WEL­COME TO THE TROP­ICS

Dive a ship­wreck, peer into a vol­cano, bathe in a wa­ter­fall, then sip some kava. Van­u­atu is call­ing.

New Zealand Weddings - - CONTENTS - By RACHEL RAM­SAY

Dive a ship­wreck, peer into a vol­cano, then bathe in a wa­ter­fall. Van­u­atu is call­ing

Van­u­atu is an ar­chi­pel­ago of con­trasts. Within its 80- odd is­lands, you’ll see na­ture at its most fu­ri­ous – and its most serene. Where else could you get an up- close view of smol­der­ing lava belch­ing from the crater of an ac­tive vol­cano, then within a few hours slip into a turquoise-hued la­goon to the sound­track of bird song?

From the minute you touch down, get ready to dive el­bow deep in ad­ven­ture. This is Van­u­atu’s call­ing card, af­ter all – there is so much to be seen and done, and not from a side­line seat.

Van­u­atu’s cap­i­tal (Port Vila, on the is­land of Efate), is where your in­ter­na­tional flight will land, and it pays to set some time aside to soak up the bustling vibes. Po­si­tioned around the twin­kling Vila Bay, the wind­ing streets are crammed with sou­venir-packed stores, colour­ful mar­kets and the fra­grant flavour of wa­ter­front restau­rants.

Af­ter scour­ing the stalls for your pick of fresh trop­i­cal fruit, step away from the flurry of the streets and weave your way into Le Cafe du Vil­lage. Hidden down an al­ley­way, its court­yard of­fers quiet views of the sun- soaked har­bour, and its hearty cui­sine pays homage to Van­u­atu’s lin­ger­ing French in­flu­ences.

Else­where on Efate, take your pick of ocean- side re­sorts for the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence ex­pert takes on lo­cal flavour. Par­adise Cove is revered for its blend of Me­lane­sian and Mediter­ranean cui­sine: think co­conut ice cream, freshly caught grilled fish and juicy lob­ster driz­zled with a se­cret-recipe is­land sauce. For the ul­ti­mate view, book a ta­ble on the end of the jetty and en­joy the lazy sound of wa­ter, lap­ping just inches away from your feet.

Ta­manu on the Beach is an­other foodie des­ti­na­tion that can’t be faulted. You’ll smell the seafood curry be­fore you see it: stuffed with fresh shell­fish, it’s an in­tox­i­cat­ing blend of co­conut milk, spring onion and co­rian­der, while pan-fried scal­lops come with a tangy zuc­chini salad. If you’re too full for dessert, swap it for an ice- cold pina co­lada – the bar at Ta­manu is home to Efate’s best.

Food and trop­i­cal cock­tails aren’t Ta­manu’s only spe­cialty, though. Freshly ren­o­vated, the re­sort, set 20 min­utes from down­town Port

Vila, is the ul­ti­mate oa­sis. The trade winds sweep­ing its pri­vate beach pro­vide a re­fresh­ing con­trast to Van­u­atu’s sky-high mer­cury read­ings. Sun- soak your­self by the pool, stretch your legs on the pow­dery sand, then en­joy the swirling flames of the nightly bon­fire lit by the re­sort’s staff. Once dark­ness has well and truly fallen, take the ex­cuse to re­tire to your villa and re­lax in your own pri­vate slice of in­dul­gence. Deep, egg-shaped baths, open-air bath­rooms, spa­cious be­d­rooms and pri­vate plunge pools – no de­tail has been spared in the re­sort’s ef­fort to en­sure this hide­away has the last word on lux­ury.

Ta­manu of­fers a reg­u­lar shut­tle which will whisk you into the town­ship, but wher­ever on the is­land you’re stay­ing, it might be wise to hire a car if you’re hop­ing to do some se­ri­ous ex­plor­ing. And why wouldn’t you? Home to high­lights such as Blue La­goon – so named for its pea­cock-blue shade of wa­ter – and Eton Beach, Efate has no short­age of nat­u­ral won­ders wait­ing to be ad­mired.

And if all the ad­ven­tur­ing gets too ex­haust­ing? Head to Break as Beach Re­sort – a 60-minute full body co­conut oil mas­sage is sure to re­vive your spir­its.

Efate is only one of Van­u­atu’s is­lands, though – there are 82 more to con­sider. Espir­itu Santo – or Santo as this other-worldy north­ern is­land is known – is Van­u­atu’s largest, and you’ll feel well and truly ‘away from the crowds’ the mo­ment you step onto its cruisy shores. A 50-minute flight from Port Vila, this jewel of Van­u­atu’s crown basks in nat­u­ral – and largely un­touched – beauty.

To best ex­plore the is­land, you’ll have to get ac­tive: slip and slide through nar­row jun­gle paths, cross creeks and clam­ber over boul­ders. The stand- out Milen­nium Cave trek is one of the is­land’s most di­verse: you’ll be guided through a co­conut plan­ta­tion, across a bam­boo bridge, along a river and through a cave be­fore plung­ing into a wa­ter hole for a shower be­neath a roar­ing wa­ter­fall.

If off­shore ad­ven­tures are more your vibe, you’re in luck – Santo is an undis­puted favourite with divers, and it’s not hard to see why. Its trop­i­cal wa­ters are home to pris­tine reefs, a re­li­ably colour­ful fish pop­u­la­tion and eerie World War II ship and plane wrecks. For a more leisurely take on aquatic ac­tiv­ity, Cham­pagne Beach’s crys­tal clear wa­ters and gen­tle, pho­to­genic arc shape have many tout­ing it as the great­est in the South Pa­cific – the ul­ti­mate spot for a gen­tle ocean pad­dle and a lazy doze on the sand.

Else­where on the is­land, pad­dle your tra­di­tional out­rig­ger ca­noe be­neath vines, ride horse­back through plan­ta­tions, and shop for a new sarong at the lo­cal Mama’s mar­ket. Your days in Santo will be crammed full, mak­ing the lux­u­ri­ous ac­com­mo­da­tions on of­fer all the more al­lur­ing.

Where homes-away-from-home are con­cerned, you won’t be

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