Tony Wilson gives us the inside scoop when it comes to exploring picturesque Havannah Harbour on the north west coast of Efate, when visiting Vanuatu it’s an absolute must, it’s truly one of the most beautiful parts of the country.December 22, 2018
Rebecca MurphyDecember 22, 2018
Havannah Harbour on the north west coast of Efate is one of the most naturally beautiful harbours to be found anywhere. I’m proud to say it has been my home now for eight-and-a-half years and I hope I never have to leave these shores.
Polynesian missionaries came to the area in the 1840s, thus the names of Samoa Point, Moso and Lelepa. A popular story is that a local chief took a liking to one of the missionary’s wives and he ended up in a cooking pot and she in the chief’s bed.
In the 1870s, it was considered as a possible site for the nation’s capital but a deadly outbreak of malaria put paid to that plan. It didn’t gain in prominence again until the Pacific sector of WWII.
On March 25, 1942, the US Army sent about 500 men to Efate from Noumea, and the 4th Defense Battalion, 45th Marines, arrived on April 8. Elements of the 1st Naval Construction Battalion arrived on Efate on May 4, 1942.
A detachment of Seebees went north to Havannah Harbour to construct a seaplane base to serve a squadron of PBYs. The Seabees built two seaplane ramps of coral, surfaced with wire mesh, and provided buoys for mooring 14 seaplanes. By June 1, the PBYs (seaplanes) began operating from the new base, bombing the Japanese positions on Guadalcanal. In late 1942 the Seebees constructed a 910 metre by 55 metre fighter airstrip at Port Havannah.
These days not much remains of the American presence except pieces of 70-year-old green Coca Cola bottles washed up on the beaches, the American pool and Ernest’s WWII museum which are in the village of Tanoliu.
There are now around 40 homes that are either permanent or holiday houses along the harbour front as well as tourist attractions and restaurants.
At the southern end of the harbour, you can take a day trip with Lelepa Island Day Tour for $AUD135. This includes the bus and boat rides, bush walking, snorkelling, kayaking, a visit to historic caves, lunch on the beach and afternoon tea in a village. Near where you catch the boats to Lelepa Island is Reflections Retreat, which is a boutique wellness retreat. It has four comfortable and spacious suites, each with a large balcony. The retreat caters for a maximum of eight guests.
Reflections specialises in providing a healthy and safe place for guests to enjoy ‘time out’ from the stressors of modern life. They provide an environment that helps guests step back from life’s challenges, enabling them to develop a life outlook and perspective of enjoying and appreciating each day. Or you can just simply stay there and enjoy Havannah.
Further along the road is the Wahoo Bar and Restaurant – one of the country’s most popular seafood restaurants and a popular watering hole for locals and townies. There is always fish of some type available – most of it caught locally and served as fresh as can be, and frequently you can find lobster and other shellfish on the menu.
It is also the base of Turtle Reef Tours and their Discover Havannah Harbour Tour. They pick you up from Port Vila and take you to our world – pristine Havannah Harbour – home to endangered turtles, magical reefs, amazing snorkelling and undiscovered beaches. Here you will cruise on board Vanuatu’s largest glass bottom boat in the newest attraction in Havannah that is gaining in popularity, before relaxing at the much loved Wahoo Bar and Restaurant. The cost of the half-day tour is VT7800 for adults and VT3400 for children aged five to 15 years.
Next along the road is Gideon’s Havannah Eco Lodge and Gideon’s Restaurant and Bar, which are owned and operated by local Ni-Vanuatu man Gideon George. A stay or visit to Havannah Eco Lodge is all about indulging in a true local Vanuatu experience in comfortable budget accommodation. Directly in front is a beautiful protected reef that is home to turtles, many different reef fish and sea creatures – a truly wonderful snorkelling site. Parts of Survivor Vanuatu were filmed at Gideon’s Landing in Havannah Harbour, evidence of its beautiful surroundings. The restaurant is also well known for its seafood.
The 23 metre timber sailing ketch Coongoola is moored nearby and its day cruise is one of the oldest and most popular tours in Vanuatu. It has twin diesel back up power, dinghies, snorkelling gear … and can carry 60 passengers. You’ll visit secluded coves and beaches of fine white coral sand; snorkel or dive in crystal clear warm water; feed tame fish, maybe see their dolphin friends at play. Also visit a baby turtle conservation rookery. The day trips include transfer, morning/afternoon tea, BBQ lunch and snorkelling gear for AUD$135 per person. Choose your own theme, it can be adventure, fun, romantic or just plain relaxing. There is optional scuba diving on request with 30 to 40 metres of visibility.
Opposite Samoa Point is Tranquillity resort set on Moso Island and it is an eco-resort, dive centre and turtle sanctuary. The farés are built between green trees and coconut trees. It is so low key you actually are not able to see the huts when you arrive on the boat. They do not offer luxury, but they do offer simplicity and the chance to get back to nature. Their beach huts are stylish yet basic and constructed from local materials using local methods. Each faces its own private beach and is equipped with western facilities. With no mains electricity, no cars or bikes and very little light pollution, Tranquillity offers you the chance to see, feel and listen to nature as nature intended. Environmentally safe sunscreen, mosquito repellent, a good pair of shoes and a torch for the evenings are good things to bring.
Further on again is the The Havannah, an international award-winning boutique resort that is the best of its kind in Vanuatu. Catering exclusively for adults (guests aged 16 and above) and overlooking Efate’s premier white sand beach on Samoa Point, The Havannah, Vanuatu is a family owned business. The resort opened in 2009 with just six Waterfront Villas and in 2011 the ten Lagoon Pool and Garden Villas were added along with a unique split level infinity edge pool. Further wonderful additions have been the construction of the Watersports Hut, a meeting/indoor dining room, and in 2014 the two Deluxe Waterfront Villas were completed, introducing a new level of luxury to Vanuatu.
Dining is a pleasure, with the chefs producing delicious and innovative dishes with French and Asian influences and tropical cocktails are shaken to perfection by their lovely, smiling staff. One can dine in the Point Restaurant overlooking Havannah Harbour, or choose one of many private dining settings around the resort.
Activity-wise, the harbour is the perfect backdrop for activities including diving, snorkelling, fishing, kayaking, stand up paddle-boarding and sailing.
Finally, no trip to Havannah Harbour would be complete without stopping at Ernest’s WWII Coca Cola Museum which ‘rusts in peace’ in the sleepy village of Tanoliu. It is a popular spot for a short stop by the mini buses on their round-island day trips and Ernest will tell you about many of the items in his quaint little museum on the water’s edge. Many people say it is the highlight of their day tour.
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