Hideaway Island Resort Vanuatu - Review
Hideaway Island Resort & Marine Sanctuary - one of the best-kept secrets of the diving world! Well, that is quite a statement to make, so I had better back this up with some strong evidence. For those of you who like swimming with the fishes, what you will find below is my review of one of the most enjoyable and memorable weeks of my life, mostly spent breathing enriched oxygen for hours at a time.
Getting to the Island
Hideaway Island is to be found in Vanuatu on, or more precisely just off of, the Island of Efate. To get to Hideaway Island is a short 10 min drive from Port Vila's Bauerfield International Airport to the town of Mele, and then a 5 min boat ride. My wife & I flew out of Sydney, catching an afternoon Air Vanuatu flight. We had sprung for Business Class, which seemed a little decadent at the time of booking considering it was only supposed to be a 3-hour flight, but one cyclone, three aborted landings and a 12-hour unplanned stopover in Fiji later and it turned out to be one of our better decisions. I would like to be able to tell you more about the flight but, to be honest, it is pretty much just a champagne-induced blur of turbulence and torrential rain. I should say, however, that Air Vanuatu looked after us very well: they put us up at an airport hotel in Fiji, where we spent the morning before reboarding our 737 later that afternoon to make another attempt. The pilots made the landing first time, even though it was still very wet and gusty.
Due to the swell being too strong for Hideaway Island’s boats to safely moor up at the jetty in Mele Village, Hideaway kindly arranged for us to spend our first night at Island Magic Resort. Island Magic is located practically opposite to Hideaway Island on Devils Point Road, and standing on the beachfront we could see our final destination - now so close but still so far.
The next morning the sea had calmed, and Hideaway Island arranged for a bus to pick us up and bring us down to the jetty, where we were warmly greeted with a beaming smile form our boatman, who helped us heft our dive bags into the boat for the last leg of our journey (adventure). The warmth and friendliness of the staff at Hideaway Island is one of my lasting memories of our time there and left me in no doubt as to why Vanuatu has been dubbed "The land of smiles".
Hideaway Island Resort is breathtakingly beautiful, built on a pristine coral island covered in dense greenery and surrounded by sparkling blue seas. Nestled amongst the trees are the guest rooms, and down on the beach the dive centre and restaurant. The resort has a wide range of accommodation to choose from, ranging from quad bed dormitories to twin share rooms, oceanfront bungalows and private villas.
For our stay we had booked the Villa with private pool. The history behind the Villa is that at one time it was the private residence of one of the resort's owners, and I must say that they had certainly picked a fantastic site on which to build. Below you will see an aerial photo showing the Villa, the highlights being the large pool and the incredible oceanfront verandah with its sweeping views.
The Villa is situated at the southernmost tip of the island and is very private, being surrounded by tall trees and establishes gardens. To reach it we were escorted along shaded coral paths surrounded by trees and tropical plants.
Upon entering, we were immediately struck with how large the Villa was; the main living area is laid out as an open plan kitchen, study, dining and sitting room, all tied together by a massive expanse of cream tiling. The defining feature of the room is a large wooden totem pole; I call it a totem pole because of its beautiful carvings of seahorses, rays, turtles and shells. This impressive work of art reaches up 20 feet to meet the large skylights that bath the room in natural light.
The décor of the Villa is very chic, wherever you look there are beautiful features to enjoy such as the wrought iron chandelier, the marble-topped coffee table and the thoughtful pieces of artwork nestled in nooks and hung on walls. The furniture is elegantly styled and incredibly comfortable, from the large cream couches in the living room to the high-backed upholstered dining room chairs, every piece is unique and has a comfortable solidness to it.
The kitchen is an excellent size with a full-sized oven, microwave, fridge/freezer and kettle. It is fully stocked with all the glassware, flatware and cutlery that you will need, as well as the all-important bottle opener. The living area is air-conditioned and in the corner of the sitting room are a TV, DVD player and stereo, which came in very handy when we just wanted a quiet night in.
The Villa had a good sized second bedroom with twin singles which came in very useful for storage, as this is where we spread out most of our clothes during our stay and it made an excellent changing room.
There was also a laundry room with washer, dryer, iron and ironing board, so there was no problem with keeping on top of washing. I think my clothes actually came home cleaner than when they arrived, which was a first. The laundry room also had full-length hanging space which was great for hanging wetsuits and BCDs at the end of the day.
There was also a second bathroom with shower which came in very handy for rinsing down equipment. Also, as I am more of a shower than a bath person, I early on staked this one out as my bathroom, leaving the ensuite in the master for my wife. If the recipe for a happy marriage is a happy wife, then an essential first step is separate bathrooms (wherever possible).
The master suite was a stunning room, the centrepiece being an elegant wrought iron four-poster bed with views out over the pool and ocean. The wooden flooring connects the bedroom to the bathroom with a spa bath.
We very much appreciated the spa as not only was it great to relax in, but it also gave us a very convenient way to rinse out our regs at the end of the day.
As soon as you walk inside the Villa, your eyes are drawn to the incredible ocean views through the French doors that open out onto the pool area and private garden.
The Villa's pool is a very generous 7 meters x 3 meters and is salt water, perfect for floating in or for turning a few laps. There have got to be very few resorts in the World where your room comes with a full sized pool.
The private verandah was, without a doubt, my favourite place on the island to enjoy an evening drink and to watch the sunset. Due to its isolated location and the way that it juts out into the ocean it really felt as if we were the only people on the island.
Food & Entertainment
The restaurant down on the beach served breakfast, lunch and dinner and was our first port of call for refreshment during the day. Included with all accommodation is a continental breakfast and this is where we would start the day, enjoying, toast, fresh fruit and a cup of coffee to the sound of the sea washing up on the shore.
For lunch, the restaurant offers burgers, baguettes, sandwiches and a good selection of hot dishes, which include Hideaway’s Signature Coconut Curry. There are also plates of pasta, salads and a kid’s menu. For Dinner there are half a dozen entrees to choose from, our favourite was the coconut prawns, and for mains, there is a selection of salads, pasta, fish, beef, chicken, curry and pizzas. The local seafood is exceptionally fresh and superbly cooked; most evenings we tended towards the fish of the day that is served grilled with caper lemon sauce and accompanied with chips. Here are links which will take you to the Lunch Menu, Dinner Menu and Drinks Menu.
During the week the restaurant serves specials, and while we were there as chance would have it, they made my favourite dish in the whole world, “Beef Willington” - there was a typo on the menu board. I could not believe my luck, so much so that I made a special trip into Port Vila to pick up the best bottle of red I could find. That night, sitting on a coral beach on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific with the ocean lapping on the shore, I got to enjoy one of the best meals of my life.
There are also a couple of social highlights during the week. The first is the Melanesian Feast on Thursday nights, when the staff perform a beautiful display of dancing and singing accompanied by a local string band. A word of warning, however, is that while audience participation is not mandatory, it is very much encouraged, so be prepared to take a spin around the fire. The feast includes a wide selection of local dishes as well as kava tasting. The other weekly activity is movie night, which takes place down on the beach on Sunday; popcorn is complimentary.
One of my favourite memories of our holiday comes from the fact that being a small coral island, Hideaway is home to an astonishing number of hermit crabs. As the sun sets you can almost imagine that the beach is moving on its own as the crabs begin to emerge and start walking around.
In particular, there is one crab on the island who has such a soft spot for Australia that he has taken up residence in a Vegemite jar.
The diving on Hideaway Island is magnificent; there are three dives a day and then a night dive, and I can honestly say, I have never been anywhere where the diving is such an enjoyably relaxed experience. At the start of the day, you wander down to the dive shop to sign up for the day's diving; you will see the daily dives outlined on whiteboards, with their times, locations and depths. There are two-morning dives, one at 8:30 am and the other 10:30 am with an afternoon dive at 2:00 pm. Return to the dive shop half an hour before dive time to gear up, run through the dive plan and then it is off to the dive boats.
Compared to sending the day on a dive boat where you will find yourself frantically swapping over tanks, trying not to lose your equipment, hastily eating lunch and contending with potentially heavy swells (seasickness), diving at Hideaway is pure heaven. You stroll onto the boat, take a seat on one of the benches, making sure to line up your tank with the tank holders, and sit back and enjoy the view.
Typically, the dive sites at Hideaway are no more than a 15 min ride, and once your dive is finished you climb back into the boat which whisks you back to the dive shop to leisurely swap over tanks and prep for the next dive or not. With three dives a day to choose from, we would often go and do something else for a few hours and then return for the afternoon dive. The diving itself was excellent; there are over 18 dive sites surrounding the Island, so in our week there we only dove the same location twice; the visibility was high, at least 40 - 50 meters and the water temperature was warm enough that I was happy to dive in boardies. Not having to use a wetsuit was beyond-words good, my wife, however, who feels the cold much more than I do dove in the equivalent of a 9 mm wetsuit. Our dive guide could not believe how much weight she needed to get down, I think we used almost every piece of lead on the boat.
Most of the dives did not exceed 15 meters in depth, or if they did they tended to start deeper and then shallow out, which meant that we had great dive times, usually surfacing just on the hour. And as we were taking advantage of the fact that Hideaway offers Nitrox, we were very comfortable with the longer bottom times. Breathing the enriched oxygen also meant that we felt fresher after our dives. On our dives, we saw plenty of tropical fish as well as an abundance of clownfish and anemones. There were also larger fish and from time to time we would see the occasional white tip reef shark in the distance. The dive guides assured us that white tips were the largest sharks that we were likely to see in the waters around Hideaway, and as a resident of Western Australia, it made a nice change to be able to hang at 3 meters for 5 minutes without wondering if something large and bitey might emerge from the depths.
If you do not hold a dive ticket that is not a problem, as the Dive Shop is a fully accredited 5 Star PADI training Centre, where you can complete your Open Water Diver Course during your stay. Hideaway offers some great features for the novice diver; firstly you can complete the theory portion of your course before you arrive using PADI eLearning so you can get straight into the water to complete the practical training when you arrive. That way you will not spend a valuable day of your holiday working through dive table equations. Secondly, Hideaway, due to its protected waters, carries out its training in the water from the first lesson, instead of in a pool. If I could go back in time and do my Open Water Diver again, I would definitely do it at Hideaway Island; instead, I did mine in Singapore Harbor which is really only good if you want to experience what life for a technical diver is like.
The Dive Shop also offers a great range of PADI courses for divers looking to expand their skill set, including:
- Advanced Open Water Diver
- Rescue Diver
- Peak Performance Buoyancy
- Deep, Wreck or Night Diver
- Digital Photography
- O2 Provider
- Equipment specialist; and
For divers looking for advanced PADI accreditation, that is also an option. If you hold a Rescue Diver ticket, then the dive shop can provide PADI Master SCUBA Diver training. Alternatively, you can progress into professional training to become a Divemaster or Assistant Instructor. To learn more about the PADI courses available you can see more at DIVE TRAINING. I should also mention that while my wife and I bought our own equipment, it is not necessary as the Dive Shop is fully stocked with rental gear.
I could not talk about the diving at Hideaway Island without mentioning the World’s only underwater post office, where you can post waterproof postcards. Officially licensed by Vanuatu Post, this unique postal location was opened for business on Monday, May 26, 2003. During our stay, unfortunately, we did not get a chance to use it, as the cyclone had pushed it off a ledge and the resort divers were actively rescuing it during the week.
The diving at Hideaway Island is exceptionally well run. The dive guides, while friendly and fun, were at all times very conscientious about the safety of their guests. The guests, as you can imagine, love diving and this shared enthusiasm swiftly broke down inhibitions and friendships formed naturally. By the end of our first day, there was such a sense of camaraderie amongst the group that if anyone forgot a bit of kit someone else was always very happy to share, with everyone looking out for each other.
We absolutely loved our time at Hideaway Island, long days of diving turned into late nights under the stars. After a week we felt as if we had been away for so much longer, a sign of a good holiday in my book. Apart from diving, the Resort helped us organize all sorts of other activities: we went horse riding in the hills, for a half day visit to a wonderful day spa, sightseeing around the markets in Port Vila and for an incredible dinner of coconut crab at a beautiful beachfront restaurant. Hideaway Island is an absolute gem of a holiday resort, a wonderful mix of laid back beach life with exacting professionalism. I cannot recommend Hideaway enough. If you are looking to try SCUBA for the first time or if like us you just wanted an amazing week of diving in a tropical paradise, then it should definitely be on your underwater bucket list.
PO Box 1110
Port Vila VU *
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