A boom in Vanuatu’s small luxury hotels is allowing visitors to enjoy the natural charms of the South Pacific in comfort. It is the quintessential tropical island paradise, an archipelago of 83 islands with white-sand beaches, swaying palms and amazing coral. However, Vanuatu is more than just a fly-and-flop destination.
The Ni-Vanuatu people are happy people with infectious smiles. It’s enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. Add ancient village customs into the mix and the island paradise offers more than enough to lure visitors. Culture and nature-based activities range from village tours to abseiling down a waterfall, or flying over a fiery active volcano on Tanna to exploring the shipwreck dive sites on Santo.
In the past, the downside has been limited choice in upmarket accommodation but in recent times, improved roads and a growing demand for high-end lodgings has fuelled a trend. It’s a luxury boutique resort trend that is well on the upswing.
Small luxury hotels
New developments are popping up around the South Pacific paradise, especially on the island of Efate. Most have enviable waterfront locations and city mod-cons such as i-pod docking systems, luxurious bathtubs and private plunge pools.
One of the newer developments, The Terraces (tel: +678 24923), is within walking distance from Port Vila’s main shops. Its 16 studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments have views over Erakor Lagoon. The design, which is sleek and contemporary, is unique here and a breakaway from the trend towards a barefoot kind of luxury that well suits Vanuatu’s natural assets.
Eratap Beach Resort
A few years ago, Eratap Beach Resort (tel: +678 5545007) led the boutique luxury accommodation revolution with 12 thatch-roofed villas right on the beach. Glass doors lead to timber decks furnished with comfortable deck chairs and banana lounges. The décor is island-chic, with an airy feel and stylish seashell decorations.
With three private beaches, lagoon waterways and islands nearby, the main activities are kayaking and snorkelling. You can snorkel straight off one of the resort’s three beaches, although, the best spots are a short boat ride away. There’s an open-air beachfront restaurant and island-style bar, a large tropical swimming pool with a casual bar. The day spa rounds it off to make it a tropical island hideaway you might never want to leave.
However, if you’re keen to enjoy more of Vanuatu’s natural assets, the Cascades is not far. As its name implies, the cascading waterfall is a lush cool oasis. A hike through the tropical jungle involves wading through gushing streams and a comfortable climb to refreshing pools near the top of the cascades. The water is cool and there are caves to explore behind the falls.
Vale Vale Beachfront Villas
The bumpy pot-holed road adds to the charm of the recently opened Vale Vale Beachfront Villas (tel: +613 9592 1422). Tucked amongst palm trees, frangipani and wild orchids on the shore of the Pango peninsula, the one- and two-bedroom villas have ringside views of the bay. At high tide, the lapping water is almost at the steps of your timber deck. Tall timber doors lead to pretty walled courtyards in front but most of the living is done at the back, where floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors lead onto timber decks with tranquil water views.
Living areas are open plan and have high ceilings.
Bedrooms have king-sized beds swathed with mosquito netting. There is no onsite restaurant and villas have kitchens equipped with gleaming new implements. But if cooking is not your forte, the local bus service will pick you up from your front door and take you anywhere for 150 vatu (around $1.50).
Ecotours Vanuatu (tel: +678 252 99) picks up guests from the villas for walking, cycling and kayaking adventures off the beaten track. They range from gentle bush walks through coconut plantations to kayaking the Rentabao River where the water is crystal clear.
Cate Blanchett owns a waterfront property somewhere around Havannah Harbour and Leonardo DiCaprio was spotted cruising around the bay on a private yacht. The area might have caught the attention of the rich and famous but so far, as a holiday destination, the former World War II US naval base has managed to fly under the radar.
Port Havannah is on Efate’s northern coast and is a 30-minute drive from Port Vila’s international airport. You can glimpse a birds-eye view of the picturesque coastline and make a grand entrance by arriving at The Havannah (tel: +678 551 8060) by seaplane or helicopter.
The stylish boutique retreat accommodates 32 guests in three types of villas and has a restaurant that serves top nosh. A cultural experience nearby is a tour to Chief Roi Mata’s Domain, three World Heritage-listed sites including caves on Lelepa Island.
A day tour on Lelepa Island reveals the island’s natural beauty and offers the chance to meet some locals, the villagers of Lelepa Village, where cannibalism was practiced up until the 1940s. A highlight of the tour is snorkelling off the back of a local banana boat over amazing coral gardens.
Trees and Fishes
A few canoe-strokes away from The Havannah is Trees and Fishes Private Retreat (tel: +678 775 3058), a low-key tropical hideaway at Rana Beach. The waterfront location is stunning and a favourite spot is a hammock slung between two trees by the water’s edge. The main reason to stay here is for the fishing.
A full-day fishing aboard Azurra, the retreat’s Edgewater boat, is an opportunity to catch dogtooth tuna, yellow fin, wahoo, sailfish, blue marlin or red bass. The retreat can accommodate up to nine people in three rustic cabins ideal for extended families or groups of friends. Beds are comfortable but the cabins have no television sets or minibars. Their best assets are the trendy designer bathrooms with huge lava bathtubs.
Meals are hearty and prepared with fresh local produce such as organic meat and fruit and vegetables from local farms. The best thing about dining here is eating the fish you’ve caught from the day’s fishing excursion. Sipping a cocktail in the open-air tropical bar as fresh seafood is prepared for you in your own private waterfront retreat is a special experience.
The writer was a guest of Vanuatu Tourism