Vanuatu showcases nature at its best.
Vanuatu showcases nature at its best. Shannon Newley

Island's untouched beauty shows another side of Vanuatu

Crowded resorts with jam-packed swimming pools.

Beaches covered in deck chairs. Cocktail waiters. Tourists. Cruise ships.

That's what I imagined I would arrive to after my two-and-half-hour flight to Vanuatu.

What I got was a barely touched island with no electricity, no shops and no public transport.

Port Vila is the more popular stop for tourists heading to this part of the Pacific but I'm on the tiny Aore Island via Espiritu Santo.

We fly into the Luganville Airport, direct from Brisbane, and meet a driver to take us into town.

From this dusty, third-world town, we get a 15 minute "water taxi” to Aore, said "Our-ray”.

There's no wharf or jetty upon arrival. Our tinny driver pulls up at a small beach at the back of an uninhibited block of land.

A young, local bloke is waiting to take us to our privately-owned accommodation, Island View Cottages, which backs on to a beach and reef.

There are two basic but comfortable self-contained cottages on this perfectly manicured block and it's surrounded by thick bush. There are no neighbours, no passing boats and apart from our property managers, we wouldn't see anyone else for the week if we didn't leave the cottages. It's the perfect place for daily swims, to catch up on reading, snooze in a hammock and enjoy a digital detox.

Snorkelling is the go-to activity with stunning fish zipping in and out of beautiful coral formations at a small reef. For a novice snorkeller, it's a great introduction. And of course there's fishing and kayaking.

A conversation with some local residents results in an invitation to the island's school fundraiser. It shows how basic the amenities are on Aore. It's a few flat-topped buildings and a small make-shift library. The students are curious about us, circling with shy smiles as the adults perform traditional dances and songs.

A rustic barbecue spread of chicken, pork, beef, salad and sweet potato, served on a large leaf, is presented specifically for visitors' tastes. We convince our hosts to let us try the local food - mainly fish - and enjoy it much more. It's a cultural experience you can't exactly book.

That's how things work on the island - casual conversations and word of mouth. And if you are flexible and patient, island life is relaxing with unexpected adventures.

If cabin fever is setting in, Aore has a couple of small privately owned and family-run resorts that offer some social interaction. For lunch, good cocktails and a massage, head to the Freshwater Plantation Resort - a small and simple open restaurant with a menu centred around produce from the property, including goat cheese and cocoa.

The main attraction here is guided bat cave tours that run daily.

For dinner and drinks head to Aore Island Resort and order the lobster if it's on the menu. Expect to pay Aussie prices for your food and beverages - except maybe the lobster.

For an adventure off the island, head back over to Luganville and negotiate a taxi for the day. We pay $A100 for local driver, Sam, to take us to the Blue Holes, about an hour north. There are few shops outside of Luganville so make sure to pack a few refreshments.

Tourism is still casual in this part of the country so make sure you take cash. Don't trust prices on websites as they change and marketing is slow to catch up.

We pay 1000 VUV each to enter, which is about $A13.

Unlike the warm bath-like water of the beaches, these natural springs are refreshing and offer a reprieve from the humidity. Despite being one of the more well-known attractions, we're the only tourists there.

With our ice-cooler of beers, we jump back in Sam's van and head to the northern part of Santo to Port Olry, a small resort of a couple of cabins, a shack-like cafe and a few beach huts.

It's worth the extra hour north to enjoy the coconut crab.

Apart from a small group of young Aussies dancing on the white sand and in the warm aqua water, we're the only tourists here. On the way back, the Black Pearl is your must-do dinner-stop.

While other resorts are still casual or little more than shacks on the beach, the Black Pearl is more of a first-world operation. It's a highlight of our trip thanks to the hospitality of the owners, fantastic live music, the incredible seafood and well thought-out wine menu - something neglected at other resorts where cocktails take pride of place.

But back in the third world as you journey towards Luganville, don't forget to stop in at a kava bar and have a drink with the locals. Though rarely more than a small open shack on the side of the road, you'll spot them easily thanks to flashing red lights. For less than a $1 you'll get your muddy-looking kava served in a small plastic bowl. It's a strange night-cap that may leave you feeling a little numb in the lips for your taxi to Aore Island.

With cheap, short flights, stunning and untouched natural beauty and potential for adventure, this little part of Vanuatu will no doubt become a favourite among Aussies looking for an island holiday with a difference.



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