Everything I knew about Vanuatu I learned the week before we arrived. We would fly into the capital, Port Vila, and then visit one another island in the archipelago via an internal flight.
There’s lots to do in Vanuatu: perhaps even more so than its Melanesian neighbor Fiji. You can stand at the edge of a live volcano with exploding spitfires and hissing hell-holes. That would be Mount Yasur on Tanna. And if your timing is right when you visit Tanna, you may encounter a bona fide cargo cult. Cargo cults are frowned upon by the majority Christian communities on Vanuatu, but they offer fine insight into the evolution of social and religious beliefs in Melanesia. Contact with the outside world and its odd material culture occurred just around a century ago, giving rise to the notion that things like airplanes and Coca-Cola were gifts from the gods. If you’ve seen the film The Gods Must Be Crazy, then you are somewhat familiar with the concept of cargo cult. The cult on Tanna is known as John Frum, and their Friday night service is a relaxed acoustic guitar singalong. Because there is no electricity in the village, I recorded for audio purposes only. The sample is only a few seconds long, and worth a listen.
We started out with three nights in Port Vila, which is a pleasant town on the island of Efate. On our second day there, we rented a car. A newly paved road permits circumambulation of Efate, and we did as much as we could including rope swinging into a blue lagoon. We visited the Tanna Coffee roasting facility, which also has a pleasant cafe. We even got a brewery tick at the Seven Seas Saloon, where homesick American expats blend kitch, beer, and barbecue.
Because Mount Yasur presents obvious dangers, it is unlikely authorities will permit tourists to stand at the caldera for much longer. If the volcano or the cargo cult experience is something that interests you, then I would recommend you visit Vanuatu sooner rather than later. There is a lot more to the South Pacific than beaches.