Your island hosts Kalo and Julie Robsen have grown up on Moso Island, have raised children on Moso Island and now have grandchildren being raised on Moso Island. This is their mother and father's island, and their grandparents island before that....you get the idea. This is their home. Talk to them about their home, their culture, what sort of holiday you want, and what you need in the way of support, tours, catering and more. They’ll do everything they can to make it a reality.
Colin and Kristen live in both Australia and Vanuatu. Colin discovered Moso Island just after the turn of the century, well before Havannah Harbour became as popular (and populated) as it is today. Colin and Kristen now consider Vanuatu their second home, and the people of Moso, family. Watermark on Moso is an expression of their journey.
CURRENCY & CREDIT CARDS
The local currency is called the Vatu. 100 vatu is usually worth around AU$0.80c but fluctuates a fair bit. We recommend bringing cash and changing enough to see you through a few days at Vila airport, and the rest at a bank or bureau de change in vila.
Credit cards aren't widely used in Vila, and often attract a surcharge of 5% (or more). Even drawing money from local ATM's can be expensive, with one bank (an Australian brand) charging fees of 800vt (about AU$10) for the privilege of a cash withdrawal. Try and use the local brands if you can. They are much more reasonable and are usually connected to international cards like Visa and Mastercard.
WEATHER & CLOTHING
Vanuatu is about the same 'height as Cairns. Winter is usually dryer than summer but regardless, expect to get rained-on at some point! Cyclone season is arguably Nov-Mar each year. Vanuatu may have some or none each year, but they have lived with them forever and know what to do. At Watermark, we have a cyclone plan in lace and you will be well looked after. You may need a light jacket in the dead of winter if exposed to the wind, otherwise light clothing rules.
Nearly everybody dresses casually. Neat casual is the go for restaurants, church and semi-formal meetings. Business meetings can still warrant a suit and tie...even in the heat!
In villages near the main island of Efate (Port Vila is on Efate), most of the ladies wear a large cotton dress with tassels on it. This is called a Mother Hubbard or Island dress and was introduced by early missionaries to cover the female figure. For tourists, while in and around villages discretion in the form of mid-length shorts and a 'T' shirt is recommended, even when visiting some of the more remote 'kastom' villages, where there's not a lot of clothing worn at all!
COMMUNICATING WITH THE LOCALS
The locals are known as Nivan (of Vanuatu) and identify themselves with the island (man-moso, woman-moso). Most Nivans speak at least three languages. The local dialect of North Efate; Vanuatu’s official language Bislama (a pidgin language); and English. Some speak French instead, or both. Thankfully, Bislama has a bit of everything, so you can usually get by no matter what. Non-verbal is big here too. Raising ones eyebrows can mean hello, yes, nice to see you…and a few other things it seems! Pushing out of the bottom lip can mean 'No'...or 'can't do'. If all else fails, smile, find some shade, and relax. Silence in conversation here is often as meaningful as the words....
VILLAGES ON MOSO
Moso Island is home to two villages. Tasseriki is the largest and lies a few hundred meters to the West (to the right as you look at the harbour) of Watermark. Sunai lies to the East, behind the wreckage of a super-yacht blown ashore in the Cat 5 Cyclone Pam of 2016. You can see both villages from Watermark's jetty.
EXPATS ON MOSO
Emotu Bay is Moso Island’s first subdivision. The largest enterprise so far is The Moso resort, built by Joel and Anton. They’ve done a fantastic job, and unless the resort has been booked out for a private function, it is usually open for great food, good wine, cold beer and first class hospitality.
There are a few other houses in already built in the Emotu subdivision. These are owned by people from all parts and walks of life...a fascinating mix.
At the far Western end of Moso there is a dive/eco resort that has been there for decades and is part of the modern Moso story. Tranquility caters for divers and snorkelers alike, offers day trips on the historic ketch Coongoola, and even has a turtle sanctuary. It’s too far to walk, so please talk to your host about hiring a boat after booking your dive or day trip.
CATERING & COOKING
Watermark was designed to be self-catering. The Farea (the original studio-style home) has a gas kitchen and a large BBQ that doubles as an oven (it has borne many great pizzas and roasts). Taslabakiki (our two-bedroom recent addition) has a wide stove/oven combo, microwave and BBQ. Both kitchens are well equiped but if you need a larger pot for a monster cray, then let your host know.
For those who don't want to cook every meal, mamas in the village can deliver locally cooked food for very reasonable prices, and there are plenty of places to eat scattered around Havannah Harbour, from local-style to five star, and it’s all super-fresh and super-delicious.
TIPPING AND GIFTS
Tipping is not a 'thing' in Vanuatu. Sincere generosity is different. If you want to gift someone Vatu (the local currency), food, clothes or any other item, we think that’s awesome, but recommend you do so at the end of your stay. Give it directly to the person you want to receive it. Gifts are neither pooled, nor shared…unless the people who received them choose to do so. Your host will be happy to arrange the collection of gifts of medical and school supplies.
LIVING OFF GRID
Watermark is completely off-grid. There is no town electricity or water supply, and no sewerage or rubbish collection services. While being off-grid doesn’t mean having to go without certain luxuries, it does mean the resources and services we usually take for granted are finite, and need to be managed wisely.
Solar power is collected and stored in lithium batteries. There is enough stored energy to last for a couple of days of little or no sun. Generator back-up is in place if required and your host will see to that. We will do our best to run the generator only in daylight hours to minimise the impact of noise.
48v DC battery power is converted to 240v AC mains power by an inverter. The capacity of the inverter is 5,000 watts. Hairdryers and high current draw appliances are not encouraged but everything else should be fine, including computers, phone chargers, Bluetooth speakers etc. If in doubt please ask your host.
If the capacity of the inverter is exceeded it will shut down and you will find yourself in the dark. Candles and a small touch can be found in a small plastic container on the top shelf above the fridge the kitchen should that happen.
Thankfully, the ceiling fans are DC and only draws as much power as a light globe at low speeds, so you are invited to keep it on as long as you like!
Internal household taps and the shower carry filtered rain water. The tank on the Farea holds 10,000 litres but is often below half capacity because Moso Island is in a rain shadow and can miss out on regional showers. Please use tank water sparingly. Taslabakiki has 20,000l of fresh water because it has more beds.
The toilets in The Farea and all external taps on both properties carry well water. It is not drinkable but fine to use for everything else. Well water is pumped to a 5000l tank set up on the hill behind Watermark, and gravity fed to provide a pressure head at the taps. The tank will be topped up by your host as required.
Cooking and Hot Water
The cooking and HWS appliances use LPG. Each house has two bottles connected to the regulator. One in use. One spare. If a gas bottle runs out simply close the empty bottle, open the still-full one, then turn the lever on top of the regulator toward the newly opened bottle. Please let your host know that the bottles have been swapped over.
To use the cooktop simply press and turn the burner knob until it lights, holding it down for a couple of seconds more before releasing. If it doesn't 'click' as expected, please use the igniter provided.
When cooking and there is wind about, we recommend closing the louvres in the kitchen, just to make sure the cooktop flame isn’t blown out.
The hot water system is instantaneous, and will continue heating water and using gas as long the hot water tap is on. Please do enjoy a nice, leisurely hot shower when you need one, but when you don't, being conscious would be appreciated.
Toilet and kitchen waste water flows into a septic tank. Septic systems are efficient but fragile. It is crucial no foreign materiel other than toilet paper is put down the toilet, and no harsh chemicals put down the drain. Septic-friendly detergents and soaps are supplied, Please wrap and dispose of sanitary products and put them in household waste bins.
Rubbish & Recycling
Food waste can go straight into the compost-tumbler at the side of the house. Glass can be put straight into the bin provided near the tumbler. These will smashed and used as aggregate in future concreting jobs.. There is no recycling provisions for cardboard or steel cans. These can be put into the rubbish bin. Bags can be sealed and put on the shelves provided, to be collected daily. These will be bashed, burnt and buried later, as there is no rubbish collection on Moso. Replacement garbage bags are provided.
You are welcome to hand wash clothes in the kitchen or bathroom sink and hang clothes on the verandah balustrade wire. Pegs are supplied. Laundry can also be arranged through your host, using Watermark's washing facilities. A small charge applies.
The track directly behind Watermark's waterfront properties is a ‘Kastom Rod’ and pretty much runs the length of the entire leeward side of Moso. Locals and children (pikinini) use it every day and it is a feature of the subdivision that the villagers were not excluded. Feel free to say hello and chat, or simply smile as they pass...and raise your eyebrows of course!
The tracks are also used to ferry produce, wood and charcoal from the island’s interior to the shore in preparation of it going to market. When you see these incredibly hard working teams coming along the track with full loads and bush knives, it’s good form to give way and wish them well.
When moving around a village use the more defined, well-used paths only as they will usually be the through-ways. Tracks running between houses usually only lead to other houses. If you’re not sure, smile at someone and ask. If you intend to visit a house, give the house a shout as you make your way off the path and if someone is home, they'll come out to greet you.
Watermark has a kayak for every guest. Some have see-through bottoms to view the coral. After use, Kayaks are to be kept in the area next to the jetty. It is a safe launching area for both you, and the kayaks! Lifejackets are supplied and it makes sense to wear them whenever you are on the kayak but especially when you are out past the reef in deep water. Havannah Harbour is often calm, but it can get a bit choppy very quickly in a squall.
Wind and tidal drift can also affect how easy the paddling is. Feel free to go as far as you like, for as long as you like, according to your own ability and please remember, safety first. If yuo get into trouble, make way to the nearest land, secure the kayak but leave it viewable from the water, and wait for a passing boat or in extreme circumstances, find a track close to the shore. Follow it to the nearest village.
These days there are plenty of boats around. They are used by locals for everything they can’t do in the fast-disappearing dugout canoe. There are currently no hire boats on Havannah...probably because of some very tricky coral outcrops and reefs! Boat transfers or tours can be easily arranged by your Host.
Everything begins with a boat trip to the mainland. Once at Moso Landing you can meet a pre-arranged private bus or, if you’re not in a rush (and you shouldn’t be...island-time rules here) a pleasant 15min walk will see you on the main ring road, where you can flag down a public bus going around Efate's ring road. The wait could be short or long, and the bus could be empty or packed, but that's half the fun! The bus will drop you in a location of your choice in Vila. Your host will help with current rates of both private and public transport options, but at the time of writing, a private bus to Vila would be around 5,000 vatu one way. A public bus, 400 vatu one way.
Once in Vila, everyone moves around town using public transport. To hail a bus, find a bus stop and one will stop and ask where you want to go. If they can help you they may nod, raise their eyebrows, or speak! If they can't they may shake their head, push out their bottom lip, or again, speak! If they can't help it is simply that you are already committed to a different area/direction. perhaps the next bus can help. Cost at time of writing was 200 vt per person per trip, whether short or long, within Vila town.
If you caught a public bus to Vila, you can connect with buses heading back to North Efate at the Bon Marche supermarket at Man Ples. They park in the area past the fuel pumps looking for passengers before making the trip. Once they have enough people to make the trip worthwhile, they head off. Mention you want to go to Moso landing and if they can help you they will. Waiting is part of the game, so relax, smile, do some last minute shopping and get to know some fellow travellers.
SECURITY AND SAFETY
Incidents of theft are rare but not unheard of, so it’s best not to tempt others by leaving desirable items unsecured or unattended. Locking the property up while you are away is common sense. A safe is available for your valuables.
Please only use the key to lock and unlock the main sliding door on The Farea. Do not the inside handle on the lock, otherwise you risk locking the keys inside. If you lose the key, please contact your host immediately.
There are sensor lights at each front corner of the property.
The people of Vanuatu have been reported as being some of the friendliest and happiest in the world, and it’s true. Living on an island like Moso is reason to make them happier still…again true, so there’s usually not a lot of angry or dissatisfied people about.
Still, sometimes alcohol can cause the same issues we see in our own countries. Best to keep your hard liquor to yourself, and if you hear someone making a bit of noise, leave them alone to learn the lesson of a hangover in their own good time.
Drugs like marijuana are becoming more common, but mainly in Vila. Kava drinking usually allows for quieter reflection, and if someone invites you to a kava bar, it is usually a safe and memorable experience. Common sense and cultural awareness is key.
MEDICAL AND FIRST AID
The nearest doctor is in Port Vila. There is a basic first aid kit in each house for your use. Your host can arrange transport to doctors or hospital. Vila hospital does the best they can with what they have, but if you are in doubt about the service or advice you receive, hopping back on a plane may be the realistic choice, and is often the one chosen by expats.
For emergencies, enact the facilities provided in your travel insurance immediately. Emergency numbers are included at the end of this compendium. Start with your host. They are trained in first-aid.
In the tropics, all small cuts and abrasions are potential infections so first aid should be given immediately. Signs of redness will usually precede an infection. If swelling and redness continues it is recommended medical assistance be sought as soon as possible. Coral cuts are particularly susceptible to infection, so reef shoes are recommended at all times when swimming. The local chemist does not recommend Betadine for coral cuts. Some hydrogen peroxide has been included in the kit instead.
While Vanuatu may be one of the world’s happiest countries, it can also be prone to natural disasters. Disaster warnings and cyclone tracking are well managed by the government at www.vmgd.gov.au.
Cyclone season is recognised as being between November to April. Watermark is built strong, but if you find yourself on Moso during a cyclone, your host will secure the building with storm shutters, and help evacuate you to a cyclone-rated refuge at Tasseriki village. While cyclones are fairly common in the South Pacific, if you are unsure about staying in the area, feel free to go back into Vila.
Most minor earthquakes go unnoticed, but if you are aware that an earthquake is occurring make your way outside into open space away from large trees and wait for it to subside. After shocks should be expected. We are not aware of any major damage caused by earthquakes in Vanuatu.
Tsunami are rare, but these days it's good to know about them anyway. Tsunami are usually generated by large offshore earthquakes. Immediately upon feeling a major earthquake or receiving a tsunami warning, use the stairs cut into the coral cliff behind 'The Farea' to get to higher ground. Take food, water and a blanket if it is safe to do so. Remain there until the all clear is given or your host gives your other directions..
While there are no active volcanoes in the area on Moso Island, there are geothermic hot spots on the mainland further to the east. Nguna, the island immediately to the East of Moso may look like a volcano, but it is long extinct. Should it ever happen that volcanic activity does occur on Moso Island, your host will come and evacuate you. Be prepared to leave all your possessions behind.
FLORA, FAUNA, MARINE LIFE and the REEF
We love our gardens, plants, fruit trees and herbs…feel free to pick and use any fruit, herb or produce found on Watermark’s cleared land. If you see produce along the kastom track in other parts of Moso, it may belong to someone whose livelihood depends on it. Best to talk to your host before helping yourself.
There’s actually not a lot of critters in Vanuatu. Wild cattle exist further inland, pigs too. Both should be given a wide birth if you stumble upon them. Local dogs and village chickens are everywhere and love to make a ruckus in the villages throughout the night! Rarely do village dogs get aggressive to humans, but best not pat or feed them unless the owner is around.
Thankfully there’s not a lot that can hurt you in Vanuatu. The small local snakes aren’t venomous, the spiders are more or less harmless, and so you only have to worry about the nasty bite from centipedes (unfortunately attracted to body heat), the odd nest of fire ants, and seasonal issues with grass wasps and bees. You may also see the odd bush mouse or water rat. They are clever and tenacious creatures, so keep bread and dry food in plastic containers. We have professional baits set, so please let your host know if you see any in and around the house.
The trees on the proeprty attract finches, kingfishers and other birds. They are very cute, and congregate to avoid the odd Indian Mynah that might wander-by. On occasion you may also see thousands on blue-winged butterflies migrating between mainland and island. What a sight that is!
Wild bees may also swarm on the cliffs behind, sometimes flying all the way from the mainland. Leave them be (no pun intended!). They usually move on after a short spell.
The point on which Watermark sits is known locally as Taslabakiki. Roughly translated, it means that whatever you find on the ocean-side of the island, you find here as well. That means you’ll find crabs on the rocks, octopus, red crabs and maybe even a lobster on the reef. Large pelagic fish are just as likely to swim by as sardines, and dugongs and turtles are seen quite regularly when the season is right. There was even a pod of small whales at Emotu Bay in 2018!
The black ‘slug-like’ creatures in the shallows are called sea cucumbers and are harmless but do squirt a sticky 'yuckiness' if disturbed. An asian delicacy for those game to try! In French, they are known as bêche-de-mer, regarded by many as the source of the word Bislama, the official language of Vanuatu.
Sharks rarely bother anyone in Vanuatu. In fact there has only been one attack reported in the last 15 years, and that was on the island of Malekula. Reef sharks are generally shy and if they are around when you are snorkelling you’re not likely to see them anyway.
You may also see a sea snake among the shallows. It will probably want to avoid you as much as you it, and that’s a good idea. Some fish have venomous spines so reef shoes are a must. It’s worth noting that the venom produced by most marine animals is destroyed by heat, so your first move should be to soak the injured part in the hot water you can stand for as long as you. You can also try the local remedy of squeezing the blood from a sea cucumber (scraped raw on the coral) directly onto the wound, but a call to a medical centre would also be wise, just to make sure, particularly if you are unsure of what you encountered.
Turtles and Dugongs are protected, and if you are lucky enough to be snorkelling and see one, feel free to stay put and let the turtle or dugong decide if it wants to say hello to you. Dugongs may also come past in a family group, heading further up the harbour to feed on seagrasses. They are beautiful, gentle creatures. One stayed around the jetty for over half an hour in 2021. Happy to be near us as we sat on the jetty...a real treat. A kastom story says that if you throw the remains of sweet fruit into the sea a dugong will come…give it a try!
There is fantastic snorkelling a few short metres directly in front of watermark. Moso's reef are in constant change. It struggles in some places, flourishes in others. While much in the shallows is cyclone damages or long dead, large and colourful formations are happily growing just a few metres further out. We have also noticed some signs of bleaching lately. We hope that was only an isolated event. Please don’t damage, touch or step on living coral. It is precious.
There are crown-of-thorn starfish in Havannah Harbour. If you come across one, please remove it from the water in one piece if you can, otherwise leave it. If you break a bit off, the broken bit becomes another starfish. Nasty things.
There are fish aplenty in the waters around Moso. Unfortunately they can be like fish anywhere…being there is one thing, biting another! We do not spear or fish in front of Watermark, though the locals may still be seen moving through the water with torches late at night...looking for tomorrow's kai kai. It's quite a beautiful sight on a dark night, or when there is luminescence around.
Inside-harbour, around-island, or inter-island fishing trips can be arranged through your host. Marlin and yellowfin fishing charter boats are just across the harbour for those seeking bigger fish with a budget to suit. If you get amongst the action, feel free to give any fish you don’t use to the village. It would be most appreciated and is never wasted.
Be aware that some reef fish are considered ‘poison’ even by the locals. Polyps-eating, smaller fish can be infected by a toxin called ciguatera, and when that fish is eaten by a larger one, the infection can be carried up the food chain. It’s rare but it is real. Some fish are more susceptible than others. There’s no real test for ciguatera. It’s a bit nasty so if in doubt, don’t eat it…buy some fish from Vila supermarkets instead. Poule fish is a favourite, safe....and like the name, has a taste and consistency a bit like chicken!
For those with a love of crustaceans, large red reef crabs are delicious, as are the bugs…and the local lobster is a treat. Be prepared to pay a fair price for it as they need to be hunted and caught at night some distance away, but you won’t get fresher…or tastier, and it's still likely to be a whole lot cheaper than they are back in your home country!
Most locals have a small ‘farm’ hewn out of the jungle on the mainland, upon which they grow the root crops and vegetables they need to survive. Surplus produce is either traded locally for other crops, fish or goods; or taken all the way to Vila to sell at the central market. They money raised can be earned to buy rice, fuel, coffee etc. Tough work though. Mama's are often at the market for several days, sleeping on hard floors. Support them whenever you can.
Unlike most western countries, if a crop is out of season, bad luck..or be prepared to pay big prices for it at supermarkets, who fly the product in. All part of living in isolation. Your host can help source any in-season root crop, vegetable of fruit that’s grown on Moso or around Havannah Harbour. Everything is organic, fresh, and incredibly tasty. It will spoil you.
For the cooks among you, village-cooking experiences can also be arranged through your host. The meals locals turn out with little more than a charcoal stove will amaze you, and for the ultimate experience you can cook your very own lap lap, combining the art of underground cooking with hours of laugher and fun as the meal is prepared amongst new-found friends.
Fast food? The only fast food on Moso is the village chicken who has yet to be 'potted'. they are both fast...and clever!
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Ask your host anything about the way they live, their island, their customs. They are happy to share and educate, particularly over a cup of coffee and some sweet biscuits!
One of Watermark’s reason for being is to provide a meeting point between cultures. For those that use it, you can expect to be enriched beyond measure.