Vanuatu: Highland Expedition

Climb through pristine forest flanking a newly-accessible mountain in search of all the rarely-seen endemics and specialties of Vanuatu. Despite many of these species being considered nearly impossible only a few years ago, we expect several encounters with every target from the stunning Royal Parrotfinch and Buff-bellied Monarch to the rare Mountain Starling, Vanuatu Thicketbird, and Santa Cruz Ground Dove. At the conclusion of our hiking expedition, we will have two nights in a coastal resort to relax and enjoy some lowland birding targeting Vanuatu Megapode and Vanuatu Kingfisher, with maybe a bit of snorkelling!

Next dates

15-23 July 2024

Tour length: 9 days

Group size limit: 6


Joshua Bergmark and a local agent

Guaranteed departure

NOTE: This tour is a guaranteed departure, final cost will depend on numbers. We are happy to provide advice on any extra birding participants might want to do before or after the tour in neighbouring countries like Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, or New Caledonia.

Day 1: We will meet this evening in Luganville on the large island of Espiritu Santo where we will stay overnight to go over plans for the coming days. There are daily flights from the main island of Port Vila, and semi-regular flights from New Zealand and Australia direct to Luganville International Airport (SON). The flight schedules in this region remain fluid, so we will advise on the best connections closer to the date of departure.

Day 2: Leaving early we will be transported around the coast and then begin hiking towards the interior with our group of friendly porters and local guides. Today will be a long one (approximately 10km ascending from sea level to 800m), but we expect to reach our camp on the high mountain slopes before dusk.

Day 3-4-5-6: We will spend four full days working our way up and down a trail which leads to the peak of the mountain. The best birding is along a ridge between 1200-1400m about 4km away from the camp. It is a steep hike, but well worthwhile knowing that recent surveys have detected extraordinary numbers of several endemics which have been previously out-of-reach, and probably recorded by less than a dozen foreigners since the early days of collecting. These include Mountain Starling, Vanuatu Thicketbird, the astonishing Royal Parrotfinch, and the Vanuatu subspecies of Island Thrush which is due for splitting! Other poorly-known species we will see in this pristine island cloud forest include Santa Cruz Ground Dove, Vanuatu Imperial Pigeon, Palm Lorikeet, White-bellied Honeyeater, and Rusty-winged Starling. We will also have our first encounters with some endemics like Buff-bellied Monarch which can be seen in the lowlands, but are likely to be much more abundant and cooperative up here. Four days may seem like a long time, but we consider this necessary to allow for rain and other logistical problems which may arise.

Day 7: Today we will descend after some final morning birding and return to Luganville for some welcome hot showers and a fine meal!

Day 8: Exploring the easily accessible Loru Conservation Park, we can search out any remaining targets. In particular, the impressive Vanuatu Megapode is common in this forest, as is Vanuatu Kingfisher. Other endemic birds here include Tanna Fruit Dove and Vanuatu White-eye, while Pacific Imperial Pigeon, Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove, Melanesian Whistler, and Polynesian Triller may also make an appearance.

Day 9: The tour ends this morning with departures from Luganville International Airport.

Tour details

Cost: $ TBC
Deposit: $ 750
Single room supplement: $ TBC

Accommodation: Comfortable beachside resort on our few days in the lowlands, basic camping for the remainder.

Walking difficulty: This expedition will be extremely strenuous, with at least 5 days of >8 hour steep treks on uneven, rocky, and muddy trails far from any professional medical assistance. We will be using local porters so participants are only expected to carry day-packs with water and birding gear, but an excellent level fitness, stamina, and balance is essential.

Tour cost includes: All accommodation, main meals, drinking water, internal flights (as stated in itinerary), overland transport, tips to local drivers and guides, travel permits, entrance fees, and guide fees.

Tour cost excludes: Flights before and after the tour start/end, visa, travel insurance, tips to tour leaders, laundry, drinks and other items of a personal nature.