Photo: Karin Wassmer/Shutterstock

This Island Country Famous for Nature and Diving Is Now Nearly Impossible to Reach

News Beaches and Islands Airports + Flying
by Matador Creators May 13, 2024

Most of the islands the South Pacific are a bit difficult to reach, or at least require some lengthy flights and multiple connections from the US West Coast. But one small island famous for its scuba diving, rainforests, and untouched landscapes just got a lot harder to reach, as its national airline abruptly shut down.

Earlier this month, Vanuatu’s Air Vanuatu was completely grounded. That means it cancelled all flights throughout the country, making it difficult for people who live on the country’s 83 islands to get home. But it also left many tourists and travelers completely stranded. Some visitors reported being sold airline tickets for domestic flights throughout the country, only to arrive and find out the route hadn’t been flying for weeks. Passengers trying to leave the country spent days in hotels and airports, with many resorting to chartering private flights to get home.

On the Instagram page for Air Vanuatu, commenters covered recent posts in complaints. “Don’t trust this airline. Find another way to beautiful Vanuatu. They cancel your flights and never return your money! My flights were cancelled in April. They have repeatedly promised a refund, but here I am, still with no refund,” wrote one user. Another made it clear what the airline closure means for the country: “Avoid this airline at all costs. Which means just go to another country unfortunately!!!”

 

 

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The airline was put into “voluntary liquidation” by the government on May 9. Essentially, that means the government grounded the airline because it isn’t able to turn a profit and/or isn’t able to go forward financially (for example, by carrying too much debt). The government announced that some assets may be sold to other airlines, the entire airline could be sold, or it may partner with another airline. The company responsible for managing the liquidation process made statements suggesting it intends to get the airline in the air again in some capacity, but didn’t provide any type of timeline or schedule for doing so.

Usually, it’s not a big deal if a small airline goes out of business. While it may mean some passengers have to book new flights home, that’s usually not hard to do. But Vanuatu, like many of the smaller islands of the South Pacific, doesn’t have a lot of alternate methods of travel or alternate airlines. Air Vanuatu was the only airline that served many of the country’s smaller airports, including Santo International Airport (arrival airport for the popular Espiritu Santo area) and Tanna/Whitegrass Airport, used by many scuba divers.

How to travel to Vanuatu without Air Vanuatu



Now, travelers hoping to reach other islands of Vanuatu (pronounced vah-noo-ahh-too) will either need to wait until air service resumes again, or use the country’s inter-island ferry system. However, it only reaches a few main destinations. And you’ll need to have a lot of flexibility in your schedule, as most ferry tickets can only be purchased at various wharfs and piers. Options include the “Big Sista” ferry, Vanuatu Ferries, or Silent World Shipping (a cargo ship that also carries passengers). You may also be able to book charters with local private airlines Unity Airlines or Air Taxi Vanuatu.

Regardless of whether you take a ferry or local charter, you’ll need to be very flexible on scheduling, as weather and strong waves can significantly delay or cancel planned trips. And with Air Vanuatu grounded, there’s likely to be a lot of demand between visitors and locals for the remaining seats.

Fortunately, though Air Vanuatu isn’t flying, there are still other airlines that can get you to the main airport in Port Vila — but the options are now fairly limited. Solomon Airlines operates one flight per week from Honiara, Soloman Islands; and Aircali flies three times per week from Noumea, New Caledonia. Fiji Airways has four flights per week from Nadi. But the biggest airline now serving Vanuatu is Virgin Australia, which offers a few direct flights per week from Brisbane only.

If you have a trip planned, it’s best to contact your hotel and see what it can arrange. If you don’t have a trip planned, it may be best to wait until Air Vanuatu resolves its issues.

Why go to Vanuatu

air vanuatu cancelled - kayakers on a blue hole

Photo: Defrancais Istvan/Shutterstock

A large percentage of Vanuatu’s economy depends on tourism, and pre-COVID-19, it was seeing close to 300,000 visitors per year. Despite the current hassle of getting to Vanuatu, it’s worth keeping on your travel radar. Here’s why.

  • Scuba diving: Vanuatu’s underwater realm is one of the most appealing in the world to divers. Novice divers can explore the calm waters of Hideaway Island Marine Reserve, while experienced enthusiasts will have plenty of options for wrecks of World War II ships, encrusted with marine life. It’s also one of the best place to see endangered dugongs in the wild. There’s even an underwater post office.
  • Nature and outdoor adventure: Vanuatu’s interiors have lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and hidden swimming holes. Options for outdoor activities include trek through dense foliage, exotic birding, trips to swim in hidden waterfalls, or kayaking tours through lagoons.
  • Blue holes and beaches: Vanuatu’s tropical landscapes are somewhat unique in that they’re filled with blue holes. And and many people visit the island to swim, paddle, and play in the freshwater reservoirs. Not surprisingly, Vanuatu also has stunning beaches mostly free from over-tourism, including black sand beaches near the foot of the country’s several volcanoes.

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