There's something quite magical about waking to a new day in a new destination and the first thing you observe is sand on a secluded, private beach being groomed especially for the guests staying at a luxury South Pacific Island resort.
The previous night I hightailed direct from work to the airport to arrive relatively late into Port Vila, Vanuatu. Through the tour company, Adventures in Paradise I was whisked from the capital's airport to my hotel. So it was with relative excitement that I awoke to discover that indeed I was on my first tropical island.
The country itself only gained independence from France and Britain in 1980 and is made up of 83 islands that vary in size and infrastructure. Port Vila is situated on the South-west corner of Efate; other popular islands include Santo, Tanna and Ambrym. But I wasn't in the country to learn more about the history - I was in Port Vila to enjoy a relaxing weekend away from reality in a luxury resort that caters mostly to holiday-makers who just want to chill.
I was staying at the recently acquired Holiday Inn - the brand formally opened for business at this property in November 2011 after a 15-month, $12 million renovation and refurbishment. The trade mark unmistakeable Holiday Inn style is evident throughout the resort. All guests can choose between a soft or hard pillow, enjoy a solid night's sleep on the uniform comfortable mattress and receive a wonderful splash-free shower courtesy of the unique shower curtain that curves around and falls on both sides of the bath.
However, it was the little touches that most impressed me. During breakfast for example, the resort organises a staff member to show the very attentive kids how to weave leaves into decorative designs so that parents can enjoy a peaceful breakfast. Also if anyone is celebrating a birthday or any other significant occasion, the staff are happy to write a special message into the sand. I asked one of the staff whether they ever had anyone propose using a sand message. When they responded, "no," I requested that they write a sand message to my work colleague - just as a bit of fun. I was delighted when the following morning I saw the words, "Will you marry me, Kyla," written in the sand.
The resort primarily caters to families; I was told the average duration for the holiday is seven days. The kids I observed seemed to love paddling around in the pool before heading down to the beach to dig around in the sand, while the parents contemplated whether to lie on a sun bed or a hammock. Oh the decisions while on holidays. There's a dedicated kids centre with well trained staff and a smaller pool that's perfect if adults wish to have some time away from the action of the main pool area. Families can stay in connecting rooms to make the whole experience seamless.
There's also an extensive range of activities, which change daily, that make this resort a fantastic holiday experience. On offer are everything from coconut husking, to tribal face and beach volleyball. However I was in Port Vila for the water based pursuits - so I signed up for a Catamaran Tour. There's a variety of water craft available to use including kayaks, stand-up boards and of course easy to sail Catamarans. The tour gives novice sailors the opportunity of learning how to sail the boat and remain within the safety of the activities team.
It was Arsen, a friendly local who works part time at the resort while he's completing his studies in tourism, who explained to me how to operate the craft. I thought I was all set sail, when suddenly another member of the activities team, Joel came down to the shore line suited in his life jacket and kindly offered to be my skipper. I thought fantastic; I could just sit back and enjoy a leisurely sail around the adjacent lagoon.
The yachting was wonderfully therapeutic. During our one hour's sail, I was able to have a really good chat with Joel about Vanuatu life and his views on the future of his country. He made one really good point. It's often quoted that Vanuatu is the "friendliest place on earth," and certainly the locals certainly smile everywhere you go. Joel said that the reason why the NiVan are considered so friendly is that they treat everyone the same; as their equals. It was a really nice sentiment to express and talking with Joel as we tacked around the lagoon was really nice. He was interested in my life in Australia as much as I was interested in his life in Vanuatu.