Hunt for a pleasure trove
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.
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