Official name: Republic of Vanuatu
Area: 12,200 square kilometers (4,710 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Tabwemasana (1,877 meters/6,158 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern
Time zone: 11 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: Not available
Land boundaries: None
Coastline: 2,528 kilometers (1,570 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Vanuatu is a Y-shaped chain of more than eighty islands located northeast of Australia in the South Pacific Ocean area known as Oceania. With a total area of about 12,200 square kilometers (4,710 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of Connecticut. Vanuatu is divided into six provinces.
Vanuatu has no territories or dependencies.
Vanuatu's climate is tropical, moderated by southeast trade winds from May to September each year. It is hot, with humidity averaging 83 percent year-round. Average midday temperatures in Port-Vila range from 25°C (77°F) in winter to 29°C (84°F) in summer.
Rainfall averages about 239 centimeters (94 inches) per year, with a high of about 406 centimeters (160 inches) in the northern islands. During November to April, the islands are threatened by tropical cyclones.
The entire island chain of Vanuatu is the result of active volcanism as the Australian and Pacific Tectonic Plates converge at a rate of 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) per year, uplifting Vanuatu around 4 centimeters (1.5 inches) per year. Lying along the Pacific Ring of Fire, the country has active volcanoes on Tanna, Ambrim, and Lopevi. Seventy of the eighty islands in Vanuatu are inhabited.
The Pacific Ocean surrounding the islands contains many coral reefs that plunge to hundreds of meters below the surface. There are also a number of underwater volcanoes.
The larger islands are of volcanic origin over-laid with limestone formations. The smaller islands are coral and limestone. The thirteen major islands are Torres Islands (Îles Torres), Bank Islands (Îles Banks—Mota Lava, Sola, Gaua), Espíritu Santo, Ambae, Maéwo, Pentecost, Malakula, Ambrim, Epi, Tongoa, Éfaté, Erromango, Aniwa, Tanna, Fortuna, and Aneityum. The largest islands are Espíritu Santo, Malakula, and Éfaté.
Vanuatu also makes a disputed claim on Matthew and Hunter Islands east of New Caledonia. Ownership of these would considerably extend Vanuatu's Maritime Economic Zone.
The beach rock along Vanuatu's coast is an unusual aspect of the local geology. Rainfall causes the calcium carbonate from decayed shells and zooplankton skeletons to leach onto the beaches, forming a paste-like solution. When the water evaporates, the resulting calcium carbonate cements together everything it touches into large blocks of rock. As a result, the beach rock on Espíritu Santo includes large portions of sand and shells welded to the remains of World War II machinery and thousands of glass bottles.
There are no major lakes on Vanuatu. Some small lakes do exist in extinct volcanic craters and other low-lying areas, however, including Lakes Manaro Ngoro, Manaro Lakua, Voui, and Siwi.
Because the islands are generally very small, there are no rivers of significant size. Many small streams do drain the mountains, however, including the Jourdain, Sarakana, and Wamb Rivers.
There are no desert regions on Vanuatu.
Oceania is a term that refers to the islands in the central and south Pacific and adjacent seas. The boundaries for the region are the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the southern tip of New Zealand.
Lowland forests cover the southeastern, or windward, sides of Vanuatu's islands. At approximately 500 meters (1,640 feet) of elevation, montane (mountain) forests begin. Hardwood forests cover 75 percent of the land area, but these woodlands are threatened by the logging industry.
Most of the islands are rugged and mountainous with cultivated narrow coastal plains. The principal peak, Mount Tabwemasana, rises to a height of 1,877 meters (6,158 feet) on Espíritu Santo. Other significant peaks include the 1,270-meter- (4,166-feet-) high Mount Maroum on Ambrim, and Mount Tukosmera, which reaches 1,084 meters (3,556 feet) on Tanna.
Vanuatu has a number of underwater and underground caves that have been formed as a result of volcanic activity and the erosion of limestone and ash formations. In Siviri village on the island of Éfaté, Valeafau Cave has been known to emit a mysterious phosphorous glow when village children jump up and down on the cave floor. A large number of underwater and submerged entrance caves also exist in the coral reefs surrounding the islands. Some of these caverns serve as homes to turtles and other marine life.
There are no plateau regions on Vanuatu.
There are no major man-made structures affecting the geography of Vanuatu.
Bonnemaison, Joël. The Tree and the Canoe: History and Ethnogeography of Tanna . Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.
Douglas, Norman. Vanuatu: A Guide . Sydney: Pacific Publications, 1987.
Jolly, Margaret. Women of the Place: Kastom, Colonialism, and Gender in Vanuatu . Philadelphia: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1994.
Kilham, Christopher. Kava: Medicine Hunting in Paradise . Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1996.