0In 2009 the four of us set off on our first overseas journey as a family, a cruise to a few islands in the Pacific. It was a lot of fun and a great family experience. Who would have thought that on our final port of call, Port Vila, our lives would change forever. It was the start of something very wonderful.
The cruise docked in at the harbour and we had decided not to do any of the offered tours, instead choosing to hire a taxi and explore this beautiful island on our own. It was truly spectacular, nothing like we could have ever imagined. A mishap with our taxi driver is where our life changing experience began. He had double booked us and left us in the middle of town while he went for his next fare. Not knowing how long this little stop would be, we took the opportunity to explore the area ourselves. It was then that we met our first group of “locals”, a small group of Ni-Vanuatu children. They were gorgeous and my sister, Georgia and I were in love with them. We could not understand a word the children were saying as they spoke no english, only french. This certainly did not stop us. Many games were played, many laughs were had and many cuddles were given. Unfortunately the time came when we had to leave. Goodbyes were said and on our way we went back to the ship. We later found out that it was a little French school and the children that we had come across were the students of the school. We often spoke of this time with our family and friends and hoped that one day we would return to see more of this beautiful island of Vanuatu.
Georgia and my dreams came true the following year. We returned to Vanuatu to make more memories. We stayed at a resort that offered a kids club and one of the activities they had organised was a visit to a local school to meet and hear the kindy children sing. Of course mum and dad came too, so much for the kids club!! Our day was spent laughing, singing and dancing with the children of this local school. Mum and dad began telling one of the staff how they had been looking for a sponsor child and the difficulties they had been faced with through formal sponsoring programs. This was when mum and dad were introduced to Daniel, the Principal of the school. He spoke with us about the ability to sponsor children here at the school and as a family we decided to make it happen. Winnie and Grace became our first sponsor children on that very day.
Throughout the following years our family visited Vanuatu many times. Mum and Dad set up a sponsorship program with the school we first visited, Seaside Community School, for other families wishing to sponsor children for schooling costs. We added many more children to our own little sponsor family over the years and it was so exciting to know we were giving some children a well deserved education. Over these years the four of us became very close with the Daniel and his family. It was in December 2014 that Dad was adopted into Daniels family as a brother. It was such a special and humbling moment, not just for dad but for all of us.
July 2015, we once again boarded a plane to the ever familiar Vanuatu, or as we liked to call it ‘our second home’. This phrase sparked the idea, why don’t we make Vanuatu our home? Research was done and it was decided that we would take ‘a gap term’, we would spend four months in paradise from December 2015 to April 2016. Fortunately Mum and Dad love a challenge, lots of research to find a place to call home for our little adventure. This was when we met a lovely man named Terry. He took us through a home that turned out to be our own little piece of paradise.
‘Uncle Terry’ as the locals call him, was the founder of Kayaking Vanuatu. He was to become our new neighbour. September 2015 was our first experience in our new home. It was absolute paradise and “Uncle Terry” became a great friend. Dad had mentioned we were looking to maybe buy a business in Vanuatu and between us, Terry and his gorgeous co-founder in the business Charmaine, our dreams continued to come true.
Now, December 2015, we are here. In our beautiful island home and the new owners of Kayaking Vanuatu. From here, who knows what will happen but we do know that each and every one of you will love your experience with us. We look forward to meeting you all as you tour with our amazing team and hope to extend our island family.
Take every opportunity to explore the paradise of Vanuatu and we hope you love it just as much as us.
Tank yu tamas!!!
Don, Susan, Miranda and Georgia.
The founders of Kayaking Vanuatu’s story
I had no way of knowing that a chance meeting with an old man under a coconut tree on Hideaway Island in Vanuatu would change my life forever.
I stepped ashore and was instantly drawn towards the old man; he was singing and laughing out a loud.
He told me his name was Johnstone Sope and asked me if I was on holidays. I told him I was on the P & O cruise ship The Fairstar with my wife and two sons. It was our first trip to Vanuatu. As we talked I noticed a Ni Vanuatu lady asleep on the beach, she had the most beautiful baby girl next to her, also fast asleep. I fell in love with the baby instantly.
Johnston Sope told me that was his daughter Serah Malas and his granddaughter Julia Malas. He said if I came back to vanuatu one day he would take me into the village called Mele Village, the largest one in Vanuatu and show me how they lived.
By now Serah was awake so I approached her and Julia, she was very shy but spoke good English. My wife Trudy and my two sons Shannon and Jay were having a great time mesmerised by this place and these people. All too soon it was nearing time for us to leave for the ship: we said our goodbyes and promised we would return some day.
After being back home in Australia for about six months, I could not stop thinking about the old man and his family, so I booked a flight with Air Vanuatu and went back to find Johnston Sope. This time we stayed in mele Village and met Johnstone’s entire family, Sarah’s husband Kalchichi would become my closest friend. We had started our education in the Ni Vanuatu way of life.
Our new friends were teaching us so much; we decided to help with Julia’s education.
We returned to Vanuatu about six more times and began to love this way of living and learning. We experienced all we could about their culture.
Around this time I began to realise the Ni Vanuatu people had a special gift you can only experience by getting close to them. They have such a strong sense of understanding your feelings. Even when I am not with them, they know how I am feeling precisely at that time. They are the most warm, gentle, caring people I have ever met.
Now our two families have become one. I have become known as Uncle Terry Blong Mele Village, a title I am humbled by and extremely proud of.
We would spend many hours in the Mele cascades Waterfalls, swimming and singing with kids from the village. It was a whole new world for us and then in 1984, my world fell apart.
My wife Trudy was diagnosed with Breast cancer, she died in 1987. One month before she passed away we arranged Serah and Julia, five years old at the time to come to Australia to visit us. We did not know at the time it would be their last goodbye.
The relationship we had formed with the Malas and Sope family and Mele Village was so strong, it could not end there. Rather it gave me a source of support, without it my life would have turned out altogether different.
I returned to Vanuatu, over 30 times in fact, and continued with Julia’s education and my own into the Ni Vanuatu way of life. Julia went to New Zealand for further education and is now in Vanuatu currently working in sales and Marketing for Evergreen (a local tour company).
We celebrated Julia’s 21st birthday in July 2003, at Ma Barkers. I gave her the most treasured gift I could think of- it was the friendship ring I gave Trudy before we were married. It is now a symbol of how a chance meeting with an old man under a coconut tree can grow into a everlasting family, in the truest sense.
I still go to the cascades and to Mele Village, now I share these precious moments with Charmaine, my new partner. Charmaine and I purchased our own piece of land in Vanuatu and built our own home. We have new dreams- in fact we called our property “ Islandreams”. It is directly opposite the beach on Hideaway Island, where it all began, with the old man and his family. We plan to marry one day on our own beach.
I now stand on the beach and look across Mele Bay to Hideaway Island and remember our “Island Time” take a deep breath and start living the Islandream.
I could not have known at the time, the land we would eventually buy and settle down on was always owned by the Malas Family.
We now operate Kayaking Vanuatu; winner of the Best Eco Tour at the Vanuatu Tourism Awards 2009/2010. Our business philosophy is to showcase the best of Efate’s natural wonders through glass bottom kayaking/snorkelling tours. Our Ni Vanuatu friends are an integral part of our business success.
As a result of these everlasting family ties with the Malas family and Evergreen, a new combined tour has been created. Aptly named “The Best of Both Worlds” visitors to Vanuatu can now experience the famous Mele Cascades Waterfall, Sea Kayaking and Snorkeling, all in one Tour.
Tourists and visitors alike are loving, this combination that provides happy memories of Vanuatu and maybe they will have their own Vanuatu story to tell after meeting the local people.
It can change your life forever.
Best regards and thank you for your interest.
We hope you enjoy the story.
Terry and Charmaine