I’ve been plotting a mini holiday since final exams last year, something close to home, not too pricey. Somewhere with flights on sale and hardly any other tourists when you get there. Not to mention, a destination where we could unplug within a different culture. Ideally, it would be a place where we could surround ourselves with nature, in an intense chill down kind of way. Sounds like a big ask, I know. A week off work is all we could really afford. Then I saw a photo of an earthy, seaside treehouse, taken during a friends recent trip to Vanuatu. They had visited the treehouse on a day trip from Luganville but didn’t stay there. It was exactly what I was looking for.
Some sixty kilometres along a road that carves through an intense green landscape of coconut palms and gigantic fig trees; Port Olry sits rather remotely on the edge of an incredibly beautiful beach, looking across to several uninhabited islands. What appealed to me was the location, away from the five star resorts I have always rather discriminatorily associated with Vanuatu. Not that I can’t appreciate luxury but my camping roots, earning potential and tight arse nature mean I always seem to gravitate towards the budget option.
Predominantly a working, cooperative community, Ni Van locals work the land and sustain quite a pristine, traditional environment. There are very few bungalows to stay in so you mostly get the sense of having the place to yourselves and therefore the opportunity to really connect with the locals. It’s all a bit perfect really. I am also increasingly drawn to destinations that translate to ethical tourism and the treehouse certainly sits within that idea. By staying in locally owned and run accommodation you are supporting the community – a choice that seems to be dwindling, like everywhere, due to increasing foreign investment.
The Port Olry Treehouse Bungalows are for those of you that like the earthy vibe of camping. Right on the beachfront, you fall asleep to the crash of the water and the rustle of the trees. The stars and the sunsets are incredible and if you can wake up with the sun or snorkel at sunset, you can swim with some of the incredibly peaceful local turtles. If you are cool with no power, living on low level solar lamp, cold showers and no fan, then you’re all good. We really wouldn’t want it any other way in that kind of place. There are two treehouses that sleep a couple in the smaller bungalow, or room for a family in the larger one. The smaller treehouse has an amazing shower that is setup outdoors in the roots of the banyan tree. After swimming all day on the salty reefs, an a la natural rainwater shower feels super deluxe.
If you’re stretching the dollars: The only challenge if you’re on a budget is eating and transport. Accommodation costs are comparable to similar places in South East Asia. The beachfront area has a couple of restaurants but they are pricey by backpacker standards. We worked out late in our stay that you can ask locals to make you a home made meal and you pick it up after ordering earlier in the day. Those meals cost about 1,000 Vatu (roughly $12 AUSD). Meals in restaurants are about 1,500-4,000 Vatu and the food is excellent. If you can afford a splurge the lobster is totally memorable.
Getting there: if you arrive on Espiritu Santo Island before around 4pm you should be able to get a public bus all the way up to Port Olry for about 1,000 Vatu, a taxi for 4,000-8,000 Vatu, or you can hire a car from the lovely people at this place.
How to book: The best way to plan your stay is to contact the owners, Angelic or Jean. You can message them directly on Facebook.
You might want to bring: a good head torch, snacks, a fuel camp stove so you can save a bit of cash cooking, a game to play with the locals (like frisbee or some kind of ball game), bug spray, water if you don’t like drinking the local rain water (I drank it no problem), and any old clothes or tools to give away in the village. Even better, if you wanted to volunteer your skills and time to a community, this is exactly the kind of place that would be open to any ideas of support.
I wasn’t encouraged or reimbursed to write about this place, it was just too fabulous not to share. I also thought, while I have the opportunity to promote a community that is working together in such an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, it’s the least I can do to say thanks for our stay.