Vanuatu: Lazing on lovely Bokissa

By Elisabeth Easther

Elisabeth Easther took her family to the Vanuatu island of Bokissa - a mini paradise

Peering into the clear depths at Bokissa Private Island Resort off Espiritu Santo. Photo / Elisabeth Easther
Peering into the clear depths at Bokissa Private Island Resort off Espiritu Santo. Photo / Elisabeth Easther

Espiritu Santo, the largest of Vanuatu's islands, is a tropical cliche, with palm-fringed beaches, white sand and clear blue water teeming with aquatic life created, one presumes, when God was on acid. For divers, in addition to coral reefs, there are also countless curiosities left over from World War II, including the wreck of the SS President Coolidge, a 22,000 tonne luxury liner turned troop ship turned wreck diver's dream.

There are turtles, bats, coconut crabs and dugongs. If you haven't seen a dugong before, picture an underwater sea cow, grazing on the greens on the ocean floor. Santo also has waterfalls, extensive caves, mountains, forests, rivers and blue holes.

Dotted around Santo's mainland are smaller islands, and they're what appealed most because, when travelling, the further I am from the beaten track, the better I like it.

Our voyage to Bokissa Island Resort took two planes (Auckland-Vila, Vila-Santo), a spin in a car and a 30-minute boat ride, and the beaten track was nowhere to be seen.

On Bokissa there are no cars, no TVs, no irritations, just wall-to-wall paradise, with sweet little beachfront fares for digs. The 71ha forested island is home to about 100 people, and although there are no shops or roads, there is a kindy and a small school for children up to the age of 12 - which means readymade playmates for the younger members of your party, a highlight for my boy.

Leilani, 5, showed us how to blow bubbles through a flower stem, and Nathan, 7, a budding aeronautic engineer, made splendid paper darts. The boys shared a wavelength and, when not flying planes, spent happy hours spying on lizards and crabs.

On Bokissa, with its beachfront massage parlour (therapeutic), extensive library, pool, jungle paths and doorstep coral reefs, you could occupy yourself for weeks without leaving. They're properly live coral reefs, too, the sort with twinkling blue LED lights installed by nature.

Bokissa also has a Padi dive centre, as well as visiting dugong.

Every morning at breakfast, tropical fruit a speciality, guests were shown a menu with two choices each for lunch and dinner, and everything was delicious. If you like fish, you're in luck, and if you don't, there's plenty for you, too.

And there are numerous excursions if your hammock releases you. One day we went by motorboat to another island where we paddled up a mangrove studded river, swam in a striking blue hole then enjoyed a barbecue on the beach. On the way home we occasionally cut the motor to reel in fish.

Another day we returned to mainland Santo to snorkel at Million Dollar Point over mountains of dumped war surplus, utterly eerie to see in the sea - especially the forklift - now home to fish.

Aaron, our tour guide, was fabulous and full of information. At the height of World War II, Santo hosted more than 100,000 Allied troops. At one point there were more than 40 cinemas, five airstrips and four field hospitals. The crashed B17 bomber strewn through the jungle was a harsh reminder of war's reality.

Champagne Beach, where cruise ships park, with its pink sand and sparkling water, is as pretty as a postcard.

In Port Orly, Aaron showed us coconut crabs with nippers so strong they can snap your fingers off. We stopped at a coconut processing plant, a little shack with roaring furnaces. This is backbreaking work. The locals earn a pittance for each tonne they produce, while offshore entities sell it on for a fortune. Back on Bokissa, things are more egalitarian and, whether you're a diver, history buff, hiker, caver, angler or just idle, Bokissa makes a heavenly base.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Espiritu Santo is a 50-minute flight from Port Vila. Air Vanuatu flies this route daily.

Accommodation: Bokissa Island Eco Resort is great for families, adults, lazy people, busy people, all people.

- NZ Herald

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