Wow … There’s so many words that could describe the scenery we saw today, and all of them are along the lines of stunning, beautiful, majestic, paradise … the sort of views that movie producers look for!
Even on an overcast day with spots of rain, Champagne Beach is truly breathtaking, above and below water. Soft white sand and water with so many shades of blue that it feels like you are looking at a postcard with a photo that’s been edited in Photoshop. Having now been there personally, we can confirm that if the pictures you’ve seen look like paradise, that’s exactly what it is in real life.
Champagne Beach is about a half hour drive from Luganville on Santo, and the roads vary from bitumen (in quite good condition we must say) to dirt tracks where you’ll be driving all over the place just to try and avoid the countless potholes. Coconut trees cover many of the fields, with piles of dead coconuts below each tree that nearly look like skulls as you drive past. Every now and then you’ll spot a house that really looks like a house – as in, rendered walls and colourbond roof in good condition – but most of the housing looks like shanty towns with thatch roofs, walls made from mismatched pieces of rusted colourbond or grass woven together, and dirt tracks between the various buildings on the property. The fencing here, where there is actually fencing, is made of tree branches that have just been cut off and inserted straight into the ground where they proceed to grow as a new tree again. We’re not sure if this is due to just the type of tree or something in the soil, but the locals definitely live on budgets and make the most of what their surroundings provide them with.
Along the drive there are glimpses of the ocean through the trees, and it’s easy to see even from a distance thanks to its beautiful blue. Keep an eye out on both sides of the road for waterways. They are crystal clear and some of them the same stunning blue as our first stop before Champagne Beach – Nanda Blue Hole.
Again down a dirt track but marked with a large sign off the main road so you can’t miss it, you will walk through a typical thatch hut with some souvenirs available for purchase, but what draws you is the timber boardwalk straight out to a lagoon that is so rich blue in colour you could be forgiven for thinking it was a man made pool with colouring in the walls. It’s unbelievable to think that it is all natural, and crystal clear all the way to the bottom. Owned by a local family, who charges 500vatu per person as an entry fee, the rustic facilities – which includes a bar, visitors area, jetty, change rooms, tables and flushable toilets – blend in beautifully with the environment. Many of our group took the opportunity to test their cannonball skills from the large timber diving deck, while others simply floated along in the peace and serenity. There are fish aplenty, and an eel or two, so an underwater camera is a necessity. We spent a good hour here enjoying the underwater views, and holding tightly onto our camera – if you drop it underwater, you won’t be able to retrieve it! The water temperature was cool, but very pleasant once you’re immersed and enjoying the underwater life, and the humid air once you get out will ensure you stay comfortable.
Our next destination was Champagne Beach, and before we even set foot on the sand it blew us away. Glimpses through the trees of crystal clear water and white sand, this is one place we have been longing to photograph and video since we arrived, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays is so often praised for its sand and scenery, but having visited both it and Hyams Beach, NSW, they were both easily outdone here. While we set about trying to get some photos that would do the place justice (which is very hard!), the rest of our group took to the water to snorkel and swim.
If you can imagine hopping in a massive fish tank with crystal clear water right down to the bottom, no matter the depth, with dozens of varieties of fish – we even spotted an octopus! – then that’s going just a small way to picturing what it’s like to swim at Champagne Beach. A beautiful curved inlet surrounded by tree-covered mountains and dotted along the shore by huts selling local wares and souvenirs, it is also home to cows who like to wander down the beach and sample the water for themselves. Quite a sight for those used to the hustle and bustle of city life.
The water temperature varied here, from spots that were beautiful and warm to very cold, but you simply can’t go to a destination like this and not hop in the water. Our visit lasted for a few hours until the rain really started to set in and the clouds lowered down over the mountains and surrounding islands, at which time we headed down the road to Port Olry.
This is another little seaside location with incredible views, and you can’t help but wonder whether the locals view it the way we do and appreciate the spectacular scenery or whether this is just what they are used to. There are accommodation options along the way if you want to stay close by, but ours was just a quick drive through to look at the sights before heading back to Luganville to catch our 4:30 boat across to Aore.
On the dinner menu tonight was the world-renowned beef, and Wayne agrees that it’s the best he has tried – very tender.
All the swimming seemed to have tired most of the group out, ourselves included, and we were back in our room early. Still awake after 9pm though, and at 9:15 we both heard a long, loud rumble (the sort you could easily brush off back home as just a car or bus going last, or some other ordinary noise) followed by a shudder in our building. We looked at each other in amazement, fairly certain we had just experienced our first earthquake! A very bizarre and somewhat exciting thing to have gone through, the locals confirmed it was indeed one, so all that remains now is to find out how much it measured on the scale!
What a way to finish an incredible day!