At last! I scored a free copy of the Lonely Planet Vanuatu (and New Caledonia) 5th edition, published July 1996. There is a new edition coming out soon but I doubt there will be many changes. The 5th edition combines Vanuatu and New Caledonia for the first time. I was expecting it to be light on substance but Jocelyn Harewood, the author, has actually done a reasonable job of fitting a lot of information about Vanuatu into 161 pages.
The first thing I noticed about the Lonely Planet Vanuatu 5th edition was the glossy section. This part reads like a mainstream tourist brochure. There is a little too much of Port Vila and commercial tourism in this book. Well, most visitors to Vanuatu only visit Port Vila and do touristy things.
On the outer islands, the Lonely Planet Vanuatu has plenty of places to stay and things to do but sometimes the details are absent, confused or simply made up. The description of Vatthe Conservation Area is ambiguous and uninspiring: "This is one of Santo's highlights, which visitors either love or hate. So check it out and see what you think." Ecotourism is on Lonely Planet's agenda but this book lacks details, obviously Jocelyn is not interested in the bush.
Then there are strange and unhelpful comments like when the stores of PENAMA province are described as "dim little affairs with rusty tins of things that might be beans." Some advice is misleading, you do NOT need to bring bottled water to the islands, the Southwest Pacific is one of the least polluted regions on Earth.
The main weakness of the Lonely Planet Vanuatu is that missing details are filled in with fantasy, one might say author's license. Jocelyn can not spend months on the islands collecting first hand information. The research is rapid: fly in, meet the local tourism official, hire a truck and drive around the island, talk to the bungalows and tour operators, stay for a night or two, fly out. This is what I saw on Tanna in 2008.
It is difficult or impossible to uncover all the facts in Vanuatu and everything keeps on changing. All considered, the Lonely Planet Vanuatu and New Caledonia 5th Edition does a reasonable job of presenting the islands of Vanuatu and most of the information is still useful today, three years after publication. The maps are OK and there are some places to stay and activities that are not covered on our website.
Near the end of the Vanuatu section, Jocelyn neatly describes travelling in the country: "In the isolated islands communication is by word of mouth; transport is by foot; supplies are from the earth and there's no money to fix things that break. You'll be pampered in the local's happy-go-lucky style." This statement implies that you have to take things as they come and not assume that your Lonely Planet is fool proof!
I returned the Lonely Planet Vanuatu and New Caledonia 5th Edition to the bookshelf in Unity Park Motel, Santo and kept Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy instead (something to torment my brother).