About Mele Cascades
Of all the waterfalls we’ve visited in Vanuatu, Mele Cascades had to have been the most well-known. Given this notoriety, it was only natural to see for ourselves whether this attention was justified or if it was all hype. But in our experiences, coming in with such expectations tended to be a setup for disappointment, and we suspected that Mele’s popularity was largely due to its accessibility from Port Vila (Vanuatu’s busiest town, which was probably as close to being a city as an island paradise can have). Nevertheless, as waterfall fans, there was no way we were going to miss out on it, and after having seen and experienced it for ourselves, I’d have to say that it largely met the high expectations (no easy feat) so indeed we were dealing with a waterfall that had the substance to satisfy many visitors, including our jaded tastes.
Like with the quieter Lololima Waterfalls, we went with a tour company so we were picked up from our Port Vila accommodation. Unlike Lololima Waterfalls, the Mele Cascades Tour with Evergreen Vanuatu had three options. We went with the straightforward option one, which was just the main waterfall itself. Option three involved an abseil down the main drop of the waterfall, and option two involved a tour of Mele Village and some “secret” garden. Apparently, it was also possible to self-drive to the Mele Cascades car park or even hire one of those “buses” (which were really vans essentially doubling as public transport except it operated more like a taxi service), which might save slightly a little more money though independent visitors would still be subject to the 2000 vatu per person kastom fee. Our tour costed us 3600 per person (though we did receive a discount, which we weren’t quite sure what for but we’ll take it). Anyhow, the ride to Mele Cascades was roughly 15-20 minutes from our accommodation just south of Port Vila.
We were accompanied by our guide Ronald, who was a young and very friendly ni-Van local from the village of Mele (said to be the largest native village in all of Vanuatu), as well as the driver Kenny. Apparently, Evergreen Tours was said to be owned and run by the Mele Village itself. That said, given how accessible the falls were, we were told that over 600-1000 people at one time could be at the Mele Cascades on a busy day, especially when cruise ships arrive. The day of our visit happened to be a designated cruise ship day, but Ronald told us that someone fell overboard on the cruise ship bound for Port Vila, and they had to return to Sydney while search and rescue went looking for the missing passenger. And that instantly made the experience quieter, which was readily apparent when we showed up at the car park and there were hardly any people there (it was around 9:30am by that time).
Then, we followed Ronald past some change rooms then a bar adjacent to a clear pool full of fish while blaring some ni-Van reggae music, before we proceeded onto an uphill trail with quite a few steps to ascend. After the steps, the trail then undulated beneath a partially open jungle while also skirting and traversing parts of the stream responsible for the Mele Cascades. Ronald said there used to be guided walks inside the stream itself, but apparently there were too many slip-and-fall injuries so we just followed the trail which itself skirted the banks of the stream. And after spending about 15-20 minutes of walking and accumulating a bit of sweat thanks to the humidity, we eventually made it to the main part of the Mele Cascades. With the watchful eye of Ronald, we left our stuff by the shelter and platform before getting into the water itself.
As for the Mele Cascades, it was basically a series of travertine cascades. It started off as small drops when in the shadow of a large tree growing within the stream, but as we progressed further upstream, the tiers became larger until we were face-to-face with the tallest drop of them all (which I’d imagine was well over 30m or so high). There was also a somewhat hidden companion waterfall that was probably half the height of the main drop. And I’d imagine it was that main vertical drop that was what would be abseiled in the tour option 3. Anyhow, I had found it fascinating that the “trail” to get from the shelter up to the base of the main cascade involved walking on the limestone surface, which somehow acted like a water channel for the stream even though that path was surrounded by dropoffs on either side of it. And like other waterfalls that we had visited in Vanuatu, there were footholds carved into the limestone to make climbing the wet surfaces easier.
All around, the experience at Mele Cascades was fun and relaxing (especially since we were amongst just a handful of visitors that showed up). There were places to swim and take a dip in the mid-section of the cascades, and I even saw a group of young French-speaking tourists swim right at the plunge pool of the tallest drop. I even had my share of the fun as I swam in the middle pools where I found myself swimming to a small waterfall so I could get massaged (or pummeled) as the water spilled onto my head. Meanwhile, there were others who used that same waterfall to jump into the deeper part of the plunge pool. Julie and I had our fill after about an hour or so at this main part of the cascades, then we accompanied Ronald back towards the main entrance area (noting that we took a slightly different walking path to get there as we were on the other side of the stream).
Anyways, we paid for the tour and got a refreshing platter of fruits consisting of very sweet pineapple, papaya (or paw paw as they say here), bananas, brown coconut, and even passion fruit. Our tour pretty much came to an end roughly 2.5- to 3 hours from our start time at around 9am. Although we were supposed to be dropped off at our accommodation, Ronald and Kenny accommodated our request to be dropped off in downtown Port Vila so we could do a little eating and shopping before the places would close up Saturday afternoon. Of course, we would have to find our own transport back to our accommodation, but by then, we were pretty familiar with their system and were used to paying the 300 vatu it would typically take to be driven the 5km or so from Port Vila to our accommodation further south.
Finally, although we found ourselves being wet while exploring the falls, we were carefully able to haul my DSLR camera and tripod right up to the base of the tallest drop of Mele Cascades. In other words, it was an excursion where taking photos was more doable and less risky than say doing it on swimming excursions like Mt Hope or even the Millennium Cave.
Since we did the Mele Cascades as a tour with Evergreen Vanuatu, we’ll just say that we were picked up from our accommodation (about 5km south of Port Vila), then we were driven roughly 15-20 minutes to the Mele Cascades, which was right off the main road that goes around Efate Island. It was just past the village of Mele, which itself was northwest of Port Vila.
Julie and I paid 3600 VT each, which included the 2000 VT per person kastom fee. We were also given a large platter of fresh fruits (way too much food to consume in one sitting). Overall, we spent about 3 hours on the tour, including transport and the walk to get to and from the falls. Our tour began at 9am, but they also offered one at 2pm as well.
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