We found paradise, relaxation, stunning island beauty and friendly Melanesian people when we visited Vanuatu and the Isle of Pines on a recent cruise around the Pacific. Although we discovered no gay factor in the islands during our short stay, we did find a few fabulous things to do.
On the beautiful island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu a short drive from the port and provincial capital of Luganville, we arrived at the Ranch. Meeting owner and operator of Santo Horse Adventures, Megan Lockyer, was a real treat. She explained that all her horses had been rescued from abusive circumstances, some only experiencing barbed-wire bits and others never properly shod.
Saddled up on Black Label and Kava we rode, with five fellow cruise passengers, down to the beach where the horses happily plodded through the crystal turquoise waters. The view to nearby islands, across the shallow sea was spectacular on a perfect late May day.
Our next thrill was to ride through a dense mangrove forest with its low hanging tangled branches. Megan noted it was nearly high tide and with each step into the mangroves the water became deeper. Midstream it was right up to the horses’ backs. Even though a little apprehensive we were all still cherishing the moment.
Luckily, the stream did not get any deeper and the water was clean and warm and with the beautiful filtered light finding its way to the forest floor we were all keen to retrace our path back through the mangrove path.
With our shoes and shorts soaked we made our way along the bush track to the highlight of our ride where the sea horses happily waded shoulder deep into the shallow Pacific waters to cool off. They expertly picked their way along the coral reef as the sea lapped over the saddles.
Our ride ended at Lope Lope Lodge a couple of hundred metres from where the horses were stabled. Our one and half hours on horse back was a sensational adventure and a great way to experience this magnificent part of Vanuatu.
On the island of Espiritu Santo you will find a strikingly beautiful beach known as Champagne Bay. Why Champagne Bay? The fresh water springs flow into the lagoon and create fine bubbles and at low tide the lagoon turns into something like a giant spa. The bay is perfectly fringed by a magnificent strip of powdery white sand, backed by plantations, jungle and mountains.
We found the translucent, calm, warm water wonderful for swimming and snorkelling where we saw and followed brightly coloured reef fish and green turtles. Some visitors paddled around in canoes while others hired the hulled-out traditional wooden outriggers.
This totally tranquil scene is where you can sit under a palm tree and drink fresh coconut juice and eat uber-fresh lobster, taken directly from the lobster pots on the beach and cooked on a charcoal grill, sprinkled with freshly squeezed lime juice of course.
To top it off, for a bit of retail therapy there are locals selling island products like sarongs, lays and tropical island clothing from thatched roof huts at the back of the beach. Island paradise? Absolutely!
Whether it is a safari around the island, visiting a local, cultural village, lazily swimming in the famous Blue Lagoon or exploring the jungle canopy on a zip line, Port Vila is a must to visit while in Vanuatu. Having visited several times before, this time we took a more sedate approach to our one day stay in Port Vila.
Our first stop was Le Cafe Du Village. A French favourite right on the waterfront looking directly onto the bay. The coffee is delicious, the food is fresh and tasty and the service couldn’t be friendlier.
Here we met Tom and Pauline from Australia who were in Port Vila for a lengthy stay working with Australian Business Volunteers. After a couple of coffees and a very pleasant chat about the good work Australian Business Volunteers do in Vanuatu we walked across the road and treated ourselves to a Thai foot massage. The massage was as good as any we have had in Thailand and the girls at Thailand Massage were so hospitable and caring with their wonderful, friendly Thai smiles.
Feeling completely relaxed we decided to take a water taxi to Iririki Island Resort & Spa, which is set amongst the spectacular tropical landscape of Port Vila Harbour and Mele Bay. Completely rebuilt and reopened only one month ago (May 2016) after a cyclone devastated the island, the resort is spectacular providing luxury accommodation and five star comfort and only a three minute ferry ride from Port Vila.
We decided to have lunch by the gorgeous pool, followed by a little swim while we watched other tourists riding the Zegos around the bay below the resort.
We rode these zippy water craft last time we visited Port Vila and we can guarantee they are a great deal of fun.
Our water adventure took us to stunning beaches, villages and coves in and around the Port Vila Harbour. They are a fabulous, high-energy but safe way to spend an afternoon in this port of call.
As we were curious to see the hotels’s new bungalows, we asked the reception managers (Damien and Silas) for a tour. We were treated like celebrities and taken on an extensive familial in one of the golf buggy hotel transport vehicles.
The bungalows out over the water are a traditional style accommodation with luxurious new fittings and furnishings. The biggest drawcard here is the prime location with stunning views of Port Vila Harbour. These rooms are adults only and great for those looking for a romantic and peaceful escape.
Following this we were taken to see the new Spa with very special ‘doubles’ treatment rooms that look directly over the sea.
Right on top of the island, facing west, the hotel is constructing a wedding chapel that has magnificent views and sunsets. It was here we both agreed that this is a place where we must spend more time because of its peacefulness, friendly people and island charm.
Anchoring a little way off Mystery Island we saw the complete definition of a south seas deserted island. That is of course, until 1600 passengers from our cruise ship descend upon it. When we arrived via the ‘tender-boat’ this incredibly beautiful blend of soft white sand, fish filled waters, palm trees and coral reefs was the perfect place to spend a few hours relaxing, snorkelling, beachcombing and improving our tans.
After the ‘cruislings’ leave the island it becomes largely uninhabited except for a few ‘Robinson Crusoes’. The locals believe that Mystery Island is haunted and live on nearby Aneityum Island which is about one kilometre away by boat. Vanuatu Travel can make arrangements for longer stays on Mystery Island.
Surprisingly, Mystery Island has an airstrip which was in major use during World War 2 and still functions today. Before returning to our cruise ship we walked right around the coral island following the shore line and the airstrip for most of the way. In 1974 Queen Elizabeth ll was sailing by Mystery Island on the royal yacht Brittania and decided to picnic there. We are sure she was not disappointed by the island’s extraordinary natural beauty and seductive allure.
Isle of Pines
Our last island paradise stop was the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia. This was our second visit to this jewel of the Pacific and its beauty is astonishing. The Araucaria conifers scattered across the island give this unique place its true identity.
The shallow blue lagoon of Baie de Kuto, fringed by palm trees and fine white sand, is perfect for swimming. Nearby Baie de Kanumera is ideal for snorkelling around the corals and Le Rocher, the large rock that provides protection for reef fish. Paddle boards can be hired here and are popular because the water is so calm, clear and shallow.
This remote, tranquil French speaking oasis is just the place to relax for a few days in five star comfort at Oure Tera Beach Resort. Nestled among a coconut grove, with a restaurant and bungalows just a few steps from the beach. Although we have not had the chance to stay at Oure Tera, a quick walk around the resort was certainly impressive.
Another possibility for accommodation is Le Meridien and when we visited the Isle of Pines last time we kayaked through stunning Oro Bay (Baie d’Oro) which is adjacent to Le Meridien resort. It was certainly one of the highlights of our stay with the crystal clear waters constantly replenished by gentle waves washing in from the nearby sea.
Whether you visit these magnificent Pacific islands by cruise ship for just a day or, like our new friends Tom and Pauline, make them a more fulfilling part of your life, we know this island paradise is addictive and will beckon you back for more.