A flick through my passports old and new revealed I had taken no less than 13 trips to Vanuatu over the past two decades – and I’m happy to report I had a ball on each and every one of them!
There are so many reasons to visit Vanuatu it’s hard to know where to start, but I would have to rate the fishing right near the top. Fish – and big ones at that – in sapphire blue waters littered with reefs and sea mounts make Vanuatu an irresistible lure for anglers of all tastes and ages. The laid-back lifestyle in this South Pacific paradise is another attraction and there are many, many more. For most, it’s a major challenge just to strike a balance between relaxation and reel action. Which is why I keep going back – practice makes perfect!
Sitting in the departure lounge at Sydney International Airport I was about to embark on my 14th visit, but this one was looking like it would be a different ball game as I would be based on the shores of one of the most spectacular stretches of water imaginable. Better still, the three-hour flight would put me on the ground with plenty of daylight remaining for a spot of fishing on my first day. Talk about hitting the ground running …
Sydney-based Ocean Blue Fishing Adventures needs no introduction to regular readers of fishing publications in this country. Anthony Pisano, who has been at the helm of Ocean Blue since its inception, has now established an arm of his business on the shores of Port Havannah.
This picturesque spot is just 35 minutes’ drive on a newly sealed road from Port Vila airport and resort staff are at your service from the time you come through the gates till you reluctantly head home.
This place is steeped in history and appears as a huge lagoon protected on one side by the hills of the island of Efate and even higher hills opposite, which are divided by tracts of water giving direct and fast access to the ocean. At each end the waters are shallow; those to the east are navigable only by small boats at high tide, while those at the western end offer a bit more depth.
The waters encapsulated by the surrounding jungle-clad hills are deep; I have seen 150m register on the depth sounder at times. That, and the protection offered by the surrounding hills, saw large US warships anchor here during World War II, as they sought refuge from enemy aerial bombardment.
Anti-submarine nets were stretched across the shallow entrances to thwart the subversive activities of Japanese submariners and batteries of guns on the hills protected soldiers and ships from possible air strikes. The decaying remnants of the nets lying on the ocean floor are still visible through the gin-clear waters.
With not a lot to do most of the time, sailors used their stay at Port Havannah to improve on their shooting skills, floating bottles of Coca-Cola being their primary targets of choice, evidenced by the litter on the harbour floor and beaches. Bits of weather-rounded glass mingle with shards of broken coral on the shores and if they’re lucky visitors might even stumble across the odd brass rifle cartridge.
Anthony’s beachside retreat at Rana Beach is aptly named Trees & Fishes, and I can certainly vouch for the fact there are plenty of both.
A decade or so ago I regularly stayed in the rustic log cabin set back in the jungle, which all but overgrew the track into the property. A Bali-style dining hut at the water’s edge set the casual scene for meals back then.
So it was with surprise that we were greeted not with a dense matt of jungle, but a facade crafted with stone and bamboo, with white coral pathways leading down to the water’s edge.
The rustic timber cabin had been extended and renovated since my last visit and a bathroom was now attached to the rear of each room. Spacious rooms now host king-sized beds and large verandas overlook the tranquil waters of Rana Beach.
A new bungalow has also been constructed back up on the hill face, while the chef-style kitchen had also come in for extensive renovations.
Alterations to the beach front included a stone and coral retaining wall decorated with the aforementioned glass remnants and a pontoon dock, onto which Azzurra, Ocean Blue’s 32ft Edgewater-built boat is moored. And I have to say the latter is the game changer for Ocean Blue Fishing Adventures as far as I’m concerned.
Port Havannah’s close proximity to a variety of fishing disciplines makes it a handy base, enhanced by the fast transit offered by this new addition to the fleet. Powered by a pair of 250hp Yamaha four-strokes, Azzurra makes short work of the travel to and from the fishing grounds, wherever they might be.
But if you wished to simply fish the becalmed waters around Rana Beach, the fish are mere minutes away. The seamount chain meandering throughout the depths between the islands makes a proverbial piscatorial highway for the biggest of pelagics, including billfish.
With so many fishing grounds between 10 minutes and two hours of boat travel away, there is never a need to fish the same patch twice; auguring well for those looking for quality, quantity and variety in their angling pursuits.
While the prospect of catching world-class blue and black marlin is still foremost on the minds of many of the fishers who visit the waters around Vanuatu’s 80-odd islands, the relatively recent trends of bluewater jigging and popping have seen big dog tooth tuna, wahoo and most of the main reef species rise to prominence.
Places like Cook Reef, Monument Rock and Scott’s Rock have been major attractions for anglers, but with up to a three-hour run each way from the capital, Port Vila, time has been a big concern. Port Havannah has made these more remote locations far more attactive.
But as Ocean Blue Fishing Adventures recognises, not everyone is into hardcore fishing and for those visitors there is no end of snorkelling and diving to be had right on Trees & Fishes’ doorstep – literally! And for those wanting to kick back and simply relax, a massage room is under construction as I write.
A day off the water may also involve sampling local cuisine in the many restaurants of Port Vila and there are a host of other activities to be enjoyed. Parasailing, shopping, circumnavigating the island by vehicle or experiencing the local culture are but a few.
Many anglers find it easier to justify a trip when accompanied by their family and friends.
Realising this, Anthony and his wife Angele, who has extensive experience in the hospitality industry in Sydney’s premier restaurants, have built Trees & Fishes around the overall South Pacific experience.
Cuisine is five star, as is the hospitality. Angele’s French heritage ensures that variety is the spice of life when it comes to the dining table; the food is nothing short of spectacular!
And the fishing? Well there’s plenty of that and a run to a few hot spots on this trip proved that yet again.
A day spent at Monument Rock, another at Scott’s Rock and a third at Cook’s Reef depleted the lead jig supply to the point that the excess baggage charged for the trip over was not going to be an issue going home. Big surface poppers performed well also, with some torn apart by ravaging dog tooth tuna.
The best dog tooth for the trip went around 35kg and an array of coral trout also pounced on jigs and poppers. And then there were the arm-stretching GTs. Popping in the South Pacific just wouldn’t be the same without Caranx Ignoblis (giant trevally); one of the most brutal fish to find yourself attached to when sport fishing.
Exhausted from hurling 30cm wooden poppers to distant targets and getting belted around by wahoo, mahi mahi, huge groper and cod? Then you might want to try deep-water jigging. Up to half a kilo of colourful lead artificial jigs with the most lethal of hooks plummeting to the bottom through the purple depths is sure to attract more Vanuatu brutes. Nothing hooked up on the way down? The short, sharp jabbing action of the rod on the retrieve often comes to a dead stop as some of the afore-mentioned species nail the jig, making a line-burning dash for a submerged bommie.
There is always some type of fishing available year-round in this tropical hot spot. Jigging and game fishing may be undertaken 12 months of the year, while the best time for prime popper casting is between November and May. And if you hanker for a big blue marlin, the best time is usually between April and November.
Vanuatu has lots of everything for those who dream of a South Pacific destination; big fish and lots of them is just a small part of the picture.
Fishing around mountainous islands such as Nguna, Moso and Matasso offers the bonus of spectacular scenery and then there is also Hat Island, where the author landed a world record dog tooth tuna on a fly rod back in 1999. That record of 17.5kg on 10kg tippet held for two years and if I have my way I’ll be improving on that effort some time in the future.
As they say, rather than dream, why not have the memory?
Currently, four days’ fishing and five nights’ accommodation along with a meal package is priced at $2760 per person based on five anglers.
For more information: Ocean Blue Fishing Adventures
Website: www.oceanbluefishing.com or www.treesandfishes.com.