find yourself...on moso island
INFORMATION...on just about everything else
INFORMATION...on just about everything else
WATERMARK ON MOSO
Hi! We are so pleased you are coming to stay at Watermark on Moso, a bespoke couples (and young families!) retreat on the shores of Moso Island and Havannah Harbour in Vanuatu. We hope the following helps you to relax, step away from the crowd and find yourself again. Time to do life your way...at least for a while!
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.
The managing agents 16 Degrees South are located in Port Vila and are fresh, innovative and utterly professional. The fabulous Jinny, originally from the land of the long white cloud now calls Vanuatu home, and is at your service to help 24/7.
Colin and Kristen may live in Australia, but part of them always remains on Moso. Colin discovered Moso Island just after the turn of the century, well before Havannah became popular. They now consider Vanuatu their second home, and the people of Moso, family. Watermark on Moso is an expression of their journey.
Most of the locals speak at least three languages. The local dialect of North Efate, Vanuatu’s official language Bislama, and English. Some also speak French. Thankfully, Bislama has a bit of everything, so you can usually get by no matter what. Raising ones eyebrows can also start a conversation....it can mean hello, yes, nice to see you…and half a dozen other things it seems! 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). Sunai lies to the East, behind the wreckage of a superyacht blown ashore in the Cat 5 Cyclone Pam of 2016. Emotu Bay is roughly in the middle of both.
EXPATS ON MOSO
Emotu Bay is Moso Island’s first and perhaps only 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. If you can't make it down and they have the manpower, they’ll also deliver meals to Watermark...and that's gold. There are a few other houses already, owned by people from all parts, and walks of life....it's the South Pacific that draws us together.
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 for most, so please talk to your host about being delivered by boat and enjoy the experience.
If you didn’t have a chance to get to a supermarket before you came, complimentary tea, coffee, milk, bread, butter, salt, pepper and cooking oil is supplied for your immediate needs. Basic toiletries too. Produce, fish and many condiments can be sourced through the village, purchased on the mainland at Havannah Store, or in a Vila supermarket. The Moso resort has wine and beer for sale, as well as a small selection of packaged snacks.
Watermark was designed to be self-catering. For those who want catering options, the village can supply all or some meals, and there are plenty of places to eat scattered around Havannah Harbour, from local-style to five star, it’s all super-fresh and super-delicious.
INTERNET AND PHONES
Moso Island has fair-to-good coverage for both mobiles and internet. International roaming works fine for those who can’t bear to turn their phone off, though browsing and streaming in the early evening is pretty poor sometimes. If you are a heavy data user, we recommend getting a local data sim card in Vila before you travel to Moso. This will need to be done in Vila. TVL and Digicel are the two common carriers and they have counters at the airport
TIPPING AND GIFTS
Tipping is not encouraged at Watermark. Sincere generosity is different. If you want to gift someone Vatu, 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. Your host will be happy to arrange the collection of gifts of medical and school supplies.
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, it does mean the resources and services we usually take for granted are finite here, and need to be managed wisely.
Solar power is collected and stored in 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.
24v DC battery power is converted to 240v AC mains power by an inverter. The capacity of the inverter is 2,200 watts. Hairdryers and high current draw appliances will usually cause the inverter to overload. That is one of the reasons why there is also no electric kettle, oven or toaster. The other is that we don't want everything we have at home, or we might as well stay at home...Computers, phone chargers, Bluetooth speakers etc are all fine to plug and play. 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 large ceiling fan 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 to maintain comfort.
Internal household taps and the shower carry filtered rain water. The tank 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.
The toilet and all external taps 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. 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.
When cooking, we recommend closing the louvres in the kitchen should there be wind about, 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 be conscious of both water and gas usage by keeping showers appropriately short.
Toilet and kitchen 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 in household waste bins.
Rubbish & Recycling
Rubbish will be collected from the property daily, and items that can be recycled will be either re-purposed or taken to Vila on the next trip into town. There is no rubbish collection on Moso, so everything that can be burnt, is burnt, often as fuel in local cookers.
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 done by ladies in the village. Simply ask your host to arrange.
The track directly behind Watermark is a ‘Kastom Track’ 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 going to market. When you see them coming with full loads and bush knives, it’s good form to give way to these hardworking people.
When moving around a village use the more defined, well-used paths as they will usually be the through-ways. 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 dugout canoe and two-seater kayak for your use. Being modular, the kayak can be also made a single. Lifejackets are supplied and it makes sense to wear them whenever you are in deep water. Havannah Harbour is often calm, but it can get a bit choppy.
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 but please remember, safety first.
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 a good thing because of some very tricky shoreline reefs! Boat transfers to Moso landing or one of the several excellent bars and restaurants on the mainland side of Havannah can be easily arranged by your Host, as can fishing trips and boat tours.
Moso is an island, so everything begins with a boat trip to the mainland. Once at Moso Landing you can meet a pre-arranged bus charter or taxi 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 bus going in the direction you want to go. The wait could be short or long...no matter, right!
On the way back, buses heading to North Efate and Havannah will stop at the Bon Marche supermarket at Man Ples looking for passengers before making the trip. Simply approach the buses parked up past the petrol pumps. 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 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, 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. They are usually left on for the comfort of guests, but in windy conditions they may turn on regularly through the movement of trees.
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 be 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 a loud bunch of youths partying, 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.
Modest clothing should prevail in the village and when in and around groups of locals. 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 the kitchen 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.
For emergencies, enact the facilities provided in your travel insurance immediately. Emergency numbers are included at the end of this compendium.
In the tropics all small cuts and abrasions can get infected so first aid should be given immediately. Signs of redness may 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.
The next Tsunami in Havannah Harbour will be the first, but these days it's good to know about them anyway. Tsunami are usually generated by large earthquakes. Immediately upon feeling a major earthquake or receiving a tsunami warning, use the stairs cut into the coral cliff behind Watermark to get to higher ground. Take food and water if it is safe to do so. Remain there until the all clear is given.
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 to you 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, herbs 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. If in doubt, talk to your host before helping yourself.
There’s actually not a lot of critters in Vanuatu. Wild cattle exist further inland, probably 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 does a dog attack someone, especially on Moso, 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 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, so keep food in plastic containers and please let your host know if you see any around the house.
The screen-trees directly off the verandah 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 to behold!
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. 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 reported attack in the last 15 years, 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. 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 very hot water for as long as you can stand it. 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 up to Emotu Bay to feed on seagrasses. You might also hear them breathing at night as they surface…they are beautiful, gentle creatures. A kastom story says that if you throw the remains of sweet fruit into the sea a dugong will come…give it a try!
The reef along Moso Island’s leeward side is changing. It is struggling in some places, flourishing in others. While much in the shallows is bleached or long dead, large and colourful formations are happily growing just a few metres further out. Please don’t damage, touch or step on living coral. It is precious.
There are crown-of-thorn starfish in Havannah Harbour, so 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 it become another starfish. Nasty things.
There is plenty to explore with a snorkel, and for those who want to catch or spear dinner while you’re out there, feel free.
There are fish aplenty in the waters around Moso. Unfortunately they can be like fish anywhere…being there is one thing, biting another!
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 the ultimate fight. 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 never wasted.
Be aware that some reef fish are considered ‘poison’ 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. There’s no real test for ciguatera, but the locals usually know how to spot it. It’s a bit nasty so if in doubt, don’t eat it…
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!
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 goods, or taken all the way to Vila to sell at the central market so money can be earned to buy rice, fuel, coffee etc. Tough work…
Unlike western countries, everything is eaten is season. Tomatoes are eaten during tomato season, and if you want tomatoes off season you’ll have to go to Vila to see if there’s any imports or glasshouse varieties. These will be very expensive so the trick is to roll with the seasons. Oh, and Moso tomatoes are known as Vanuatu’s best!
Your host can help source any in-season root crop, vegetable of fruit that’s grown around Havannah Harbour. Everything is more or less organic, absolutely 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 the locals turn out with little more than a half-block 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.
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!
The culture and the history of Vanuatu is carried within it people, so if you have an interest, grab a bit of shade with some of the elderly locals or a Chief and enjoy…oh, and periods of silence are all part of the storytelling!
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.
If you choose to stay a while, welcome...and please remember to make the trip all about you, because if you leave feeling better for staying, so will we...and life doesn't get any better than that.
Colin Kristen, Jinny, Kalo, Julie...and the people of Moso Island.