Carefree Pacific tunes waft under the palms, capturing the essence of Pele Island. This is where the locals go to get away from the traffic noise and bustle of Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu.
To reach Pele I first catch a bus to the north of Efate Island and, on the way, have superb views of Mele Bay, a popular dive location.
From Emua Wharf in the north it’s a short boat ride across the Natasiriki Passage to the island of Pele. A nascent village-based tourism initiative on this and the neighbouring island of Nguna mean there’s rudimentary overnight accommodation, but no electricity or hot water.
You need take a torch, mosquito repellent and anything else you think you might need because all there is to buy on Pele are coconut shell souvenirs and seed necklaces. It’s a great idea to take pens, pencils and notebooks for the kids at the island kindergarten and primary school.
Piliura beach is the spot most day trippers visit and there are masks and flippers available. A boat takes me out to snorkel above coral in gin-clear water some 200 metres offshore. An abundance of colourful fish hover among the various corals and dart through submarine canyons. But I also see lots of crown-of-thorns starfish. The encroachment of these coral killing creatures is a scourge that Pele’s villagers battle constantly.
Piliura has a thatched dining area with kitchen and two western-style toilets, a couple of crude concrete houses and a secluded bungalow among trees further along the beach. Visitors may also stay at Worasifiu village, in the island’s south, where Napanga Bungalows owner Kenneth Talang provides meals of fish, coconut and fruit for those renting his has two brightly painted cottages. There are two more guest bungalows at nearby Laonamoa and another at Worearu on the island’s northwest tip with views of Nguna.
While wandering along a deserted beach I notice this warning sign in Pidgin nailed to a coconut palm. It says “Don’t kill turtles!” Both the hawksbill and green turtle are reportedly in decline in Vanuatu.
Pele and Nguna are Marine Protected Areas with certain sections of village-owned reefs off-limits to fishing.
Grassroots conservation also protects mangrove forests, inter-tidal lagoons and sea grass beds and each community plays a role in surveying reefs, protecting coral and tagging turtles.
Pele’s intrinsic charm is a total absence of agenda. Once here it’s do as you wish …. laze about, doze in the shade, ramble, meet the locals, paddle a canoe, swim and snorkle. There’s only one rule on the island: take it easy.
* The cheapest way to reach Pele Island is via public transport to Emua Wharf, departing every week day afternoon from the Hua Store in Port Vila (near the police station). The truck and subsequent boat ride costs about 1000 vatu (approx $11).
* An enterprising indigenous tour company offers day trips to Pele including snorkeling and lunch. Contact Evergreen Vanuatu, Phone +678 25418, fax: +678 23045, email: firstname.lastname@example.org