Aore Island lies 2.6 kilometres off Espiritu Santo’s coast, opposite the island’s capital, Luganville. It is easily accessed by a short ferry ride across the Segond Channel. We’ve spent a week at Aore Island Resort, hosted by Anne, the warm and friendly Australian owner who bought the resort around 10 years ago. The resort has 18 cosy but spacious bungalows set amid neat, tidy and well-kept gardens. The resort backs onto a charming coconut palm plantation and is surrounded by local farms.
The island is pretty, tranquil and unassuming. During the day there are plenty of activities available including snorkelling, diving, kayaking, fishing as well as the sandy beaches and pool area to make use of. There’s even a day spa if a massage takes your fancy. You can also take boat trips along the shores or bike rides and quiet walks along the tracks around the island. The waterside restaurant and bar area offers some tasty meals served by smiling and friendly staff. There’s also some local island entertainment offered in the evenings such as water dances and string bands.
Further afield, Luganville’s many tour operators provide access to the Santo’s many sights. We took a day to complete the Millennium Cave tour, an adrenalin-filled day taking in trekking, caving, canyoning and swimming in Santo’s rainforest interior. Santo offers plenty of other tours and activities including visiting cultural villages, blue holes, Champagne Beach, horse riding, hiking and visiting a number of the WWII sights which include Million Dollar Point and diving the incredible SS Coolidge.
If you come to Vanuatu, you will almost certainly spend time on Efate, the country’s main island. And Tanna, with its volcano, blue holes and giant banyan tree, will be sure to draw your attention too. But Aore and Santo offer excellent activities and world class diving, all set amid a relaxed and idyllic backdrop. It’s not off the beaten track, but it doesn’t feel like a tourist destination either.
When to go: We’re here in mid-August and it seems pretty perfect to me. The guidebooks suggest that July through to October is the best time for westerners to visit. We’re also told that at other times of the year it can get either too hot or too wet. Currently, most days are clear and there are cool breezes coming in from the west. Further inland the wind drops and it gets hotter and more humid. Likewise on the western shores, you’ll be more sheltered from the ocean winds. If you’d prefer fewer tourists during your time on the island then visit during September after the Australian school holiday.
How: There are weekly flights to Santo from Brisbane, Australia, as well as daily return flights from Port Vila, Efate. To get to Luganville from the airport take a taxi – or have your resort arrange it – for no more than 3000vt. The small ferry takes around 10 to 15 minutes from Phillips Wharf or BP wharf as the locals call it – we’ve no idea why! It runs back and forth several times a day until 4.30pm or 9pm on Fridays. Day-trippers can spend the day at Aore Island Resort and make use of the activities as long as they buy lunch.