Until independence from Britain and France in 1980 Vanuatu was known as New Hebrides. Captain Cook gave it that name in 1774, in memory of the Scottish islands. Vanuatu means 'Land Eternal' symbolizing the break with colonialism and return to Melanesian values.
After seeing the sights of the capital Port Vila and perhaps driving a rent-a-car around Efate, many tourists fly south to Tanna to peer down into one of the world's most accessible active volcanoes and to visit the custom people and sites associated with the Jon Frum cargo cult. Scuba divers fly northwest to Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu's largest island, to dive on the President Coolidge, a 22,000-ton prewar luxury liner converted into a troop ship which sank in shallow waters in 1942 after hitting a 'friendly' mine. Santo also has some lovely beaches, a variety of resorts and hotels, and the country's only other road network accessible by rental car. There are numerous additional islands to visit, but Vanair's fares are rather high and budget travelers often end up visiting only Port Vila. Boat travel is not as practical here as it is in the other Pacific countries.
Due to its proximity of Australia, Vanuatu receives more cruise ship passengers a year than any other South Pacific country. These vessels spend anywhere from a few hours to a day at places like Port Vila, Champagne Beach (Espiritu Santo), and 'Mystery Island' (Aneityum). Unless all you want is a brief taste of Vanuatu, you're better off arriving by air and Air Vanuatu has regular flights from Fiji (the closest gateway for North Americans) and Australia.
Yes, New Zealander AJ Hackett introduced this sport to the world after seeing islanders on remote Pentecost Island jump from 30-meter towers with liana vines tied to their legs. The men of South Pentecost still do it each year in April and May to refertilize the soil for the next yam crop, although the main motive is now income from tour groups flown in from Port Vila every Saturday those months to witness the ceremony.
Perhaps, and pharmaceutical companies have tried to develop it as a natural tranquilizer. Vanuatu kava is much stronger than the kava consumed in Fiji and Tonga because the roots of the pepper plant are diced while green, then mashed and mixed with water (not strained as in Fiji). Cups of kava are sold at numerous nakamals or kava saloons around Port Vila for around US$1 a cup, about the cheapest high you'll ever achieve. After half a cup you'll have difficulty lifting your arms or walking around, and more than a cup could result in temporary semi-paralysis. Yet the mind remains clear and there are no hallucinations or hangovers.