is less mysterious than its name suggests. The word is well and truly out about this little piece of paradise which lies at the southern tip of Vanuatu's island chain, but don't worry- despite many cruisers having already uncovered the secret, it's still as gorgeous as ever. The isle is unique as a South Pacific cruise port
- it is completely uninhabited, the only regular visitors besides cruise passengers being a group of locals from neighbouring islands who come to sell souvenirs and welcome cruisers.
Often named as a favorite port, Mystery Island is the cliche of a tropical islet. The sand is golden, the waters turquoise, the vegetation green and the sheltering coral reef provides an underwater wonderland. There is not much to do on the island beyond what nature provides, but it is the ultimate relaxing destination - there's plenty of room for a shipful of passengers to spread out and enjoy.
Mystery Island is a tender port, meaning your ship will dock offshore (usually in the shelter of nearby Aneityum Island) and you will be ferried to the small dock on the island by tender boats. These can get busy in the morning and afternoon, so plan to get in early or wait out the crowds. The tender trip takes around 15 minutes.
Although the Vatu is the official currency of Vanuatu, the stall keepers on Mystery Island will happily take Australian dollars. It is a good idea to take small denominations, especially as you may receive Vatu as change. You can spend it, donate it locally, or hold on to it if you are heading to Port Vila
You won't need much cash on the island, as there are few spending opportunities. All that is available for purchase are souvenir handicrafts, snorkel gear hire and occasionally alcoholic beverages and depending on the day's catch, freshly-caught lobsters for lunch. Credit cards are not at all useful.
When we say Mystery Island is small, we mean it- at only 12,000 square kilometres, it takes less than an hour to walk around the whole shoreline. It houses an airstrip, the few souvenir stalls and not much else, so you can't get lost. The tenders dock at the northeastern end of the island.
Language and etiquette
Locals in the nearby islands speak various native Tahitian languages including Anejom. The nation's official languages are English, French and Bislama. However, there's no need to worry about communication on the island as they are well used to speaking English with cruise passengers.
Do not take photos of the local people working on the island as this is considered impolite. There are photo opportunities if you are willing to offer a small donation. Vanuatuans tend to operate on "island time": a very relaxed schedule, but this shouldn't affect you on Mystery Island.
Rain or shine
The subtropical climate on the island means that you are likely to find a humid and sunny day for your visit- with the possibility of a refreshing rain shower. The average temperatures in January are around 26 degrees celsius, and they drop to a pleasant 21 in the southern winter months- still warm enough for swimming and snorkelling.
Mystery Island: What to do?
The best thing you can do on Mystery Island is relax and enjoy the sun, sand and sparkling waters. The cruise gods have seen to it that you do just that, blessing the little island with natural attractions and no civilization to get in the way. Here are a few tips to fill up your time ashore.
The island is beautiful above the water, and even more so below it. Snorkelling is the way to see it, and you can either purchase your own gear for it on the ship or hire gear onshore- there are usually locals with a rental stand set up. The warm water, coral reefs and exotic sea life combine to make a beautiful experience, and thanks to the pristine, untouched nature of Mystery Island, visibility can reach beyond 15 metres.
The island is yours to explore, and it doesn't take long to see it all on foot. There are some lovely walking tracks through the bush and around the airstrip which takes up the centre of the island. Alternatively, embrace the shipwrecked feel of the isle and make your way around the perimeter which consists of almost-continuous beach. This should take no longer than 45 minutes to an hour at most, and is a great way to get a feel for the place.
Eat and drink
For the most part, you will need to bring food and drink ashore from the ship- make sure everyone has a water bottle to stave off dehydration and sunstroke. There is usually some food for sale amongst the stalls, with fresh tropical fruit and boiled lobster often on the menu. If you can, we recommend trying the local flavours and supporting the islanders who come over to cater to cruise passengers.
Not all cruise lines offer shore excursions at Mystery Island. The small island is easily visited with no guides- you can't get lost, there are no buildings and no cultural attractions requiring commentary beyond the stalls set up near the tender dock. However, some lines including P&O
do run tours- and if you are not one for relaxing on the beach, you might want to check them out.
There is the option to take a "snorkel safari" which combines a lesson in snorkel techniques with a boat ride out to the reef for prime underwater viewing with a knowledgeable guide. This is expensive but potentially worth it for the inexperienced and/or nervous snorkeller!
Glass bottom boat and Stand Up Paddle
Also generally available on a P&O or Carnival cruise are glass-bottomed boat adventures. There are two different excursions: A glass-bottomed kayak tour combined with a snorkel tour, which requires a bit of fitness, or a more sedate hour-long ride on a bigger glass-bottomed boat which is perfect for all ages and fitness levels. Cruisers on these lines will also have the opportunity to try their hand at Stand Up Paddling- although if you are interested in this sport, it would be much cheaper to begin your lessons elsewhere as the tours are pricey at $90 for an adult.
P&O offers tours of the villages on neighbouring Aneityum Island. With a short ferry ride over, you can spend time in either a modern village where many locals live - or the Ukava Cultural Village which is home to a small community and showcases a more traditional way of island life. Village visits are a great learning experience and involve a little walking.
Have you been to the lovely Mystery Island? Let us know what you thought in the comments. Find out more about the Isle of Pines
with our other port guides.