When you're a foodie the concept of a relaxing tropical holiday can be fraught with danger. All too often the dining options are watered down for the tourist's palate or are untouched, untooled perfection hidden somewhere so far off the tourist trail that you spend the entire trip clambering through the jungle trying to find it.
Now I've done my fair share of the latter (think impossibly perfect goat satay and delicate yet sharply spicy, flaky and moist fish, under a completely non-signposted and unlabelled umbrella set up halfway off a cliff just out of Pelabuhan Ratu for only a few hours every few days) but that kind of exploration takes serious planning and hard work. And just forget about matching wines with your dinner - the local stuff is closer to what you find in cardboard boxes back home - just slightly less refined.
But then there's Vanuatu. Inexplicably and incompetently jointly managed by the British and the French in its days as the New Hebrides, the French influence remains on the table.
Just don't leave your pain au chocolat on the table too long - the humidity here is no friend to pastry.
Organic beef, fresh coffee cherries, gargantuan tropical fruit and schools of deep sea fish find their home in the lush environs of Vanuatu. Combined with the precision of French training, enthusiastic local chefs and baristas, a wide selection of French wines and proper butter in the supermarket, white sand and gently cleansing waves, you've got something very special indeed.
Vanuatu is an island archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, just North-East of New Caledonia and West of Fiji. It is only a few hours flying time from the East coast of Australia. Flights are available from Sydney and Brisbane and fly to both Port Vila (the capital, on the island Efate) and Santo. Vanuatu is also only a hop, skip and a jump from New Zealand.
The local Ni-Vanuatu people mainly engage in subsistence agriculture but the tourism industry is a growing source of employment. We met locals who proudly showed us their community crops, including bananas, coconuts and the oddly named breadfruit tree, which were tended to and available to the whole village. We were also shown markers in the water that were used to rotate fishing locations and protect fishing stocks for future generations.
The welcome we received from the locals was significantly friendlier than that given to some early European arrivals - many of whom soon became star attractions at the dinner table.
Vanuatu is now better known for its beautiful beaches, amazing scuba diving and snorkeling. There are American WWII relics that were thrown into the sea after the war and now make interesting and relatively accessible dive sites.
As keen snorkellers we spent plenty of time underwater. The visibility from the surface is impressive, particularly if you can avoid the touristy areas which have suffered from coral bleaching.
For political, military and history buffs, Vanuatu's past is interesting and worth discovering. Its recent status as a tax haven and the zero income tax also make it an interesting proposition - but be warned - it seems that the Australian Federal Police are as fond of Vanuatu as we are, and the Vanuatu Government is being increasingly cooperative.
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