The Republic of Vanuatu is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean . The archipelago is located some 1,750 km east of Australia , 500 km north-east of New Caledonia , west of Fiji and south of the Solomon Islands . It was named New Hebrides during its colonial period.

Vanuatu is only 2.5 hours flying time North East of Brisbane and 3.5 hours from Sydney , Australia . It’s a little over 2 hours from Auckland , New Zealand . There are regular flights from New Zealand , Honiara , Australia , Noumea and Fiji .

Many of the islands of Vanuatu have been inhabited for thousands of years, the oldest archaeological evidence found dating to 2000 BC. In 1605, the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós became the first European to reach the islands, believing it to be part of Terra Australis. Europeans began settling the islands in the late 18th century, after British explorer James Cook visited the islands on his second voyage, and gave them the name New Hebrides . In 1887, the islands began to be administered by a French-British naval commission. In 1906, the French and British agreed to an Anglo-French Condominium on the New Hebrides .

During World War II, the islands of Efate and Espiritu Santo were used as allied military bases. In the 1960s, the ni-Vanuatu people started to press for self-governance and later independence; full sovereignty was finally granted by both European nations on July 30, 1980 . It joined the UN in 1981, and the Non-Aligned Movement in 1983.

Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands, of which two — Matthew and Hunter — are also claimed by the French overseas department of New Caledonia . Of all the 83 islands, 14 have surface areas of more than 100 square kilometers, from largest to smallest: Espiritu Santo (3956 km), Malakula (2041 km), Éfaté (900 km), Erromango (888 km), Ambrym (678 km), Tanna (555 km), Pentecôte (491 km), Épi (445 km), Ambae or Aoba (402 km), Vanua Lava (334 km), Santa Maria (328 km), Maéwo (304 km), Malo (180 km) and Anatom or Aneityum (159 km).

Most of the islands are mountainous and of volcanic origin, and have a tropical or sub-tropical climate. The nation’s largest towns are the capital Port Vila, which is situated on Efate , and Luganville, on Espiritu Santo . The highest point in Vanuatu is Mount Tabwemasana , at 1879 m (6158 ft), on the island of Espiritu Santo . There are several active volcanoes in Vanuatu , including Yasur on the island of Tanna , one of the world’s most accesible volcanoes, as well as several underwater ones.

With a population of approximately 217,746 (from the Vanuatu Statistics Bureau 2005), Vanuatu boasts 113 distinct languages and innumerable dialects. This makes it one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth.

This amazing diversity is a result of 3,000 years of sporadic immigration from many Pacific countries. Although most settlers arrive from Melanesia , the larger built, lighter skinned Polynesians also settled in the islands. As with all nations and peoples, over millennia these different groups came into both peaceful and violent contact, sometimes intermarrying and sometimes having losing their cultural identity to a more dominant group.