Vanuatu: Ride the wild side

By Shandelle Battersby

Shandelle Battersby gets down and dirty on Vanuatu's main island and has a fabulous time.

Exploring Vanuatu's back roads and beaches by buggy is a great way to see the sights - but not if you're a timid driver. Photo / Getty Images
Exploring Vanuatu's back roads and beaches by buggy is a great way to see the sights - but not if you're a timid driver. Photo / Getty Images

I was concentrating so hard on avoiding the scores of potholes that line some of Vanuatu's back roads that it took me a few minutes to realise I had acquired a couple of cheeky hitchhikers.

I could hear chattering voices but thought they were coming from behind the lush tropical rainforest on either side of me, but when I quickly turned my head for a look, there was no one in sight. It was very puzzling.

It wasn't until I slowed down to negotiate a huge muddy puddle that I looked behind me to see two pairs of skinny brown legs belonging to a couple of young boys who had leapt on the back of my 4WD buggy, something our guide Jean-Pierre had said might happen during our Buggy, Beach, Pizza and Jetski tour, the latest offering from Off Road Adventures.

I put on the anchors and asked the boys to get off, which they happily did, running off giggling back to the village they'd come from.

If you hire a 4WD buggy, you may just find a cheeky hitchhiker on the back of it at some stage. Photo / 123RF
If you hire a 4WD buggy, you may just find a cheeky hitchhiker on the back of it at some stage. Photo / 123RF

I'd been picked up at 8.30am in Port Vila after a quick ferry ride from Iririki, the beautiful island resort in the middle of the harbour that reopened in May after extensive renovations following last year's devastating Cyclone Pam.

The cheerful, waving locals are one of the highlights of blatting around Vanuatu's main island on the buggy tour, which takes in main and unsealed roads, as well as a hoon down the beach at Black Sand Bay and some fairly hairy tracks.

There's also a quick pitstop at one of the villages giving tourists a chance to share food and stories with the residents, give a few high-fives to the kids, and gain an appreciation of what life is like in this part of the world.

Roaring around in the easy-to-drive automatic buggies is enormous fun, especially if there has been a bit of rain and the puddles are large and dirty - it seems there's nothing these tough little vehicles can't handle.

You wear a helmet, each buggy has a roll cage and secure racing seatbelts, and shorter people get an extra seat pad so they can comfortably reach the pedals.

Jean-Pierre and fellow-guide Roger ride in front and behind the convoy and communicate with hand gestures, so the only thing you really have to worry about is driving on the other side of the road (in Vanuatu you keep right) and the odd excited dog - and cheeky kid - rushing out at you from the side of the road.

The steering is tough - and if you hit a pothole at the wrong angle the wheel can be bounced out of your grip, so this is not the tour for a timid driver.

After the blat on the sand we headed to the northwestern part of Efate, to Mele Bay's very cool Beach Bar, which has views of pretty Hideaway Island Resort - home of the underwater post office.

Lunch at the Beach Bar is included, with a choice of tasty woodfired pizza, burgers or salad, before it's time to swap muddy shorts and T-shirts for swimming togs and a lifejacket and take off on a thrilling ride of a different sort.

Joe's Jetski Hire offers a variety of different tours, but if you're after a taste of what it's like to ride a powerful jetski, this is the perfect introduction.

The machines are surprisingly speedy - you can accelerate up to 75km/h in the blink of an eye. I learned quickly that 30km/h was fast enough for me and spent my five minutes zooming around the bay in circles, enjoying the sensation of skidding across the lagoon at my own pace.

Jumping back into the buggies for the jolting journey back to base at Port Vila felt tame by comparison.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air Vanuatu flies three times weekly from Auckland, departing Auckland on Wednesdays, Thurdays and Saturdays.

Details: The Buggy, Beach, Pizza and Jetski tour with Off Road Adventures takes about four hours and costs about $150. It includes transport, lunch and five minutes on a jetski. Prepare to get wet and dirty.

Further information: See vanuatutravel.info.

- NZ Herald

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