Hunt for a plea­sure trove

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Sun­rise on the jetty over­look­ing Et­lau la­goon at Eratap Beach Re­sort fea­tures lo­cal pro­duce, in­clud­ing or­ganic beef, lob­ster and freshly caught deep sea fish and the wine list has plenty of fa­mil­iar la­bels from Aus­tralia and New Zealand as well as France. There are six one-bed­room vil­las, a hon­ey­moon villa, and two-bed­room and three-bed­room vil­las suit­able for fam­i­lies. Spe­cial fam­ily-friendly weeks are des­ig­nated through­out the year, with ac­tiv­i­ties for chil­dren dur­ing those pe­ri­ods.

With lou­vre win­dows and high-pitched ceil­ings, the vil­las are cool, bright and airy. There’s air-con­di­tion­ing but the ceil­ing fan seems per­fectly ad­e­quate, with dou­ble French doors open­ing out to a small deck and the beach be­yond. All are dec­o­rated with a mix of Me­lane­sian and Asian fur­ni­ture, king-sized beds (in the two-bed­room vil­las, one can be split into sin­gles). Lounge rooms have the nec­es­sary equip­ment for tea and cof­fee mak­ing, a bar fridge and DVD and CD sys­tems.

I es­chew the en­suite for the out­door shower in the walled court­yard, the bet­ter to soak up the trop­i­cal at­mos­phere. On its own small point of land, the hon­ey­moon villa is just steps from Eworent­pat Beach and has views of Et­lau la­goon. The largest villa, with three sep­a­rate pavil­ions, wraps around Ewormet Point, with views of al­most the whole Eratap re­gion. And just when I’m think­ing it can’t get much more in­do­lent, a late af­ter­noon walk takes me past the large pool and bar area in the gar­dens and brings me to the door of the day spa, a small villa set on the edge of the la­goon.

Closer to the city, es­pe­cially for those who want to try out Port Vila’s restau­rants, Man­goes Re­sort is a 29-room adults-only re­treat just a 10-minute walk from the main street (if you know where you are go­ing; my ad­vice is to take a map and at­tempt it at least once in day­light).

Owned by two Kiwi cou­ples, Man­goes has bun­ga­low­style ac­com­mo­da­tion, eight with pri­vate plunge pools screened from the neigh­bours, while oth­ers have views of Erakor La­goon. Each bun­ga­low stands apart from its neigh­bours and the de­sign is cool and breezy, with plan­ta­tion-style shut­ters and a small deck.

The ac­com­mo­da­tion is clus­tered around three larger pools in var­i­ous ar­eas of the lush gar­dens, on a hill­side over­look­ing the la­goon and the larger re­sort com­plex of Le Meri­dien Port Vila, at which Man­goes guests can dine. They’re also able to use the re­sort’s wa­ter­sports hut with a charge-back ar­range­ment.

There’s an in-house restau­rant and some bun­ga­lows have kitchens if you fancy pick­ing up lo­cal fare to cook from the large down­town mar­kets. Ei­ther way, it’s then an even shorter walk from din­ner to that plunge pool.

From Port Vila we take a small plane for an hour’s flight to Van­u­atu’s largest is­land, Espir­itu Santo (or just Santo, as it’s com­monly known). The only con­tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion on Santo is four bun­ga­lows on the beach­front at Bar­rier Beach, about a 20-minute drive from the main town of Lu­ganville. This is Moyyan House by the Sea, on the east coast of the is­land and only 12 steps from the sea. It sounds like brochure-talk, but it’s true: all that’s be­tween me and the bun­ga­low is an an­cient sprawl­ing tree with a cou­ple of glass­bot­tomed kayaks be­neath.

A cou­ple of guests are putting away their snorkelling gear as I ar­rive; there is coral and colour­ful fish to be seen in the calm warm wa­ters just off the beach.

My visit co­in­cides with that of Moyyan’s own­ers, Mel­bourne cou­ple San­dra and David Cock­roft, who picked for its name an Aus­tralian Abo­rig­i­nal word mean­ing camp by the sea’’. When Moyyan opened it got an in­stant boost by be­ing fea­tured on the Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion show with the Cock­rofts’ daugh­ter Amy and her hus­band David Whyte at the helm. The comfortable bun­ga­lows are ar­chi­tect de- signed, with pri­vate decks and tim­ber lou­vres to let in the breeze. Tim­ber deck­ing links the build­ings and there’s a wide ve­randa in front of the Fare Out Bar and restau­rant.

Over a drink on the deck, David Cock­roft fills me in on some of the lo­cal his­tory. Santo’s role in World War II as a mil­i­tary base for thou­sands of US troops is one of the is­land’s many draw­cards. The area be­tween here and Aese Is­land was a dry dock for US PT boats dur­ing the war,’’ he says, in­di­cat­ing the is­land just off­shore.

Among Santo’s at­trac­tions are scuba div­ing — most notably at Mil­lion Dol­lar Point and on the wreck of the Amer­i­can troop car­rier SS Pres­i­dent Coolidge, which sank in 1942 — and sev­eral in­land lime­stone swim­ming holes. The Riri Blue Hole— clear, deep and un­be­liev­ably blue — pro­vides yet an­other mo­ment in which it’s pos­si­ble to think the real world has re­ceded to a safe dis­tance. Lee Mylne was a guest of the Van­u­atu Tourism Of­fice and Air Van­u­atu.

Check­list

Air Van­u­atu flies to Port Vila from Syd­ney, Mel­bourne and Bris­bane. More: 1300 780 737; www.air­van­u­atu.com. www.van­u­atu.travel www.eratap.com www.man­goes­re­sort.com www.moyyan.com

Pic­tures: Len Zell

Day glow:

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