We really weren’t sure what to expect as we had read and been told many different things about this little island at the Southern end of Vanuatu. In spite of all the things we had heard we were very pleasantly surprised!
Mystery Island is a tender port, so the ship comes to a stop quite close to the island and it is then about a 10-15 minute tender boat ride to the small jetty on the island. We arrived a little bit early at 8am so some early bird tenders were run before the shore excursions began. I’d definitely suggest if possible, do a shore excursion first thing in the morning so you are guaranteed off the ship early in the morning and have the most time possible on the island.
There are not a lot of shore excursions though so make sure you get in early. As for us, we were only really interested in doing the Modern Village Tour (Royal Caribbean excursion code J803) on the neighbouring island. We were only able to get a ticket in the afternoon at 1pm unfortunately, even though we booked before boarding the ship. It turned out some more times were opened for booking after boarding the ship so it would have been possible to get an earlier time if we realised.
So since our excursion was so late we queued up for a tender ticket and got off the ship at about 10:30am. Our first impression as we arrived at the jetty was one of beauty. Crystal clear blue water, palm trees and coral beaches.
Now we had heard it suggested that we should take folding chairs as ther aren’t many places to sit. This is true, however we found we didn’t need somewhere to sit. We crossed the island to the opposite side, to a place we had been told was the best snorkelling and was not as busy as other places. I would say yes it is slightly less busy, but with 3000+ people on such a small island it is pretty busy everywhere.
We hopped straight in the water and almost as soon as we put our heads under water we could see beautiful fish. We snorkelled out a little further and found quite a bit of coral and a lot of fish in all shapes and sizes with sea cucumbers everywhere. Even better, the water is quite shallow so it is a very easy snorkelling location. You have to go out a very long way to find deep water but it really isn’t necessary. This means you don’t need to dive, you can just float on the surface and enjoy the amazing fish and coral. Do be careful though of cutting your hands or knees as there are sharp rocks and coral.
It rained while we were in the water but it didn’t impede us the first time. The second time it rained was quite heavy though so we went back to the beach and made our way to the market which is covered with thatched roofs. The rain didn’t last long but it gave us the opportunity to browse the market. You can get all sorts of souvenirs from clothes to magnets to pins to carvings as well as try a fresh coconut and other local foods or get your hair braided. Most stall holders had signs up indicating they took local currency, AUD, USD and NZD. Many even listed the prices on their items in some or all of those currencies. From what I could see the standard currency though was AUD, so if you have that you will be fine.
Once the rain stopped we checked out the beach on the other side of the island, near the jetty because it was close to where we had to meet for our shore excursion. There are rocky spots and a lot of broken coral but the beach itself is nicer here. We did a little bit of snorkelling but there was not much to see compared to the other side of the island so we just swam for a little bit.
The meeting point for shore excursions is just off to one side of the jetty where we met for our Modern Village Tour. From here we were taken to the beach and boarded a small ferry that took us across to the neighbouring island of Aneityum for our tour. Now you need to be able to manage walking across soft sand and about 4 steps to get on or off the ferry, so it is worth keeping in mind if you have any mobility concerns.
The tour began almost as soon as we disembarked from the ferry with our guide meeting us by the beach. After pointing out some of the sights to us our lovely local guide took us up to the village where we were greeted by a warrior who had to ensure we were there as friends and not foe. We were given leaves to put over our ears that signified our peaceful intent and were told about the importance of leaves in communication for the locals.
Next we were shown some of the local huts, their purposes, and how they have been adapted over time to incorporate both traditional and modern methods and technologies. This included seeing and feeling of examples of traditional weaving and children’s swaddling clothes before being taken to a meal hut. Here we were taught about some of the local foods, cooking methods, and got to sample a local dish of casava, cooked in coconut milk and banana leaves inside bamboo.
Then we moved to another part of the village where we were shown traditional weapons and adornments as well as how they were used and what their significance was. This was presented by an older lady from the village and her son who was the warrior that greeted us. She did most of the talking while he demonstrated. We also had some photo opportunities with the warrior here.
Next up we were guided to the final hut where we were taught about traditional herbal medicines and how they were used. All through the tour we were allowed to ask questions and our guide freely answered them, then we had more opportunity for questions here before making our way back to the ferry to Mystery Island.
We found the tour very interesting and really enjoyed it. I would definitely recommend it but it probably isn’t for everyone. If your interested in local cultures and ways of living though then This one is for you.
We got back to Mystery Island and had about an hour and a half before the last tender back to the ship so we did some souvenir shopping and got a Vanuatu magnet to add to our fridge. We also got a fresh coconut before heading back to the ship.
Now on the topic of coconuts. The first few places that you see with them on the island were selling them for $5 AUD each. In the markets you can get them for $3 AUD each. We got ours at the end of the day for $1 AUD. So if you can hold off until later in the day you can get a better deal.
Finally the ship departed at about 5pm and we were on the way to our next destination: Fiji.?