Heading south from Turtle Bay, there are two large offshore islands (Mavea and Aesi), which are only accessible by kayak or hire boat (and only in good weather). Although people live permanently on both islands, there’s no tourist accommodation available there. Some beautiful white sand beaches and awesome coral can be found on the the NW points of both islands. All Vanuatu Islands have extensive fringing reef.
Directly opposite the town of Luganville, is Aore Island. There’s a free ferry that leaves daily from Phillips Wharf, it takes about 15 mins to cross the channel to Aore Island Resort. From here you can snorkel, dive, fish, explore the island’s beaches and coconut plantations via pushbike or simply relax and chill out at the resort restaurant.
On the south side of Aore island is the beautiful Ratua Private Island Resort, a 100% non profit resort recently voted as one of the top 5 private island resorts in the south Pacific. It resembles a rustic Indonesian fishing village partly because all the buildings (many 200 years old) were brought over in pieces from Indonesia and carefully reassembled by a team of Balinese craftsmen. The resort is not cheap to stay at but we highly recommend it as a splurge and a wonderful island holiday option (it does not cater to day trippers). It’s about a 30 min boat ride from Luganville.
Bokissa Private Island Resort on Bokissa Island (just to the west of Aore) is another upmarket resort located on a stunning beach with fantastic snorkelling and reef directly out front. The resort is very laid back, the Ni-Van staff are wonderful and relaxed and the food and the pool are awesome! It is one our favourite island destinations in Vanuatu. It’s about a 30 minute boat ride from Luganville however they do not currently cater to day visitors. So you will need to book in for the night to enjoy it!
If you want the island experience without the resorts, then Tutuba Island (just off Bokissa) is the go. It can be accessed in good weather by chartering a boat from the locals at Million Dollar Point (there are footpaths around the southern end of the island, golden sand beaches on the west coast and some amazing snorkelling). Many Vanuatu Islands are privately owned so always check first before visiting.
Malo Island sits just to the south of Aore Island and is huge in comparison (17km long x 13km wide). It’s a bit more of an adventure to get to but well worth the effort. You need to either hire a car or catch public transport from Luganville to Malo Landing (about 25 mins south on a bumpy dirt road). From there you can hire your own boat and guide for around $30 return or jump on board a water taxi with the locals for under $5 (we suggest you only attempt this in good weather as the boats are small, often overcrowded and have open cockpits). It takes about 20 minutes to cross the channel.
Once there, you can chill out at Pantanas Guest House (run by the beautiful Vomalehi), snorkel on the reef, eat lunch, explore the old missionary village of Avunatari nearby, catch a transport to explore a nearby cave or blue hole, visit the tiny village of Small Nauku where there is a little beachside restaurant and then return to the mainland from the wharf there.