Port Vila wouldn’t be mistaken for the Singapore or Hong Kong of the South Pacific but there are unique and interesting purchases to be made here. Increasingly, there is wider selection of stylish tropical fashion and jewellery available along with the duty free electricals and watches.
Being the tropics, shopping can be hot and dehydrating work but Vila’s shopping stretch is only a few hundred metres long and is punctuated with pit stops for the hungry or thirsty. Here’s a quick guide to downtown Port Vila’s Champs Elysée otherwise know as Walter Lini Highway.
Start at the southern end, maybe at the Waterfront if you need refreshment before you take off. The Waterfront is a long-established bar and eatery right on the water and services the fishing charter crowd as well as yachties, colourful and raffish.
Heading north you’ll pass the Grand Hotel on your left and on your right is Calvo Store. If you’re lucky enough to find this open take a look, at first sight it seems to be a dusty collection of all sorts of stuff from homewares to clothing but it is also a wonderland of French foodstuffs and there is a refrigerated wine cave here too if you’d like to take a bottle back to your room.
A little further down on the harbour side of the road there’s Vanuatu Treasures for souvenirs and handicrafts as well as clothing, then there’s a branch of the local supermarket chain Au Bon Marché and the famous Port Vila produce market. This is worth a detour, it’s filled with local fresh produce, often displayed in hand-woven baskets made from palm fronds and at VT600 for basket-full of mangoes they are a steal. Try the drinking coconuts if you’re ready for another drink and check the wonderful and exotic flowers on sale.
Heading towards the centre of town you’ll find Proud’s on the next corner. This is a traditional, quality, duty free store with a good selection of watches jewellery and perfumes. A little further down on the left are the first of Port Vila’s new and stylish boutiques, Pandanus has a great range of island-inspired jewellery along with a unique range of witty t-shirt and tea towels, adjacent is the very fragrant Pacific Passion with heaps of good-enough-to-eat soaps and cleansers and body scrubs.
Right opposite you’ll find Tropik Star surf wear and then the ‘Ladies Handicrafts Hebrida Marketplace All Welcome’ (if you need more Vatu there’s a Goodies currency exchange right next door) as the name suggests this is where the local ‘ladies’ make and sell all sorts of colourful garments, fabric and handicrafts. Wander down the aisles which are swathed in island-print fabric and hum along to the Singer sewing machines going full bore. It’s big, it’s warm and it’s alive with local colour.
Just over the road you’ll see The Mall which is the first of several shops stocking ‘designer’ goods at remarkably cheap prices, you just have to wonder how it is that Louis and Gianni get their goods to the middle of the Pacific at such ‘sensible’ prices. They also stock DVDs and computer software at subsidised third world rates.
Onwards an upwards – just past the servo is another duty free, this time it’s Downtown and it does stock lots of legitimate brands ranging from Bose to Seiko and Raymond Weil. Opposite is the Vila Bottleshop, with its great range of wines, spirits and champagnes, duty free available or take back to your room now.
From here on there’s a cluster of shops on both sides of the road so you’ll need to be either a little ambidextrous (which I’m going to be) or do the logical thing and continue heading north and then make a u-turn for the return journey.
Paris Shopping is air-con-cool and a sophisticated duty free shop for a terrific range of Lonchamp luggage, watches, tobacco (cheap in Vanuatu) and perfume. On the other side of the road is the Espace Culturel, which is an exhibition space handed over to local artists and sculptors to exhibit and sell their works. Well worth a look.
From here on just keep cruising both sides of the street and you’ll stumble across tour companies and dive shops, La Terrasse restaurant, café and bar and the Daily Snack Vietnamese café (good for pho) then Cargo Traders for a wide range of gifts, souvenirs and handicrafts, sarongs and sunglasses, The Billabong surf wear shop, Goodies main branch with a currency exchange and a great selection of carvings in timber and stone, various Chinese shops with names like Feer and Mok, Wonderful Attraction, Chung Po and Chew, and Fung Kuei which is one of the larger duty free shops, at the northern end of town.
The clothing stores with familiar names include Roxy and Etam (the stylish European chain) with French swimwear and lingerie, along with locals like Summer, Rococo (great for sarongs and light cotton resort wear) and Carla, The Shoebox, Gossip and Deco Vila for interesting island-themed home wares and gifts.
That’s just the main road, detour off towards the harbour, past the petanque court and there’s the wonderfully vibrant harbour-side clothes and craft market, more cafés, including the Nambawan and La Tentation for lunch or a drink, and the Anchor Inn where you make the u-turn for the return trip. Take a left and then a right into the street parallel to the main highway, this is where the practical stuff happens along with any number of curiously dark Chinese shops filled with fabrics, clothing, home wares, food, bicycles, TVs and Hi Fi, gadgets and, well, junk!
So there’s something for everyone from South Pacific black pearls to tea towel festooned with roosters, labelled the ‘alarm clocks of Vanuatu’. And every few paces there’s the opportunity to flop into a coffee shop or a bar for a refreshing Tusker. And none of this will break the bank.