Uripiv Island, life at the edge of modern civilisation
Uripiv is a small island off the north coast of Malekula, Vanuatu. It has no electricity, no internet, no cars or cold beer.
Also, life really runs on island time.
Small dirt paths neatly lined by shrubs connect the island’s villages. Houses are made of bamboo, wood, and coconut palm leaf thatch roofs.
People cook over open fires and children run rampant along the coast playing in empty fishing boats. On Uripiv Island there are more chickens than people on the beach, and the locals will be out fishing at any time of the day.
On one side of the island, you can see Ambrym’s volcanoes glowing red in the distance, and on the other side, you can snorkel one of Vanuatu’s best coral reefs.
I arrived as a complete stranger, a bit stand-off-ish about staying. Within two days, the people welcomed me into their community and I did not want to leave.
I cooked with them and ate with them, drank kava together and told stories, learned about the cannibal history of the island, went fishing, snorkeled amazing coral reefs, celebrated Easter, and ultimately, met amazing people.
Welcome to Uripiv Island.
What to do on Uripiv Island
Snorkel the amazing coral reef
Uripiv Island is surrounded by one of the best coral reefs I have seen while traveling Vanuatu. The coral reef ranges between 5 to 50m from the coast of the island. During low tide, you can walk right out to the reef along the rocks and just jump in.
Uripiv Island is partially protected by a marine conservation area. There is a huge range of sea life including; reef sharks, turtles, dugongs, tropical fish, dolphins and apparently even whales.
Watch Volcanoes Glow on the Horizon
On a clear night, you can see the volcanoes on Ambrym glowing red on the horizon. The best place to watch the volcano is from the Nawov Bungalows. In the wet season many storms come from the east, so you need a bit of lucky weather.
Walk around the island
While Uripiv is a tiny island, only a small portion of it is actually inhabited. A lot of the northern half of the island dense jungle or fruit tree plantations. The north coast also contains mangrove a mangrove forest where fish and crabs breed.
Explore all sides of this island by walking around the coast at low tide. The walk will take about 1.5 to 2hrs to complete.
Eat with the locals
You may think it is difficult to sit down with a family and have a local meal as a tourist. Not on Uripiv Island.
Talk to Jaycinta, the owner of Nawov Freswind Bungalows, she will be more than happy to take you to her family’s village.
Try the local favorite, Lab Lab. This is a mashed vegetable, wrapped in Banana leaves and cooked under hot stones. After cooking, the center is filled with fresh handmade coconut milk for dipping the Lab Lab pieces.
Explore Kastom Tradition
Like much of Vanuatu, the island was once under Kastom culture.
The people on Uripiv Island were cannibals until the missionaries came in the 1960’s. The island has seven different Nassara’s (tribes). There is one Nassara, which no longer exists, and the locals are scared to speak of it.
Throughout the island, there are many Kastom stones. Each stone has a story attributed, passed down through many generations. Talk to the locals to find where these stones mark cannibal sites and other areas of significance.
Vanuatu is very religious. These days the ways of Kastom culture such as cannibalism have been replaced by Christianity.
Uripiv Island has churches of at least four denominations including; Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist, Neil Thompson Ministry, Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and probably a few others.
Christmas and Easter are both huge celebrations on the island, as are Saturdays and Sundays most weeks.
There are multiple ways to go fishing on Uripiv Island. Talk to the locals and they will be more than happy to take you out trawling on a small boat, go spearfishing with snorkels, or through a line in the water from an outrigger canoe.
Fishing with locals in Vanuatu is an experience that you will not quickly forget.
Where to stay on Uripiv Island
There is only one guesthouse on Uripiv Island, the Nawov Freswind Bungalows.
The owner Jacinta has two basic bungalow located just twenty meters walking distance from the coast. The bungalows are basic, but they totally match their location.
The large yard is filled with Pandanus and Coconut Palm trees. It gives the guesthouse a real tropical island feel. Exactly what the island is.
The area surrounding the guesthouse is a mixed jungle of Coconut, Banana and Papaya tree gardens. It is a 10 minute walk through this thick jungle to the village.
At the guesthouse, you will not be woken up by dogs, roosters, cars or construction. You will only hear the sound of birds in the morning, and waves crashing against the coral reef all day.
How to get to Uripiv Island
Getting to Uripiv Island is complex, but not difficult once you know the way. Allow a few hours, just in case things don’t go as planned.
- Take an international flight to Port Vila.
- Get a domestic flight from Port Vila to Norsup (Malekula) – approx. $120
- Flag down a car for a ride to the port in Lakatoro – approx. 200 Vatu
- Board a boat to cross to Uripiv Island – charter boat 1000 Vatu, dinghy ferrying across 100 to 200 Vatu
Boats to Uripiv Island will arrive at the main village by the Presbyterian Church. From here you will need to walk approximately 20 minutes to the Nawov Freswind Bungalows at the northeast end of the island.
Uripiv Island, thanks for having me. I cannot wait to come back!
Next up, I am off to climb two active volcanoes on the island of Ambrym, then check out the Naghol Land Diving in Pentecost.