Malekula & Ambrym Islands
Just south of Espirtu Santo, the largest island in the nation of Vanuatu, lies the second largest island in the archipelago, Malekula. It is hard to believe, but this small island, measuring only approximately 100 km from north to south, is home to over 30,000 inhabitants who speak 30 different languages.
Malekula has a dark past and a history of cannibalism, but today it is known for its cultural and linguistic diversity. The native villagers are friendly and welcome visitors who are interested in their cultural heritage. Native dances, some of the best in the nation, come from Malekula.
The interior of Malekula is quite rugged, with mountains reaching to over 800 meters. Deep forests are home to many species of birds, so hiking and bird watching are favorite ecologically friendly activities. The interior of the island is home to the Small Nambas, a tiny population of natives who cling to native dress and customs. Along the coast, where coconut groves thrive, live the Big Nambas. This much larger group of people has adopted western dress and is more culturally diverse.
Aside from hiking and bird watching, snorkeling and diving are two favorite activities. The islands off the east coast of Malekula boast beautiful coral reefs that are perfect for exploring.
Ambryn Island, directly east of Malekula, is known as the island of magic and volcanoes. Its two active volcanic cones give the island a reputation of both power and danger. The people of Ambryn, however, are exceedingly friendly and enjoy teaching visitors about their culture.
Covering less than 700 square kilometers, Ambryn is home to at least five different cultural groups, each with their own language. The people live in communities along the coasts since the interior of the island is very rugged. Treks up to the volcanoes are available for tourists eager to experience the power of the island for themselves. Along with volcano tours, visitors should be sure to see demonstrations of the spiritual Rom Dance and the exquisite traditional wood carvings.
It is easy to arrange for a flight to Malekula and Ambryn. There are two airstrips on Malekula, and Air Vanuatu flights regularly use the island as a stopover. Check the Air Vanuatu website for detailed information about timetables and connections. No hotels or resorts are on the islands, but there are many guest houses available. The main town on Malekula, Lakatoro, has electricity 24 hours a day, but it does not have ATM’s or credit card facilities.