With a name like Mystery Island, adventure surely awaits on this uninhabited islet. The good news is that tiny, 1.5-hectare Mystery Island can be solved in a day! It’s small enough to walk around the whole coast in 20 minutes, so you can experience everything from the tranquil to the taboo in a single visit to Vanuatu’s most southerly island.

According to local tales, the name was bestowed on the island that was originally called Inyeug, by Queen Elizabeth II who visited in 1975 aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. Her entourage stopped for a picnic and were instantly bewitched. Truth be known, it was more likely the marketing department of cruise line Sitmar who decreed it so, due to the precarious landing conditions before the sturdy jetty was later installed.

Either way, were these first modern voyagers entranced by the ghosts and spirits that the locals on neighbouring Aneityum Island believe gather there after dark? These tales keep Inyeug uninhabited, but also made it a perfect lair for 19th century ‘blackbirders’ like Captain James Paddon, men who would snatch locals to work on plantations back in Australia in the mid-19th century. Call them ‘slavers’ if you like.

It was after ‘discovery’ by Her Royal Highness that word spread and soon guests from cruise ships such as Fairstar, were being ‘secretly’ brought ashore for a day of idyllic relaxation on the magnificent beaches of newly christened Mystery Island. 

With no electricity, running water, roads or telephones, you can pretend you’ve washed up on a deserted island like Gilligan and his crew and relax under your own palm tree. Or when you’re visiting from your cruise ship, join in the fun with villagers from Aneityum, who cross the waters to sell handicrafts, T-shirts and fresh seafood.

You can even have your photo taken in a cauldron with a cannibal. Don’t worry, he doesn’t really eat humans, but it shows that the locals have a great sense of humour.

In contrast to the sad history of the blackbirders, cruise lines have worked hard with the locals and provided a boat to help them ferry supplies and develop activities for the guests and earn extra income for their communities.

“Cruising has really improved our lifestyle, most houses now have generators, some now have boats, the school is available to all children and our shops are supplied a lot better than they ever have been. New shops are developing and this is most welcome,” says chief Silas, “Cruise ships give opportunities to islanders who want to work and sell things to the passengers. They can plant and sell taro, or operate tours, souvenir shops and kava bars.”

Maintaining the island in its pristine condition is also part of the job. “Traditional life here fascinates people, particularly custom dancing, traditional food preparation and the games that children play,” says Tony Keith, a local employed as a ranger and marine conservationist. He keeps an eye on the exquisite reefs and the other locals who like to use the island, the serene green sea turtles, whose population is recovering after decades of over-harvesting.

Is there more to the mystery? OK, don’t tell anyone, but hidden away on the other side of the island is a secret runway, built for the US Air Force during World War II. It’s still used occasionally to drop off guests and supplies but you won’t see it until you stumble upon it in the grass.

The nearby marine reserve has much better (and easier) snorkelling than the main beaches. If you’re lucky, you might swim with Tony’s green turtles and see the tags he puts on them for his monitoring project.

This is also one of the few places in the South Pacific where you can drink kava out of a coconut shell. It’s a mouth-numbing drink served at traditional welcoming ceremonies, which are held for visitors for a small fee. It’s best you drink just one cup, as be warned that it’s a lot stronger than the ‘lite’ kava you may have tried in Fiji.

The biggest mystery is why nobody lives in such a beautiful haven. Some say the island is still haunted, but we didn’t tell you that.

Written by Roderick Eime. Republished with permission of MyDiscoveries.