When choosing where we will have our annual family holiday, we select the destination first and then look for accommodation, hoping there will be something suitable for all five of us.
After we’d decided we wanted to revisit Espiritu Santo after spending a magical day there while on a cruise at the beginning of 2014, I started to google accommodation options and read the reviews. (Imagine going back in time 20 years and not being able to read on-line reviews!)
Anyway, I was really smitten with the look of Barrier Beach House as its position on Barrier Beach just looked like a touch of paradise. And can you believe, I could only find positive reviews. In the 40 or so reviews I read, not one had anything negative to say.
Barrier Beach House is part-owned and managed by Aussie couple, Shane and Shendel. This is a boutique resort that originally just had three beachfront individual fares however last May they completed the build of three additional garden fares. Children are welcome although if you are looking for your child to be entertained with water slides, swim-up bars, play stations and 24-channel TVs, this is not the place for you.
Transfers from the airport are included in the tariff and the drive from Pekoa-Santo takes around 15-minutes on a road that was a dirt road until it was tar-sealed in 2011. As you approach the Beach House from the crest of a hill you will be stunned by the view of swaying coconut palms that lead to the brilliantly turquoise waters that fringe Barrier Beach.
Our driver took us down the driveway that leads to the Beach House where Shane emerged to greet us. You are arriving at a beach house and so you will not be greeted by anyone in a starched, pressed uniform. Shane appeared dressed in a buttoned-down shirt with a pair of shorts and thongs and a very relaxed smile.
The children were shown to Fare 6 which is one of the new garden fares. These fares are larger than the older beachfront fares and come with a wide covered verandah with outdoor lounges and a plunge pool. These fares have louvre timber shutters but are also air-conditioned.
Drew and I were led through the main house and along a wooden path to Fare 2, one of the three beachfront fares. Definitely 1 and 2 are closest to the beach and have more privacy than Fare 3. Our beachfront fare had timber floors, the natangura thatched roof, timber louvre windows, a king-sized bed and a very close and incredible view of the white sand leading to turquoise waters.
A complimentary welcome drink is offered on your arrival day and any drink from the bar is available except sparkling wine as due to there being a maximum of 12 guests at any one time, sparkling wine is only available by the bottle. A glass of wine from the bar costs 800 vt ($10.00) and a cocktail 1200 vt ($15.00).
The accommodation is very comfortable and adequate and the fares are serviced every day. The rooms are more spartan than overly-luxurious but perfected suited for a holiday on a beach. There is a small wardrobe area in the bathroom section with a mini-bar fridge. We found the mini-bar prices to be surprisingly reasonable with only a small mark-up between what you’d pay in one of the Luganville supermarkets and the in-room price. Bottles of filtered water are complimentary and available at any time from the main house kitchen.
After a couple of days I did wonder about the laundry situation but you can give bags of laundry to the women working at Barrier Beach House and they will do the washing for you. Your clothes won’t be returned pressed and ironed but they will be folded and there is no additional charge for the laundry service. Your clothes also will not be returned that day but you’re now on ‘Island Time’ and they will return – some day.
Nothing is too much trouble for Shane and when I apologised for asking him to take me and Arabella to the medical centre for her non-emergency, he said, ‘Don’t worry, you are my job, that’s what I’m here for’.
There were many times when we leaned on Shane’s laid-back nature and generosity for lifts into town, for assistance with changing money from one currency to another, for travel advice, travel bookings, bikes, kayaks, snorkeling gear, medical supplies (Archie developed asthma, Arabella was a drama Queen and Alfie had an attack of very high temperatures), and he even took me into town to see a selection of shops within a shop where local women sell their handmade wares. In the shop I tried on a dress and as there wasn’t a mirror, asked the women how it looked. They looked at Shane and said, ‘Just ask your husband’, which had us in stitches and I’m sure Shane was thinking the women must think he prefers cougars.
On the night we decided to dine at the local Chinese restaurant in Luganville we of course had no transportation for getting there. Shane said, ‘Look, if you put a thousand vatu ($12.00) into the staff Christmas fund, you can take my car; just leave the keys in it when you bring it back’. No worries.
Shane and Shendel became more like friends than hosts. They were at all times relaxed, smiling, accommodating and generous. And we’re not the sort of family to slip into a guest house quietly.
The beach that is just a few steps from your fare is a very soft white sand beach that leads down to water that is around 28C (82F). Bring your snorkeling gear because you can swim out to some of the most gorgeous coral and fish life I’ve ever seen. Drew and I snorkeled out to a little island and fringing that island is amazing coral of every colour in the rainbow.
Like all other reviews, I haven’t yet said anything negative about our time at Barrier Beach House. But here goes. It’s just one word – Weather! You can choose your holiday but you can’t choose the weather and of course, there is nothing anyone at Barrier Beach House or on the island of Santo can do about it; it is what it is.
And yes, I do realise that we traveled during the wet season but typically, the kind of weather we experienced is usually only experienced in February, the quietest tourism month on Santo. On the day we arrived the weather was windy but sunny. Every day after that was cloudy with light showers, then medium showers, then heavy showers followed by torrential downpours where we couldn’t hear what each other was saying over the noise of the rain. I can vouch for the fact the natangura thatched roofs are waterproof.
We did have one super-sunny perfect morning on our third day but that was the morning I took Arabella to the medical centre. By the time Shane drove us back and by the time I’d changed into my bikini and rushed down to the sun lounge with my beach towel, the clouds had come over. It was a week before we ever saw another patch of blue sky.
But even though we couldn’t have had worse weather, the kids all said it was the best holiday ever. And we didn’t let the weather bother us. In upcoming posts I’ll be sharing about the amazing island of Santo and all the incredible places you can go and things you can do, even when it’s wet (practically flooding).
We had a thoroughly enjoyable holiday at Barrier Beach House. We loved the individual fares and how Drew and I slept in one that was separate from the children’s accommodation. We loved staying in natangura fares that are so close to such a special beach and lying in bed listening to the waves as they spilled onto the sand (and listening to the rain) and the peace, quiet and tranquility. The staff are relaxed, polite, friendly and obliging and can’t do more for you – but just not quickly – you have to remember, ‘Island Time’.
Tipping is not expected however we told Shane we would like to tip the seven staff who had looked after us so well. The average pay in Santo is $1.50/hour and while the staff at the Beach House are paid above that rate, some bonus earnings wouldn’t go astray. Shane collects the tips and then these are distributed equally at the end of the year at the staff Christmas party which I think is a lovely idea.
Included in the tariff: wifi, continental breakfast, filtered water, DVD’s, books, beach towels, laundry service, complimentary arrival drink, daily room service, snorkeling equipment, kayaks, bicycles, airport transfers and trips into Luganville.
In tomorrow’s post I will bring you the Barrier Beach House dining experience.
Barrier Beach House: Barrier Beach, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
Ph: + 678 7105360