Culturally diverse, Vanuatu means “Land Eternal”. 80% of its warm and friendly people still live in small villages, headed by the local chief. Because of this, more than 115 different cultures and languages still thrive throughout the 83 island chain. As well as its rich cultural heritage, Vanuatu boasts some unique visitor attractions: Travel to the island of Tanna and walk to the rim of Yasur, a live volcano. Home also, since 1940, to the John Frum cargo cult; a belief system that literally sprung from the arrival of American troops -hence “John Frum” -John from America. Espiritu Santo (the largest of the islands) is rich with World War 2 relics and related dive sites. The SS President Coolidge (sunk by mines in 1942) is accessible from the beach, therefore suitable for beginner divers. Santo is also where James Mitchener lived as he penned South Pacific. Efate is Vanuatu’s main island, with the capital of Port Vila. A strong French influence is reflected here. As well as wonderful seafood, fresh fruits and the excellent local beef, you could get adventurous and try some of the local dishes –such as fruit bat or wood pigeon. Because they are endangered, I resisted the coconut crab –though I was sorely tempted after almost losing a finger to one. A visit to the Secret Garden reveals a truly wonderful outside museum –complete with pictures and stories of cannibalism, warfare and Melanesian fables –we loved that place, but were thankful for the insect repellant we were liberally doused in when we arrived! Several hours in and we hadn’t absorbed it all –macabre fascination made us linger in the cannibal section with its grainy photographs and graphic descriptors –last reported act was in the 1920s –although some claim the practice still continues in the remote outer islands. There is a feeling of time forgotten about Vanuatu –a strange blending of modern day for the benefit of the tourists and a way of life that hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years. Kiwis are used to having liberal access to beaches in New Zealand. However, in Vanuatu, the beaches and their adjoining sea are Kastom owned –traditionally owned by the local tribe. A small fee is paid for the right to access beautiful natural swimming pools and coral strewn beaches and the money is put to good use by the local community. Indeed, a drive around the main island -I should say an anti-clockwise drive as the state of the roads disallows driving the other way –reveals that the villages near beaches and jungle attractions such as WW2 relics –look far more prosperous than others. So a word of warning –apart from being courteous –go very s-l-o-w-l-y through villages. If you run over a scraggy looking chicken it will suddenly and magically morph into being the Chief’s favourite –the car rental company will end up negotiating a settlement and VOILA –that scraggy looking chicken will account for an extra $50 fee on your credit card!