Cruising Vanuatu, the hidden isles of the South Pacific
Outfitter: Tall ship Soren Larsen
Price: from $1,902 per person
Every year, the 145-foot tall ship Soren Larsen makes an epic transpacific voyage, sailing from its homeport in Auckland, New Zealand, to Easter Island, and then returning home via the islands of Polynesia and Melanesia. On this journey, the ship hosts intrepid travelers who sign on to sail various legs with the ship's 13-member crew. Anyone can sign up, even people who've never sailed before.
On the voyage, the ship visits many exotic islands such as Bora Bora, the Cook Islands, and Fiji—but the little-known islands of Vanuatu, a collection of about 80 islands located some 1,400 miles north of Auckland, are among the crew's favorites. While many of the indigenous island cultures of the South Pacific have been degraded by colonization and now mass tourism, life on most of the Vanuatu islands (with the exception of the resort town of Port Vila on Efate) remains relatively unchanged since Captain Cook visited in 1773. The Ni-Vanuatu people still speak 113 distinct languages, and their lives still revolve around ancient rituals and communal ceremonies.
The Soren Larsen offers two different 10-day Vanuatu itineraries. The first leg visits the more remote northern Banks Islands while the second tours the Central islands. Both trips include visits to several islands, allowing you to observe and interact with different communities. The exact islands and anchorages are dictated by the weather and the preferences of the group, with the ship usually anchoring at night and then sailing 20 to 70 miles between islands in the morning. The ship's captain gets the permission of the island's village chief before visiting.
"On most islands, people live a simple but culturally rich life in individually isolated villages," says Ian Hutchinson of Tallship Soren Larsen. "'Custom' culture is central to their way of life and each island has its own particular custom dances and ceremonies. For example, there is the snake-dance of Ureparapara, the water dances of the women at Gaua, the ancestor worship Rom dance at Ambrym, and the chanting ceremony of the men of Malakula. Witnessing these custom ceremonies in an authentic context is a privilege and highlight of the trips."
Besides visiting with native communities, you'll have the opportunity to hike through the islands' jungles to see waterfalls and wildlife on guided treks, and snorkel in the coral reefs offshore. While onboard, everyone takes part in the ship's watch system, and participates in actually sailing the vessel.
The Soren Larsen sets sail on its next transpacific journey in March 2007. The "Vanuatu Banks Islands" leg departs October 8 and sails round-trip from Espiritu Santo while the "Vanuatu Discovery" leg departs October 18 and sails from Espiritu Santo to Port Vila on Efate. Rates are the same for both and include onboard accommodations, three meals per day, sailing instruction, island excursions, and use of the ship's saloon, library, and snorkeling and fishing equipment.
Flights to Vanuatu and between Espiritu Santo and Port Vila are extra. Round-trip fares on Air Vanuatu from Auckland to Port Vila are priced around $340 and fares between Espiritu Santo and Port Vila are around $250. Fares include taxes.