After Maewo, we made a pitstop at Ambae, spending two nights in Lolowai, an anchorage on the island’s northern edge. We were hoping to hike to the volcanic lakes on the island, but were disappointed to find it would require a very expensive ride to the village at the start of the hike and an overnight stay in that village the night before. So, we cheered ourselves with long paddle board cruises around Lolowai and the adjacent bay, and continued on to Santo.
Santo is the largest island in Vanuatu, and houses Luganville, the second largest city in the country, on its southern edge. Our friends on Ambler gave us a tip about a great anchorage in the southwestern corner of the island that is more protected than the anchorage in Luganville and an easy taxi ride from town.
Palikulo Bay turned out to be an excellent spot to hang out as we got ready for our passage to Australia. There were no winds in the forecast for a week, so we took our time provisioning, doing chores, and exploring the shipwrecks in the bay. The bay was sandy, so the underwater visibility wasn’t ideal, but the bommies in Palikulo were the healthiest coral formations we’ve seen in Vanuatu. As summer approached the days were getting long and hot, so I spent three long afternoons swimming in the water and enjoying some of our last days of easy snorkeling off the transom.
From there we cruised inside the reef up to Oyster Bay. The main attraction was the Blue Hole, a swimming hole three kilometers up the river from the anchorage. Cruising the river was gorgeous, we explored by dinghy and by paddle board (which was awesome because paddling is silent and all the birds come out to play).
The best part about the Blue Hole though was the enormous banyan tree from which hangs a killer rope swing. Dominic and I took turns climbing up the ladder and launching ourselves off the rope swing, soaring 100 feet over the Blue Hole, and dropping 20 feet into the fresh water. It was thrilling and insanely fun. Dominic had excellent technique and had clearly been practicing his Tarzan calls. My experience, on the other hand, was more along the lines of shrieking and holding on for dear life, resulting in some very sore shoulders the next day.
I was expecting our time in Santo to be all work and no play, but it turned out to be one of the more calm, carefree stops of our time in Vanuatu. Another highlight about the northern island in Vanuatu is that the people we met, since Malekula, really, have been very outgoing and friendly. We gave a local and his cousin visiting from New Caledonia (you can see him in the red kayak in the photo) a tow up the river, and he confirmed that the people in Vanuatu’s northern islands are known to be much more friendly than the people in the southern islands.
We enjoyed a few nice meals in the restaurant at the Oyster Bay resort and then cruised down to Luganville proper to prepare for our passage in earnest. Two days of refueling, buying groceries, prepping food, and cleaning the boat later, we were underway for our last passage of the season.