Every so often in life there will be a perfect moment where it all seems so unbelievable that you would swear you are part of a movie set, picture postcard or magazine cover. Cast your thoughts to a pristine, un-spoilt, tropical island in the South pacific. The sky is so vividly blue that not even a fluffy white cloud can be seen anywhere on the horizon. The only intrusion on the never-ending blue is the occasional softly swaying palm tree dancing along to the pulse of the island. There is a gentle breeze occasionally whispering over your warm sun-soaking skin, cooling you down just enough & leaving you with the faintest scent of frangipani blossom. You are draped on a beach that is so white & so pure that you can’t even comprehend its fine, clean perfection nor do you want to, you are happy just to be here in this beautiful moment. The kids happily play in the brilliant aqua lagoon, which of course happens to be the perfect temperature to spend the day lost in its gentle surging movement, exploring & experiencing with those you love the most. The best part about this snap shot into your Vanuatu family adventure is that you have the world-renowned Champagne Beach all to yourself. Not a single other traveller in site & just the odd cow & friendly local to keep you company if you fancy breaking the moment & having a chat.

It is these perfect snippets in my travel life that I refer back to time & time again in my minds eye, especially when I am back to reality & doing the day-to-day life of a busy working mum. It is these moments of utter perfection that I crave to experience in bucket loads & luckily for me, Santo has these moments in absolute abundance!

Champagne beach sits on the east coast of Espiritu Santo & is about an hour-long trip up the island’s sealed road from the main township of Luganville. Tourists have always had a big soft spot for Vanuatu & all that it offers in terms of the friendly locals, tribal culture & breathtaking natural beauty. Santo is the largest island in the archipelago but the least densely populated & Champagne beach is surely a large, shining jewel in the crown of this paradise island. Known by locals & tourists alike for its popping, fizzing sounds caused by volcanic gasses escaping from under the sand & its powder-textured white beach. Champagne beach certainly embodies a tropical, South Pacific vision perfectly.

In the earlier days of tourism Santo was marketed to the world as a divers wonderland, with its plethora of post-war wrecks & untouched coves to explore, this was a real winner for those in the fledgling Santo dive industry. In recent years however, the word is well & truly out to travellers that Santo has a whole lot more to offer than just what’s under the water. Daily flights run from Bauerfield, Port Vila to Pakoa, Luganville with Air Vanuatu but the biggest advancement to Santo’s tourism industry has been the addition of direct flights from Australia & New Zealand several times a week. Santo is now being noticed on the world stage as an alternative tourist destination to Efate & not just being marketed around the scuba diving industry. This boom is also being keenly noticed as a world-wide travel trend in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam when many travellers were unsure of what to expect in Port Vila & were looking for an alternative. Luckily Santo was largely untouched & proved itself to be the perfect option for many.

With new found tourism comes many opportunities for locals to make a living in new & different ways. With Santo having so much on offer to all types of travellers, the opportunities for locals to benefit from the tourism trade are endless.

With such stunning natural resources on their family land many Ni-Van families around the Champagne Beach area have seized the opportunity & worked together to create a living for themselves & each other. The previously unknown area now sees several cruise ships a week anchor just off shore with the pretense of offering their passengers a quieter alternative to buzzing Port Vila. There is an entry fee of around 500VT per adult & 200VT per child. On cruise ship days it is well worth all the hard work that these families put into keeping this magical place looking its glorious best. The Champagne Beach families have also worked together to set up several little traditionally built huts which are dotted along their world famous beach. On offer are locally made sarongs & handicrafts, souvenirs, food & icy cold drinks, everything the traveller needs to enjoy a day at the beach. If you find yourself falling in love with this place, like I did, there may be the chance to prolong your Champagne experience with an overnight stay in one of the island-style bungalows for around 3500 VT per night.

Luganville locals with a van are also seeing an increase in numbers of travellers wanting to hire them for the day to explore the must see stops along the East Coast road. Local knowledge is key here & travellers are more than happy to spend the money on a driver who has the kind of local knowledge that can’t be found in a guide book. The President Coolidge dive site, Port Olry, Million Dollar Point & the many electric blue natural pools on Santo are always on the well researched tourist’s list of must see places. Champagne beach is usually sitting right up among their highest priority & who could blame them, as far as tropical lagoons & un-spoilt beaches go, Champagne is the total package.

Tourists who are looking for an alternative Vanuatu experience are loving what they find in Espiritu Santo & it is fast gaining a reputation as a pristine island adventure for those who like to get off the tourist trail. The benefits for all are enormous, be it locals, cruise passengers, the adventurous traveller or the friendly bunch at Champagne Beach. Stunning Santo is a perfect paradise & not just for divers. Rest assured word is spreading fast!

As written for Island Life Magazine

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