Post Pam: Motolava & Rah Island, Banks Island Group

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Prior to the infamous category 5 Cylcone Pam I had booked my flights to visit the Banks Islands. I had planned to book accommodation at a later date for Motolava Island and Rah Island. However, with the sudden arrival of Pam, communication to the Torba Province was limited and unfortunately booking accommodation was difficult. With whispers that the region was okay and trusted in the Vanuatu ways that everything always seems to work out, I set out into the ‘unknown’.

Prior to arriving on Motolava with the awareness that my accommodation was not booked I familiarised myself with as much information about the island as possible (i.e Transport, bungalows, potential walking distances). I had read that it was a 12km walk from the airport to the bungalows and that normally there was a truck that could provide a lift. Once we landed on Motolava I set out to find someone to talk to about how to get to the other side of the Island. But, when a few people from the village near-by realised I wasn’t getting back on the plane to fly to Santo they came and asked where I was headed.

As luck would have it, it turned out the brother of Nisa Sunset Bungalows (Joe), where I was planning to stay, happened to be at the airport. The bad news was that because of the cyclone, the island was out of petrol and there was no truck to hitch a ride with. With a relatively long walk ahead in the heat of the day I was fortunate to be accompanied by a few people such as Colin (a local school teacher) and Michael (a retired police officer) who lived close to the bungalow and graciously helped me carry my luggage. Normally it takes 1.5hrs for the locals of Motolava to walk (which they do so in some cases on a daily basis), but with the weight of my luggage, on a hot day and with regular smol spel (rest), it took around 2.5 hours. It is, however, a relatively easy walk.

On the way, I storian(ed) with Joe, Colin and Michael who became our friends and neighbours for the rest of my stay. It was also a good opportunity to find out about the lives of the people of Motolava and how much work (or walking) they do in their daily lives. It reminded me to never ever complain about being stuck in the heavy Sydney traffic for over an hour at a time. Because, at least at the end of the day I didn’t have to spend that same amount of time walking (its all about perspective).

I couldn’t have been more happy and thankful to sit in the shade once arriving at our accommodation while waiting for our bungalow to be prepared (because of course they had no idea about my arrival). We continued to storian with my new found friends, Joe, Michael and Colin as I looked out over the ocean to the island of Vanua lava, slightly dazed, ever so tired but so very grateful for their help.

Nisa Sunset Bungalow, Motolava

Sunset Bungalow sits not far back from the sandy beach near Ngerenigman village. This relatively large bungalow has a balgony that looks out over the water. Each morning this is where breakfast was served consisting of freshly cooked bread, tea or coffee as well as the now, ever so rare in Port Vila, the sweet sweet pompelmous (grapefruit). While lunch and dinner were usually a beautifully prepared dish of fish with local green vegetables (Island cabbage, green beans) or root vegetables (taro or manioc) served with grapefruit juice. If you are as lucky as I was to have a traveling buddy that loves to spear fish you might just be fortunate enough to be served lobster, rainbow runner steaks or as fresh as you can get, battered fish and chips. Credit really should be given to Harold and his family for consistently preparing such beautiful dishes.

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The standout of this bungalow is the en suite. With a sand beach floor and sliced tree trunk stepping ‘stones’ that lead to a flushing toilet and a shower, all of which is enclosed by a bamboo fence. Although, there are a few cracks, these will be covered soon by a newly established garden of frangipanis, bananas trees and an assortment of flowering shrubs. The bathroom is cleverly complimented by natural materials such as a clam-shell as a hand basin, bamboo railing for a towel rack, a natural sky-light over the shower as well as lush green plants growing out of the bathroom floor.

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Over the following days, my holiday was largely spent sleeping, reading, the occasional swim in the ocean or making friends with the ever so delightful and fun-loving pikinnis (children). For those more adventurous (or energised) the ocean is teeming with beautiful, diverse corals with an abundance of marine life. Depending on your preference, it is fantastic for snorkeling or spearfishing. Due to the tides and the extensive reefs, you should consider bringing booties and fins/flippers. The currents can sometimes be strong and the reef is not so nice on sensitive feet (plus wounds can easily be infected in the tropics – particularly if you forget your first aid kit).

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After a few days with my newly found friends I said my farewells and made my way to Paradise Bungalows on Rah Island.

Paradise Bungalow, Rah Island

It can either be a short walk (at low tide) or a kayak (at high tide) from the main island of Motolava. On arrival we were welcomed by Yang and his family with a beautiful instrumental song that made you feel very welcome and part of the extended family.

The food prepared by Anna was always just what I wanted. For breakfast you are served with local fresh bread, coconut jam, fried banana and pompelmoes as well as coffee and tea. Lunch and dinner included a variety of local dishes such as manioc chips, chicken curry, fried fish as well as local vegetables and laplap.

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Rah Island has only a small village but there is an endless supply of activities on offer. This extends from basket making to snorkeling, line fishing, the water dance and/or snake dance performances, a trek to the sleeping mountain or the easier and very magnificent tour to the Rock of Rah. I have always wanted to visit the rock of Rah, firstly because of the incredible view as shown in the advertising campaign by the local mobile network but also because I never really knew where it was. At first I was under the impression that it was sleeping mountain but when I heard it was a mere 15 minute walk on the Island of Rah I was intrigued as to how something so accessible could have such a great view.

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With a relatively easy walk/climb we were sitting on top of the incredible Rock of Rah with a 360 degree view of the islands of Vanua Lava, Motolava, Ureparapara. As the tour guide ‘chilled’ on a pretty much vertical rock wall he told stories of the area and the origins of the traditionally used money and even an old bank.

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On our descent back to the bungalow we were invited to eat some cooked breadfruit (tastes exactly as it sounds) by some of the local men working in the area that were clearing some of the vegetation. Then once we moved on, we were back at the bungalow and then off to drink Kava in the nearby Kava Bar.

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On Sunday we were invited to attend Church. I must admit I am not a religious person but I loved going to church. This was by far my most joyous experience while on Motolava/Rah Island. I was quite surprised to find that inside there were no chairs, no alter, no pews, no confession box, no aisle, no resemblance to a church as I have known them to be (10 years of catholic school education). Rather, in the center of the building was a ‘choir’ with a single instrument that was both a drum and guitar (?). There was singing, there was dancing and for over 40 minutes there was nothing but happiness and giving thanks to what has been provided to them and their community ‘everyday the gardens grow, every week the rivers will flow, every month the rain will fall, every year is like paradise’.

Our last night was spent at the local Kava Bar hanging out with our tour guide and spear fishing friends, relaxing under the stars in the hammock made of fishing line. I must say, though Kava will never taste nice, this Kava was not only strong by went down very smoothly. After some small kakai I retreated to my bungalow sadly for the last time.

Not making the same mistake as when I arrived, I organised with Yang (the owner of the only truck on the island) a lift to the airport. The supply ship had unfortunately still not arrived and there was only 10 litres of petrol for the truck left. With the potential of running out of fuel, each kilometer the truck drove I just thought ‘well, it’s one less kilometer I have to walk’. Fortunately, the truck made it to the airport.

This holiday to Motolava and Rah Island was a refreshing relief. It was a relief not from the chaos and devastation caused by Cyclone Pam in SHEFA and TAFEA, but rather because it was peace of mind to know not all islands have been affect in Vanuatu. It was refreshing to see Vanuatu as I have always known it to be – lush, green, thriving with flowers, fruits and vegetables. Though, this is a big part of why I love Vanuatu, I realised, it is not the only reason. Rather, what makes Vanuatu such an amazing place is the people. It’s their kindness, friendliness, resilience, adaptability and contagious laughter and smiles. Not even the cyclone has changed those key qualities of the Ni-Vanuatu people throughout the country and it is seen time and time again because Vanuatu has and always will continue to smile.

Further Information

Flights
Air Vanuatu

Accommodation

  • Sunset Bungalow, Motolava Island: 2,500 Vatu per person, per night, including meals
  • Paradise Bungalows, Rah Island: 4,000 Vatu per person, per night, including meals

Bookings though TORBA Tourism Office +678 5977429

Tours

  • Rock of Rah: 500 Vatu per person
  • Water Dance: 5,000 Vatu per person
  • Snake dance: 5,000 Vatu per person

Transport to Airport
Truck: 5,000

Vatu Also visit Positive Earth for further information but please be aware some of this information may be out of date.
If a truck is not available, a boat can transfer you to Rah Island.

Post and photos courtesy of Sarah Graham; Marine Biodiversity Project Officer with Shefa Tourism.