The 8 Best Historic Sites in Vanuatu for Learning about the Past

Vanuatu, an archipelago in the South Pacific, is a country rich in history and culture. Its unique blend of indigenous traditions and colonial influences has shaped the nation into what it is today. For history enthusiasts and travelers seeking to delve into the past, Vanuatu offers a plethora of fascinating historic sites. From ancient archaeological wonders to reminders of colonial rule, these sites provide a window into the country’s vibrant history. Let’s explore some of the best historic sites in Vanuatu for learning about the past.


chief roi mata's domainChief Roi Mata’s Domain: 

Located on the island of Efate, Chief Roi Mata’s Domain is a UNESCO World Heritage site that offers an incredible insight into the ancient history of Vanuatu. This site consists of three locations, including the chief’s burial site, his home, and the site where his retainers were buried. Chief Roi Mata was a paramount chief who ruled over parts of Efate and neighboring islands in the 16th century. His domain provides a unique opportunity to learn about the social and political structures of ancient Vanuatu.

At the burial site, visitors can see the remains of the chief’s tomb, which is adorned with beautifully crafted stones. The burial rituals and traditions surrounding Chief Roi Mata’s death provide valuable insights into the beliefs and practices of the time. The chief’s home, a large ceremonial structure, offers a glimpse into the daily life of a powerful leader. It is a testament to the architectural prowess of the ancient Vanuatu people.

The site where Chief Roi Mata’s retainers were buried is equally fascinating. Here, visitors can explore a complex network of underground tombs known as Nasara. These tombs were created to house the retainers who were buried alive to accompany the chief in the afterlife. The Nasara tombs are an eerie yet awe-inspiring testament to the religious and cultural practices of the time. (historic sites in Vanuatu)

Port Vila: 

The capital city of Vanuatu, Port Vila, has a rich colonial history that can be seen in its architecture and landmarks. Stroll along the waterfront and marvel at the colorful colonial-era buildings that line the streets. Many of these structures date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when Vanuatu was under joint British and French colonial administration.

One of the most iconic colonial buildings in Port Vila is the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, housed in the former British Residency. The Cultural Centre is dedicated to preserving and promoting the indigenous cultures of Vanuatu, making it an excellent place to learn about the traditional customs and practices that are still alive today.

Another significant colonial landmark is the French Quarter, where French colonial influence is evident in the architecture and the local Creole language spoken by some residents. Take a walk through this historic neighborhood, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to an era when European powers vied for control over the islands of the South Pacific.

To gain a deeper understanding of Vanuatu’s colonial history, a visit to the Port Vila Museum is a must. Housed in an old French colonial building, the museum showcases a diverse collection of artifacts and exhibits related to both the indigenous cultures and the colonial period. From traditional tools and weapons to photographs and documents from the colonial era, the museum provides a comprehensive overview of Vanuatu’s past. (historic sites in Vanuatu)

The Mele Cascades: 

While not traditionally categorized as a historic site, the Mele Cascades offer a unique opportunity to learn about the geological history of Vanuatu. These stunning waterfalls, located just outside Port Vila, have carved their way through ancient lava flows, showcasing the region’s volcanic origins.

As you hike through the lush tropical rainforest to reach the cascades, knowledgeable guides will share fascinating insights into the geological forces that shaped the landscape. They will explain how volcanic activity millions of years ago created the rugged terrain and fertile soil that supports the diverse flora and fauna found in Vanuatu today.

Once you reach the cascades, take a refreshing swim in the natural pools and marvel at the power of nature. The cool, crystal-clear water cascades down from above, invigorating your senses and offering a moment of tranquility. It’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on the ancient geological processes that have shaped Vanuatu’s natural environment. (historic sites in Vanuatu)

potteryLapita Pottery Village: 

For a glimpse into the country’s prehistoric past, visit the Lapita Pottery Village on the island of Efate. The Lapita people were the earliest known inhabitants of Vanuatu, and their pottery provides valuable insights into their culture and way of life.

The village showcases reconstructed Lapita huts and displays of ancient pottery, allowing visitors to learn about the techniques and designs of this ancient civilization. The Lapita pottery is characterized by intricate geometric patterns and motifs, which are believed to have had symbolic and cultural significance.

Lapita pottery fragments have been found across the Pacific, indicating a vast maritime network of trade and exchange. The Lapita people were skilled navigators and seafarers, and their pottery serves as a testament to their advanced knowledge of ceramics and their connection to other ancient cultures in the region.

Exploring the Lapita Pottery Village provides a tangible connection to Vanuatu’s distant past. You can observe demonstrations of traditional pottery making techniques and even try your hand at creating your own Lapita-inspired design. It’s a hands-on and immersive experience that brings the ancient history of Vanuatu to life. (historic sites in Vanuatu)

Million Dollar Point: 

Located near Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo, Million Dollar Point is a stark reminder of World War II’s impact on Vanuatu. After the war, the American military dumped large quantities of equipment, including trucks, bulldozers, and machinery, into the ocean rather than sell or donate it. Today, this underwater graveyard serves as a poignant memorial and a testament to the island’s wartime history.

The name “Million Dollar Point” comes from the estimated value of the equipment that was dumped into the sea. As you snorkel or dive around the site, you can witness the eerie spectacle of abandoned military vehicles and machinery lying on the ocean floor. The rusted remnants of this equipment are a tangible reminder of the intense military activity that took place in Vanuatu during World War II.

Exploring Million Dollar Point provides an opportunity to learn about the strategic importance of Vanuatu during the war. The island served as a major military base for Allied forces, and remnants of their presence can still be found throughout the region. Alongside Million Dollar Point, other World War II sites such as the USS President Coolidge wreck and the SS President Coolidge, a luxury liner converted into a troopship, offer further insight into the island’s wartime history. (historic sites in Vanuatu)

Custom Village: 

To gain an understanding of Vanuatu’s living history, a visit to a custom village is essential. These traditional villages, found on many of the islands, offer a unique opportunity to experience the local customs, rituals, and way of life. Custom villages are typically governed by a chief and adhere to traditional laws and practices passed down through generations.

Upon entering a custom village, you’ll be greeted with warm smiles and traditional ceremonies. You can learn about traditional farming techniques, witness captivating dances and ceremonies, and interact with the friendly locals. The villagers are often eager to share their knowledge and cultural heritage, providing a genuine and immersive experience.

In custom villages, you can gain a deeper appreciation for Vanuatu’s cultural heritage and the importance of community in traditional island life. You’ll learn about the significance of kastom (custom) in maintaining social cohesion and preserving the cultural identity of the people. (historic sites in Vanuatu)

Champagne Beach: 

While not a historic site in the traditional sense, Champagne Beach on Espiritu Santo is renowned for its significance during World War II. This pristine beach was used as a rest and recreation area for American troops during the war. The name “Champagne Beach” comes from the effervescent bubbles that rise from the coral reefs, creating a spectacle akin to a glass of champagne.

As you relax on the white sand and soak in the crystal-clear waters, take a moment to reflect on the past. The beach’s historical significance offers an opportunity to ponder the experiences of the soldiers who sought respite and solace in this idyllic setting during a time of conflict.

Champagne Beach serves as a reminder of the juxtaposition of beauty and turmoil that can be found in the world. It allows us to appreciate the resilience of the human spirit and the healing power of nature.

Hat Island: 

Off the coast of Malekula Island lies Hat Island, home to ancient rock art and petroglyphs. These enigmatic carvings are believed to have been created by the indigenous people of Vanuatu thousands of years ago. The rock art on Hat Island offers a unique opportunity to delve into the spirituality and artistic expression of Vanuatu’s earliest inhabitants.

Exploring Hat Island requires a boat ride and a short hike through lush vegetation, but the reward is well worth the effort. As you approach the rock art sites, you’ll be greeted by an array of carvings depicting various symbols, animals, and human figures. The precise meaning of these carvings remains a mystery, but they are believed to have had spiritual and ceremonial significance to the ancient Vanuatu people.

The rock art on Hat Island provides a tangible connection to the country’s ancient past. It offers a glimpse into the artistic skills, spiritual beliefs, and cultural practices of Vanuatu’s earliest inhabitants. The carvings are a testament to the enduring legacy of the indigenous people and their deep connection to the land.

In conclusion, Vanuatu is a treasure trove of historical sites that offer unique insights into the country’s past. From ancient archaeological wonders to reminders of colonial rule and World War II, each site provides a different perspective on Vanuatu’s rich history. By exploring these sites and engaging with the local communities, travelers can gain a deeper appreciation for the vibrant culture and traditions that have shaped this beautiful nation in the South Pacific. Book Far and Away Adventure’s latest packages and visit the best historic sites in Vanuatu!

Our Top FAQ's

Vanuatu offers a range of historic sites, including Chief Roi Mata’s Domain, Port Vila, The Mele Cascades, Lapita Pottery Village, Million Dollar Point, Custom Villages, Champagne Beach, and Hat Island.

Chief Roi Mata’s Domain is located on the island of Efate in Vanuatu.

Port Vila, the capital city of Vanuatu, showcases colorful colonial-era buildings, the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, and the Port Vila Museum, which offers exhibits on indigenous cultures and the colonial period.

The Mele Cascades near Port Vila showcase stunning waterfalls that have carved through ancient lava flows, providing insight into Vanuatu’s volcanic origins.

The Lapita Pottery Village on Efate Island allows visitors to explore reconstructed Lapita huts and ancient pottery, offering insights into the culture and craftsmanship of Vanuatu’s earliest inhabitants.

Million Dollar Point, near Luganville on Espiritu Santo, serves as a memorial to World War II, where American military equipment was dumped into the ocean, reflecting the island’s wartime history.

Yes, visiting custom villages in Vanuatu provides an opportunity to witness traditional farming techniques, cultural dances, and ceremonies, while interacting with the local communities.

Hat Island, located off the coast of Malekula Island, is known for its ancient rock art and petroglyphs, offering a glimpse into the spiritual and artistic expression of Vanuatu’s earliest inhabitants.

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