November 13, 2007


david ellis

SO you wanna go Robinson Crusoe.

There's a little place in the South Pacific that's just what you're
looking for, but that doesn't mean you don't need to do some planning
if you're thinking of really escaping to a people-free paradise.

Because despite no one living on this miniscule 1.5-square kilometre
dot in the ocean that has no electricity, no running water, no roads
and no telephones, your peace could still be shattered by the hordes
storming the beaches.

Over a thousand of them, all keen to share what you thought was the
perfect haven to which to escape the crowds…

It's called Mystery Island, but on the maps you'll find it as Inyeug,
the most southerly island in Vanuatu. And no one lives here because
its traditional owners believe it's haunted at night by spirits.

In the 1850s Australian traders and blackbirders who set up their
wealthy operations on the larger Aneityum Island just across the
channel, chose to live on Inyeug, figuring that if the-then
cannibalistic Aneityum locals were scared of spirits, they'd hardly
attack spooky Inyeug.

Canadian missionaries also built the biggest church for its time in
the South Pacific on Aneityum, with 1000 seats filled on a good
Sunday, or about a third of the island's population.

The missionaries slowly drifted away due to ill-health or waning
years, and neglect and a tsunami put paid to the church; by the late
1800s Aneityum's near-4000 population had been depleted to just 500,
the result of western diseases introduced by the missionaries as well
as the now-gone traders, blackbirders, and whalers before them.

Aneityum and Inyeug faded into obscurity for over a century until in
the 1980s the Australian cruise ship Fairstar started visiting
Vanuatu, making many unsuccessful attempts to land passengers on what
appeared the archetypal South Pacific white sand beach.

Fairstar's owners, the Sitmar Line re-named Inyeug as Mystery Island
on the grounds that because of the unpredictable seas, it was a
mystery whether passengers would ever get ashore there or not, and
after Fairstar was reduced to razor blades, P&O started visiting with
its South Pacific cruise ships out of Sydney and Brisbane.

There's now a landing-jetty on the island, and next year P&O's Pacific
Dawn, Pacific Sun and Pacific Star will visit Mystery Island some
twenty-five times, putting around 45,000 visitors ashore over the year
for a day's swimming and snorkelling the coral reefs, walking the
beaches, or buying fresh fruits, shells, carvings, necklaces and other
souvenirs from the Aneityum people who come across to trade on "ship

Mystery Island also has a basic 2-room coral, bamboo and grass thatch
Guest Bungalow for those seeking that Robinson Crusoe experience: it
has a simple kitchen, covered BBQ, two double beds, kerosene lighting,
and a bush toilet.

And you'll have the whole island virtually to yourself: Aneityum
villagers who may turn-up to occasionally fish, are always gone well
before sunset for fear of those spirits.

It leaves visitors at the guest house to rise in the morning when it
suits, maybe plan the day's activities over last night's lobster catch
grilling on the barbie, beachwalking, snorkelling the reefs, fishing
for lunch and dinner, and pondering what we poor fools are doing back
in "civilisation…"

And with no TV, radio, telephone or internet to find out what's
happening in the rest of the world, when deprivation becomes too much
it's a matter of waiting until someone arrives from Aneityum and
negotiating a lift by canoe to the local guest house and little
tourist office there… or to visit the remains of the historic old
church, bushwalk or mountain-climb.

Guests have to bring all basic food, water and personal needs on the
twice-weekly flight from Port Vila that lands on Mystery Island, whose
grass airstrip was built in 1960 to service the too-mountainous

Arrangements can also be made to have someone from Aneityum deliver
local market produce, limited trade-store groceries and cook for you
if you want to experience the local fare.

And it's important to check whether during your planned stay, one of
those cruise ships is going to pop up on the horizon and disgorge over
1000 passengers to share the solitude of your island for a day.

For full details contact either Joseph Talo on (or ;) or Olivier
Fidelio at (


PHOTO CAPTIONS: MYSTERY Island's 2-bedroom Guest House.

BEACH on Mystery Island that lure's
by their thousands… but only 25
times a year.

ONCE the biggest church in the
South Pacific, all
that's left of the missionary
church on Aneityum Island.

PHOTOS: Vandiscovery Tours

Trek Vanuatu Tours

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