On Vanuatu’s Iririki Island, upbeat hospitality, sun, relaxation and the spirit of ‘island time’ unite to create a perfect patch of Pacific paradise.
The ferryman waves like an old friend, giving us a big white-toothed smile as his colleague bounds off the boat to collect our luggage. Bob Marley’s ‘Could you be Loved’ is playing, and the ferryman taps one hand on the side of the boat in time with the cheery tune. The suitcases are deposited on the ferry’s wooden floor, and the man holds out a steadying hand, helping us to make our first step into ‘island time’. Then we’re gliding across Port Vila’s Mele Bay to Iririki Island, which translates as ‘small island’ or ‘safe haven’, depending on whom you talk to.
It’s hard to believe that 4 hours ago we were in Sydney; the flight is only 3 hours and the ferry wharf just 15 minutes from the airport. The harbour crossing takes a few minutes and so soon we’re walking down a wooden boardwalk to a lively reception area where we’re signed in over a fruity cocktail. Then we’re taken to our accommodation in an overwater faré, nestled in jungle-like gardens, where bougainvillea and hibiscus bring cheery bursts of colour to the palm tree. Close by, golf buggies upon fern-framed roads cruise by and guests leisurely stroll.
Iririki ‘ahhh’ moments
On and in the clear blue water surrounding the island, fellow guests kayak, snorkel, swim and paddleboard, while others sail by, en route to catch a Champagne sunset on the water. We change into swimsuits and light clothing, and do what any person freed from work and a busy city existence would do: head to the infinity pool spanning a cliff on the southern side of the island.
After a dip in the pool, where the water is as warm as the air temperature, we sit poolside for a cool beverage and watch as the sun begins its journey towards the horizon. Palm trees sway in the afternoon breeze, and mellow music drifts down from Infinity Bar. It’s one of our first Iririki ‘ahhh’ moments, and we thirstily drink in every second of it.
It’s immediately clear that Iririki attracts a wide range of people. It’s a hotspot for honeymooners, a go-to for people doing business in Port Vila but who also want to fit in some island time. The island haven is also a favourite for families — there’s an enormous pool on the other side of the island especially for children, with waterways, bridges and cafés around its perimeter. The infinity pool is for ‘quiet time’, so it’s mainly couples enjoying the water and the view.
For dinner, we’re seated on the balcony of Azure Restaurant, where below us the water laps on the island’s shores. We’re treated to a spectacular sunset of orange and purple hues and, as night sets in, Port Vila’s bright lights are reflected in the harbour, amid them busy fishing boats chugging by, music and voices often reaching out to us across the water.
Seafood is the main attraction at Azure, and there’s plenty on the menu to get excited about, such as the seafood linguine pasta tossed in creamy saffron sauce and parmesan cheese, and the tortellini with prawns served with white wine, butter and a peanut sauce.
For meat lovers, the famous beef from Espiritu Santo (another Vanuatu island, 45 minutes away by plane) is a must-try while on Iririki. The prime cut is full of flavour, lean and organic. Azure offers up the beef in a filet de boeuf served with freshly made truffle fettuccine pasta, Iririki Island-grown spinach and Cabernet Sauvignon thyme jus. At the island’s peak, a few minutes in a golf buggy up a very steep incline, guests can visit the enormous vegetable patch used by the kitchen staff, and see for themselves the delicious array of produce that’s harvested for all of the island’s eateries. When we visit it the next morning, the mango tree is heavily laden with ripening fruit. Everyone is excited about who’s going to get in first for one of nature’s sweetest island treats.
Palm trees sway in the afternoon breeze, and mellow music drifts down from Infinity Bar. It’s one of our first Iririki ‘ahhh’ moments.
Take a gamble on Iririki
For a fun night out on Iririki, guests can take a ‘Happy Hour tour’, which is actually 3 hours. Starting at the Sunset Pool from 4–5pm it moves to the island’s Jewel Casino from 5–6pm and winds up at the Infinity Bar & Café from 6–7pm. The casino is a simple, stylish affair, offering all conventional, popular games of blackjack, poker, baccarat, roulette and so forth, but it’s pièce de résistance is a double-ended American-style roulette table and blackjack table that’s placed in shallow beach water so guests can try their luck in one of the most beautiful gambling scenarios the region offers.
Spending a week on Iririki floats by like the balmy island breezes. Snorkelling right off the shores beneath your faré, you’ll discover a wonderful world of sea creatures living in the thriving, technicolour reefs. And at the highest point of the island, near the vegetable gardens and a grand viewing platform looking over the outer islands, sits Iririki Spa. Indulge in a treatment while lying high above the Pacific Ocean, and afterwards enjoy a herbal tea or glass of Champagne while watching the sun set over this special place that truly lives up to its name of being a safe haven.