This is my first visit to Vanuatu and as I’m in the van driving from the airport to my hotel, The Terraces, my head is spinning left and right, drinking in this the sights of Port Vila, the capital city with its touch of France and a splash of Britain in Melanesia.
Honestly, if you’re like me – a first-timer, you wouldn’t know that Cyclone Pam swept through here on Friday the 13th of March. If you’re not like me, you’d notice that lots of trees and lush jungle forest has gone. If you’re like me you see down valleys to the water, peer into hotel grounds and you’ll comment on the neatly kept landscaping at your resort.
The fact that the latter is even an observation is testament to the incredibly hard work done by the staff at resorts up and down the island. Without guests to look after, managers managed to keep the pay roll ticking over by putting them to work on the massive cleanup that a Category 5 cyclone brings. I’m told stories of workers preferring to come back and help with the clean up and than spend time sorting out their own homes.
The streets are pot-holed and my driver, Waisea (but I can call him Wise) manoeuvres around them like a video game. Hilux’s are everywhere, often loaded with passengers on the back. The pot holes mean nothing to them. I’m told the pot holes are here all the time and Pam is not responsible. Well not entirely.
Thanks to aid money from the New Zealand government, the Port Vila waterfront is going to be redeveloped. They’re very excited about it. A silver lining after the trouble Pam caused.
We pull into the Terraces owned by young Kiwi couple Michelle Clements and Callum Rhodes. They bought Mangoes Resort, next door, a few years ago and had their eye on the empty section that now holds two rows of two-story modern apartments with kitchens and your own personal plunge pool.
I check in, throw the sliding doors open onto my veranda, plonk myself onto the wide couch inside laden with fat cushions and look around.
It’s crisp and styly. There’s a dining table, kitchen and lounge downstairs plus a loo. Upstairs is my boudoir with another glass slider and wooden louvre windows that I covet for my dream home. But the bathroom has the wow factor. A deep stone tub sits on a wooden platform and I decide suddenly I must have a bath. Strangely the tap is located near the door. I look under the soap rack sitting across the oval bath and can’t figure out where the water comes in. Ah well, this tap must do something, I reason, strip off and yank it on. Waaaaa! The water jettisons out of the ceiling in one long aqua stream. I take a selfie (with a towel wrapped around me!) and post it on Facebook.
The restaurant for both properties is located just next door at Mangoes so I go for a snoop around the villas there, along the paths edged in little plants, past one of the three pools where I cheerily greet a middle-aged Australian couple drying off and getting ready for happy hour.
Tonight the cocktail of the hour is the Crocodile Cooler. I order the green combo of Midori, Vodka, Triple Sec, lime juice and lemonade. After I my first sip I remember I don’t like Midori. But the filet mignon with a béarnaise sauce on mash with a rich jus is the best steak I find in all of Vanuatu.
We are one hour behind New Zealand and consequently I am awake to see the spectacular fiery sunrise from my comfy super king bed surrounded by a nest of pillows.
Today I’m off to Pele Island, about 40 minutes away – almost halfway round the island. Local tour operator Evergreen Tours runs a trip out here where you meet a small boat and zoom across the ocean to this small sand-rimmed island where the local villagers are happy to see you. I have brought gifts for the children of Kiwi pens and hair ties.
Pele Island is known for its snorkelling and on this tour you get a delicious barbecue lunch. Wais (my driver, remember) hasn’t been out here since the cyclone and tells me it’s even more beautiful than before. He says there used to be large trees that crowded the beach front but many of them came down. They’ve been cleared away and what I see is a wide sandy beach where the local pikanini’s (the affectionate name for babies and little children) swim and play as boats tied on the beach bob on the gentle waves.
Tomorrow I’m running my Online Crisis Strategies, Social Media and Content Marketing training for the local operators to help them use their websites and social media to get the messages out that Vanuatu is mid-bounce, more than mid-bounce actually. Bouncing back. And by all accounts is going to be even more beautiful than before.