This was my second visit to Hideaway Island, one each side of Cyclone Pam. Like so much of Port Vila, the resort copped its fair share of fury from the mammoth storm in March last year, but I’m pleased to report Hideaway has picked itself up and is back in business, firing on all cylinders again.
There are several features of this private island resort that set it apart from other properties nearby. The obvious is its fully self-contained aspect, thanks to a great little beachside bar and restaurant called 'On the Beach', where you can grab a bite and a drink to enjoy at the bar or on one of the beach lounges.
It’s also an ideal venue for a day visit, which has made it attractive for cruise ship passengers. But with more and more Australians cruising around the Pacific it's time we looked beyond the traditional shore tours like duty free shopping, village markets and city tours, and instead tried something more adventurous.
Acknowledged by experienced divers as one of the most diverse and accessible sites, Hideaway’s own marine sanctuary, Mele Reef, is an easy transfer from Port Vila. It is one of the richest reefs so close to port and is ready for divers of all levels.
One of the really fun things for lazy divers (like me) are the Seadoo electric dive scooters, each powered by a motorcyle battery and good for around two hours of submersed operation.
Weighing just a few kilos, these devices couldn't be simpler. Hold the handlebars, squeeze the triggers and away you go. Let go, and it stops. Brilliant. In 75 minutes you can cover 1,500 metres at between 15 and 20 metres deep and come back with just under 100 bar still in the tank.
We tour several of the key dive sites in one go and I'm introduced to many of the star underwater attractions including oodles of anemonefish (clown/Nemo), a blue spotted ray, moray eel, titan trigger fish, surgeon fish and snapper of all shapes and sizes. Manta rays, dugongs, whales, reef sharks and barracuda are also occasional sightings all through Vila harbour.
“It's also a great place to learn about reef ecology and we're beginning a project with University of Newcastle to study sustainable coral regeneration and conservation,” the Divemaster tells me.
“And people can see the results of reef damage right alongside pristine reefs and understand the difference straight away. We still have occasional storm and human damage even though we have 10 of our 25 sites off limits and regenerating.”
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Even though introductory (discover) scuba dives are offered for novices, day-visit divers would be better off arriving with certification and taking a complete dive experience.
If you’re staying at the resort, you can even leave with your PADI Open Water certification, as the resort runs its own internationally-recognised courses. More experienced divers can add to their own portfolio with Advanced or Nitrox certification.
Other aquatic activities include snorkelling, kayaking, hobie cat sailing, banana boat rides and even kite surfing for real daredevils. For those not wanting to get wet, you can still see the reef from one of the glass-bottom boats. You may even see someone posting a waterproof postcard at the famous underwater post office.
Vanuatu's premier golf course is also located less than five minutes’ drive from Hideaway Island. Plus, day tours are available ashore to any of the sights such as the superb Mele Cascades where you can swim in the cooling waters and enjoy a moderate hike.
Hideaway Island has become a bit of a favourite of mine thanks to its privacy, vibrant marine life and quiet, relaxing vibe. So close to the international airport, yet still a castaway feel.