A serene kayak along an unspoilt river through the heart of Vanuatu’s rainforest – it sounded so good on paper.
Only now it’s 8am and I’ve got a raging hangover – the absolute last thing I want to do is go kayaking. It’s hard enough just getting out of bed, but somehow I manage it.
The weather reflects my mood, a little grey and damp – but the clouds seem to be holding back a full-on downpour. I wonder how long it will last.
I make it downstairs just in the nick of time – Pascal is there waiting. His quirky open air bamboo truck is packed with fellow kayakers. He drives us a little way out of Port Vila to a pretty clearing beside the glowing green waters of Rentabao River that will be our playground for the next couple of hours.
Detecting my hangover, Pascal takes pity on me and lets me jump in a double canoe with him. I vigorously swing my paddle from side to side, but I’m fairly sure that it’s his smooth strokes behind mine that actually propel us along the river.
I peer down through the water that is clear as glass. I can see straight down to the riverbed. Tiny fish flicker past, disappearing beneath the ripples that surge outwards from our canoe. A bright white heron flies across our path.
“This is what Efate is all about,” Pascal tells me. The main island hasn’t been blessed with the perfect white sand beaches of some of Vanuatu’s outer islands, he explains. But it more than makes up for it with its interior – rich with rivers, waterfalls, dense rainforest and wildlife.
To the left, a solitary house built in the traditional Ni-Vanuatu style overlooks the water.
“These houses are now a rare site on Efate,” Pascal says. The pretty thatch has now been largely abandoned in favour of concrete and tin.
A lady does her laundry in the water and gives us a wave as we glide past. We paddle a little further down the river and a group of children, naked apart from their huge smiles, stand timidly on the bank, waiting for us to paddle past so they can dunk themselves in the surprisingly warm water.
“The water is brackish,” Pascal answers when I query the river’s temperature. The additional salinity in the water comes from the ocean, which is visible ahead of us. Waves break in a white frothy line just beyond the river’s wide mouth.
We spin our kayaks around and head back in the other direction. Mangroves twist their way out of the water, meshing together to form an orchid-studded canopy that shields us from the elements.
But as the river broadens, we are left exposed. Bang on cue, the rain starts to spit from the sky.
It gets heavier, so we speed up our paddling, cutting through the water at an impressive pace as we rhythmically flee the chilly raindrops.
Back on solid ground, I rub myself down with a towel, chewing on freshly cut grapefruit and coconut. I notice my hangover is gone. Certainly beats an alka-seltzer.