When tourists come to Santo, the one place they want to go is Champagne Bay.
Just a 40-minute drive from Luganville it is arguably one of the prettiest beaches in the world. It has all those ingredients everyone is looking for; warm turquoise waters, white sand, tropical fish, a coral reef, together with that feeling of being washed up on a deserted island paradise.
Except when the cruise ships come in. Most of the cruise ships dock at Luganville but several times a year a cruise ship will anchor off Champagne Bay and then around 2000 people will descend on the beach. Circumstances like that are best avoided and my advice would be to drive on to Port Olry which has a beach equally as pretty.
However, one positive aspect of a cruise ship visiting for the day is that the local people set up stalls and you can buy souvenirs, cold drinks and snacks from the villagers. Otherwise the beach is pretty empty and you will need to provide your own refreshments.
Champagne Bay is owned by a village so as you drive in you will be stopped at the little office and asked to pay 500 vt (around $6.00) per person or 2000 vt (around $24.00) per vehicle. Very good value compared with visiting a beach in Sydney where parking your car out in the elements will cost considerably more.
As you drive into Champagne Bay from the dirt road, you may need to dodge the free-range cattle that position themselves right in front of you and then sit down. We had to duck and weave to get to the beach.
The entire beach is incredible however I believe the best snorkelling is on the righthand side as you look at the water so we walked up to that end of the beach. The other reason this is such a good spot is because if it’s very hot and sunny, you can be shaded by the trees that overhang the sand.
Just watch out for the free-range pigs. There had been a cruise ship in the Bay a few days before we visited and so the pigs were making the most of the opportunity to forage underneath where the food stalls had been.
The water is incredibly warm and has terrific visibility. As luck would have it, we were there on a very cloudy day however, even with the lack of sunshine, the water remained a very pretty shade of turquoise and totally transparent.
Besides sunscreen and sunglasses, the other essentials when visiting Champagne Bay are a good-quality snorkel and mask. Don’t be like us and bring only two sets of quality snorkels and masks and three sets of rubbish. This will leave three members of your family seething with their foggy, leaky and cloudy goggles and I can guarantee it, fights will break out.
When visiting Santo, a day at Champagne Bay is essential. We found the peace and beauty and serenity to be totally therapeutic and certainly, a few hours lying on that beach and snorkelling in that water is far more beneficial than any treatment from a day spa – and less costly too.
If you’re on your honeymoon or travelling as a couple and staying at Barrier Beach House you can ask for a romantic hamper to take with you for your day at the beach. Or if you’re like us and travelling as a family, a hamper without the romance is perfectly fine.
Verdict: As pretty as a postcard.
Champagne Bay: Turn right off the Coast Road, about 40-minutes from Luganville, Santo, Vanuatu.