We got to the port very early so I cant complain that we had to wait a while, even so, once the ball got rolling it was smooth and seamless.
After my previous cruise (4 in an oceanview stateroom) I had come to the conclusion that growing kids in the same room as Mum and Dad was way too cramped so with the price of twin share balconies actually being near enough the same price as quad inside at the time I booked I went for 2 balcony rooms side by side and found the room quite comfortable for my wife and I. The beds were not so comfortable but bearable and well positioned in the room. The fridge was tiny but it worked, the bathroom was small but not an issue so long as you didn't try to get dressed in there and while the AC wasn't always great it seemed to work with my wife constantly being cold and me constantly being hot i found that after the dial had been turned to full heat it quickly got to the sauna temperatures my wife apparently was looking for and when i turned the dial back to the middle it didn't take long to become bearable again, being able to open the balcony door no doubt helped out a lot here. In room television was really bad with poor choices and a TV guide that was hard to follow, many of the movies and programs were on loop often meaning the same movie would play over and over, some times up to 5 times before changing to another movie and with limited choices we found ourselves watching the same movie over and over from different starting positions. This was my first time with a balcony and as much as i liked having it the balcony can add considerable cost to our holiday, especially now the kids are in a separate room, after having a balcony there is an obvious preference but personally, I don't mind inside either and spend the extra money on something else
I love Luganville Or Santo as it is otherwise known, there are a lot of great options to get out and see or do but this time around I made some bad choices and what should have been our best port ended up the worst.
Our first bad choice was our driver, throughout Vanuatu I generally negotiate a driver for $100 Au for the day and offer a tip for good service, I will also look after them buying drinks, lunch and other gifts and within reason I dont have a problem with them going off to get some other fares while we are doing something else so long as it doesn't encroach on what we are doing. this time around after agreeing to the price the driver started to introduce new fees such as having us pay extra if we wanted to go to champagne bay, in hindsight I should have gotten out there and found a new driver, its not that he ended up trying to get more money from us but he certainly was hungry to get other fares which left us waiting for him.
My next bad choice was to go to the Riri Blue Hole, its a spectacular blue hole where you can get a canoe from the road upstream to the blue hole, something i had done and enjoyed before but my Daughter missed out on that occasion so I figured we would start our day by doing that this time, when we got there the canoes had been completely booked out so we went straight to the blue hole, when we first arrived there was maybe 20 other people there, busy but not overly busy but the people just kept on turning up to the point where it had maybe 200 people there, having been at the same place by ourselves in the past, its much better when its quiet.
Our driver asked how long before we wanted to move on and went off to get another fare and came back with 2 more customers to share our ride, we were ready to move on as they arrived so we ended up waiting by the car for 45 minutes before moving on.
Next port of call was the ship, my wife wasn't feeling so good but the kids still wanted to do more so we dropped her off and went into town for a meal
From there our driver went off to pick up his other passengers who he dropped off along the way but not before asking for payment because he needed petrol, again, my mistake, I should have said no or at least given only some petrol money, In my defence we were in walking distance to the ship so i was comfortable we were not about to get stranded if he were not to come back, we agreed that he would pick us up at 1 oclock to move onto our next destination.
We looked at the very expensive menu and picked out some food, a pizza, a local beer and 2 cans of soft drink, prices were in vatu and it should have been about $35 AU but they figured they should round up to $40, I wasn't going to argue over $5 but seeing as the prices were already inflated it did put me off and stopped me from ordering more. We ate the pizza, drank our drinks and walked around the markets until it was time to get picked up but no driver, we waited another 10 minutes but I figured on counting it as a bad day and we walked back to the ship disappointed
This was my first time to Pentacost, P&O are the only cruiseline to stop there and its only twice a year to coincide with their land diving. We got off early and had a look around then went for a swim while waiting for the land diving to begin. Its really a lovely island with a few market stalls and local attractions as well as a nice long clean pebbly beach which we enjoyed. Before the land diving began we made our way to the site and found our vantage point just to the side about 20 metres away
While looking at the tower these people were going to jump off I found myself feeling guilty thinking they were going to risk their lives jumping off these huge towers to entertain us in the hope we might spend some of our money and make some donations to them.
I understand its a choice they make and no doubt the money generated goes a long way to helping them but it really is a beautiful destination with fascinating friendly people to interact with without the land diving, its a shame cruise ships dont visit at times when there is no land diving as well, there is so much more to Pentacost that is very well worth the visit and worthy of our tourist dollars
They start by making their final preparations to the ground, their vines and the tower before the dancers and local "cheer squad" turn up, it starts with the kids jumping from the lower levels which were between 5 and 10 metres high which is a really long way to jump head first with vines tied to your ankles for anybody let along some kids who looked like they were barely 12, jump they did, seemingly freely, it obviously hurt them, how badly I dont know. As it goes on the jumpers get older, stronger and braver but it also gets hotter so we didn't stay to the end to see them jump right from the top but certainly watching the more agile men jump was quite a spectacle and amazing that they can do it and seemingly not get hurt doing it
Another of my favourite ports and this time it didn't fail to impress.
Got off early to find our usual driver, we found him but he is no longer driving. Its worth spending some time to mention some changes to the drivers at Port Vila, visitors would recall, especially first time visitors how daunting it can be when you get to the 100 or so drivers at the port all trying to get you into their cars, vans and utes. I am a little more seasoned to Vila and know how to handle the situation comfortably but I also know how this first glimpse of Vila can ruin the experience for many visitors and i also know how greedy some of the drivers can be.
Now, they have established a much more coordinated group, its the same old cars, utes and vans, some in bad states of disrepair but a single point of contact will assist in your negotiations ensuring both driver and customer have agreed to a fair price before proceeding, as it turns out the driver I was looking for is now that coordinator but knowing how much I trust him from my previous visits I was happy to take his recommendation and ended up with Mathew.
The drivers in this group now wear a blue uniform and they seem to have a bit more pride in presenting the best possible image for tourists.
So onto our day.
Driver fare negotiated, $100 AU for the day with a tip for a good day.
On our previous visit we went to a turtle sanctuary and loved it so we asked our driver to take us there and then suggest some other nearby attractions, as it turns out there is 2 turtle sanctuaries and our driver recommended we go to this one https://www.facebook.com/thereefvanuatuzoological/
We absolutely loved it, I cant remember exactly what the prices were but 2 adults and 2 children is around $60 AU, sitting in the pond playing with the baby turtles was a highlight.
Next stop our driver recommended we go to the nearby waterfall, we have been to the Mele Cascades before but it is expensive, Chinese owned sometimes not flowing and very busy with ship organised shore tours going there so we said no, he asked if we had been to the Rarru Rentapao falls, we had never heard of it so we put our trust in our driver once more and he certainly delivered again, I will post the FB link so you can check it out for yourself https://www.facebook.com/rentapaoriver/ the place is absolutely spectacular and the people running it are as beautiful as the place they work in. No photo can do the place justice but if you have been to the Mele Cascades before this place is even better, the water doesn't fall from as far but besides that everything else is so much better and to top that off, before you leave they have a variety of local fruit for you to try after your swim
It was getting a bit hungry by this point so we asked our driver to take us to a restaurant, a nice one on the way back, so he pulled up at little place by the side of the road, the first thing we noticed was the beautiful gardens and well maintained path, we followed the path along, not knowing quite what to expect and we led to possible the most beautiful location for a restaurant I have even seen its call Vila Chaumieres Resort, it was expensive even by Australian standards with a very small (but very nice) piece of steak chips and salad costing near $40 AU but for the location alone it was worth it, they bring out some cold water for the table and a freshly baked bread roll with butter to start you off (no charge) before your meal arrives, http://www.vilachaumieres.com/home.html
They also fed our driver with a meal that looked as good as mine did
From there we moved onto the duty free store in town Fung Kwai (spelling most likely wrong) and back to the ship,
After such a good day out we gave our driver 10,000 vatu which is about $120 Au plus we gave him another $20AU
Lifou is a lovely island, of all of my favourite pacific islands its not high on my list but certainly I have also had some great days there, My son and i wanted to get in some snorkeling, we bought all of our gear along and hardly got to use it so here was our final chance, we could have paid $15 each to walk to the other side of the island at Jinek Bay, I have done that before and it is stunning but i didn't want the walk, hate that i have to pay the cruise ship and on my previous trips i have seen turtles right near the dock where the tenders come in so we went snorkeling there.
Unlike other areas the water gets to a good snorkeling depth quickly with good clean access, the coral is not as nice and there isn't as many fish but that's not why I went there, I was hoping to see and swim with turtles and as it turns out I was in luck.
I was following a large flounder taking some photos when a group of people started yelling "TURTLE", I looked up and they were pointing right in front of me, it didn't take me long to forget about the flounder I had been following around when i saw a medium sized turtle about 5 metres in front of me, i swam closer keeping a distance so i didn't scare it, taking photos but the crowd kept saying "over here", they didn't realise i was already watching a turtle feed on sea grass but to satisfy them and myself I went over to check out where they were pointing to find a much larger turtle. I followed it around for what must have been 15 or 20 minutes taking some photos and video
Of course by now a lot more people wanted to snorkel there but that's OK I didn't mind sharing, what i noticed though is that the larger turtle didn't seem to take any notice what soever that i was there, it obviously saw me and others so i got closer and closer to the point where I was diving down About 2 metres right beside it watching as it fed, i started patting his shell from behind (I learnt the day before that they actually can feel it through their shells) again it just kept feeding so I kept playing with and swimming around with my new friend as he ate sea grass. If anybody finds my new friend please say hello but please also keep your hands away from its mouth and only touch his (presuming it was male) shell from behind, while not aggressive in the slightest they can be curious and one bite could easily take fingers and touching his shell wont hurt him