Vanuatu: The Real Fishing Deal

Fishing in Vanuatu is among the most exciting in the world.

“If I were to die and go to fishing heaven, I think I would suddenly find myself in Vanuatu” writes Grant Dixon, who has enjoyed many trips to the divine Coral Sea archipelago.

I’ve trolled and topwater-fished for the pelagics – blue marlin, sailfish, mahimahi and yellowfin – in the deep bluewater that surrounds the 83 island chain. I’ve jigged and thrown poppers for dogtooth tuna, coral trout, giant trevally, and bluefin trevally over the myriad reefs and seamounts that abound in its waters. And I’ve light-tackle fished for wahoo, mahimahi and sailfish at the islands’ steep drop-offs. I have even heli-fished on Hat Island – which marks the start of the appropriately named ‘marlin highway’ (and is within day-charter reach of Port Vila and Havannah Harbour). The only thing I haven’t thrown at fish in Vanuatu is a saltwater fly, but there are operations among the charter fleet that specialise in this style of fishing.

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From a Kiwi’s perspective, the beauty of fishing in Vanuatu is that some of the best angling opportunities come during our winter – April through September – so you can get your gamefishing fix year-round by travelling on a relatively short flight from Auckland to Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital.

When you arrive, you’ll find something for everyone. From the ‘weekend warrior’ anglers through to the hardcore topwater and jigging exponents, and everyone in between. The main recreational fishing opportunities are located at Port Vila and Havannah harbour , on Efate Island. From these bases, you can jump aboard well-appointed craft, with experienced skippers and crew, and head out for a half-day or full-day charter, or, if you want to explore further afield – a multi-day liveaboard adventure.

Over the years, it’s the latter option that has left the most lasting impression on me, as it’s been on these multi-day adventures that I’ve learned just how prolific and varied Vanuatu’s recreational sport fishery is.

In the past, NZ Fishing News hosted multi-day trips to Epi Island – dubbed ‘Epic Epi Adventures’ – mainly aboard the vessel Shogun, operated and skippered by Peter Phillipps. There were also two memorable Island Passage excursions, based out of Luganville on Espiritu Santo, where we explored the fishing on offer at the northern-most Banks Island group.

Exploring numerous islands on these trips, it never ceased to amaze me just how happy the Ni-Vanuatu people were that we encountered along the way. Island Passage is a 500 tonne catamaran and the crew hosted outrigger canoe races that involved the kids paddling between the two hulls, much to their delight. A triple of sailfish caught on the reef adjacent to one village was taken ashore as a gift to the locals, who were grateful for our generosity. In return, a canoe paddled out just as we were leaving, loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables that were greatly appreciated by our anglers and crew.

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Similarly, a blue marlin that died on us during the fight was shared with villagers on Epi. The fish, around 150kgs, was placed on a sheet of iron where the elders supervised its ‘filleting’ – done deftly with machetes – and was then shared equally among the families for that evening’s dinner. With no refrigeration everything was utilised promptly, with only the bill remaining intact for the angler as a memento of his catch.

About Vanuatu

Captain cook sailed into Vanuatu in 1774 and named the long-stretching string of islands New Hebrides.

Originally claimed by the United Kingdom and France in the 1880s, the 1300 kilometre, 83-island archipelago was jointly managed through Anglo–French cooperation until the 1970s, when an independence movement began. On 30 July 1980 the Republic of Vanuatu was founded.

The current population is around 300,000, with over two-thirds of the islands being populated. Prior to the current travel restrictions, Vanuatu hosted around 300,000 visitors annually.

The range of accommodation options is huge throughout the country. There are several excellent resorts (ideal for family stays), as well as backpacking-style options that are simpler and more basic. The further you get from the main centres, the more basic the accommodation options generally become.

I have enjoyed the full range of options over the years – from the best that Port Vila has to offer, to a basic hut on the beach of a remote island. But one thing you can be assured of, no matter where you choose to stay, is a warm welcome. The annual Happy Planet Index ranks 140 destinations around the world on what matters most, sustainable wellbeing for all. This annual release judges how well nations are achieving long, happy, and sustainable lives – Vanuatu was ranked fourth in the world on this ‘happiness scale’.

With its French heritage, many of Vanuatu’s culinary experiences are strongly French influenced. One of my favourites is L'Houstalet in Port Vila where the bat casserole and the Santo beef steaks are to die for. They used to do a mean coconut crab, until these were withdrawn from the menu for conservation reasons.

The islands of Vanuatu were well known for their cannibalistic inhabitants and the first British Missionaries who arrived in 1839 were killed and eaten on Erromango island. Anthropologists suggest the last recorded cannibal killing on Vanuatu was as recent as 1969. From ‘recipes’ handed down through the generations, the standard cooking time for a human was 3-5 hours, depending on whether you wanted them served rare, or well done!

Beginning with a visit to Vanuatu by the Queen and Duke in 1974, there began a ‘Prince Philip Movement’, where followers worship the now deceased HRH, believing him to be a descendent of a spiritual ancestor from Tanna.  A war canoe paddler who greeted the royal yacht Britannia in Port Vila, during the 1974 visit, became convinced that Prince Philip was the ‘true messiah’ and thus began the movement, which actually has its own Facebook page now. While still alive, HRH exchanged gifts with the tribe (including a signed portrait).

On the small Vanuatu island of Pentecost, when the yam crop begins to emerge in early April, locals build wooden towers between 20-30m high. Until the end of May, village boys and men perform the ritual known as Nanggol, diving from these rickety wooden structures with nothing but supply vines tied to their ankles – an act considered to be the inspiration behind modern day bungee jumping.

With a reputation for superior dive sites, Vanuatu is most famous among bubble blowers for the SS President Coolidge, a 650ft shipwrecked luxury liner that lies underwater off Espiritu Santo. Also serving as a troop ship in WWII, the ship sank in 1942 after making contact with two American mines in Santo Harbour. The nearby Million Dollar Point is where the Americans dumped much of their equipment into the sea at the end of WWII.

Santo is well worth a visit, if just to swim in the crystal clear waters of Champagne Beach or take a relaxing paddle and swim in the Matevulu Blue Hole – one of several freshwater swimming holes on the island. There is also an inland blue lagoon on Efate, the main island, about an hour’s drive from Port Vila.

Located on Tanna Island, Mount Yasur is the most accessible active volcano in the world. Best viewed at night to make the most of its fiery display, any visit to Vanuatu would not be complete without experiencing this incredible natural attraction and its volatile beauty.

Closer to Port Vila is the unique underwater post box, located just off the Hideaway Island. Most of the major islands and their attractions are accessed by plane. Air Vanuatu operates regular domestic connections that allows visitors make the most of their stay.

Grant Dixon

https://www.vanuatu.travel/nz/index.php

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