Classic rat-race escape
VANUATU is the classic escape destination.
It remains in the minds of the world as the stereotypical tropical holiday with askew palm trees lining the beachside and locals nodding hello as you drink a colourful cocktail the size of a fox terrier.
Traditionally, honeymooners and rat-race escape artists land in the capital Port Vila, on the island Efate, and don't stray far.
It has duty free shopping, easy access to the stunning Cascades waterfalls and rockpools and is also a well-trodden stop for cruise-line passengers to pick up some duty-free wares before ducking back on to their floating resort.
But to the lesser-travelled north is Espiritu Santo, a region laced with the husks of United States military installations from World War II.
Tourists are treated to crystal-clear waters, tinted blue as the limestone beneath gives an other-worldly feel at the Riri Riri River Blue Hole, and the astounding calm at Champagne Beach, which is lined with eye-catching coloured fabrics billowing in the breeze.
These are the tourist attractions of Santo, but the real pleasure is by the water on tranquil Aore Island.
The island is a 10-minute water taxi from the small but lively Santo-town – and is exactly what you imagine Vanuatu to be.
The Aore Island Resort – owned by an Australian and run with the help of people from Santo tribes – is exquisite. The rooms do not have televisions or radios, but when the warmth in the air dies down gently into the evening, you are left with the sound of the water outside your back balcony. It proves a welcome escape after a day of zooming about pot-holed roads en route to beaches and other attractions.
And while the resort does have an internet connection, you will be hard-pressed to tear yourself away from the beachside view of yachties pulling up on the horizon and zipping into shore for a quick bite before ducking back to their homes on the water.
To give an indication of just how serene Aore Island was, on the second night there, an earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale hit.
I lay in the bed and felt the room shake and, though I was stirred, I was far from perturbed.
These small earthly jitters, I was told, were frequent and most enjoy them as being akin to the ultimate massage.
But of the five people I was travelling with, some didn't wake up, some woke up and were impressed, and others, like myself, just wanted to be told there was no tsunami around the corner.
Those at the resort who lived in Santo said it was a gentle reminder to remember how little we are. And, when you're sitting with your foot against a hand-rail, watching fish trying desperately to escape slightly larger fish, it's easy not to have a care in the world.
Even if the Earth had opened up, I'm not sure I could have been stressed about it.
The writer was a guest of the Vanuatu Tourism Office.
Flights from Brisbane to Espiritu Santo on Air Vanuatu begin at $270 one way but with the carrier only recently introducing the direct flights from Brisbane, expect some top deals.
For information on Aore Island resort, visit www.aoreresort.com.
Package deals are available on the Air Vanuatu website (www.airvanuatu.com).
Extensive tours are available on Espiritu Santo.
Tours are run by Heritage Tours, which can be contacted by email: heritagetours@ vanuatu.com.vu or through the Vanuatu Tourism Office: http://vanuatu.travel/