality and for showing us what Vanuatu has to offer.
If you would like to assist Vanuatu in their recovery after Cyclone Pam, one of the most effective ways would be to visit Vanuatu on your next holiday. Tourism is such an important part of the local economy. Your presence will go far to keep the locals employed and the economy buoyant.