There’s a road that takes you up the coast of Espiritu Santo. It’s the main road and it was a dirt road until 2011 when it was finally tar-sealed. At a certainly point you get to the end of the road and that ‘end’ is Port Olry.
Port Olry is a French-speaking village situated on land that leads to white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. Around a thousand people live at Port Olry and the way of life of these people has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years. They do now have electricity that’s generated from coconut oil and it’s available from 5pm until 11pm. Flushing toilets have been installed for tourists.
It took us less than an hour to drive from Luganville to Port Olry and we drove in typical Vanuatu style with our three kids standing in the back of the Hilux and loving it.
Parking at Port Olry is no problem and in fact, parking anywhere in Santo is no trouble at all. We parked the car wherever we liked and walked towards what we thought was Little Paradise Restaurant but we ended up somewhere else. I do hate to be vague but I don’t know the name of the restaurant we went to – there didn’t seem to be any signage.
Here’s the critical information. If you’re going to dine at ‘that restaurant at Port Olry’, you need to order your food as soon as you arrive as nothing will emerge from the kitchen in less than an hour. We ordered then went swimming and snorkelling, came back and had a recovery beverage and had time for that to digest before we saw any food come from the kitchen. This is the best example of ‘Island Time’ on Santo.
It won’t take you long to choose what to order as there is a selection of just four items; Coconut Crab, Santo Beef Steak, Chicken and Vegetarian. All dishes are served with sweet potato chips including salad and legumes plus a dessert.
We didn’t order any coconut crab while in Santo. Coconut crabs are the largest land-living anthropod in the world and are known as the ‘palm thief’ and the ‘robber crab’. They live on land as they cannot swim and will drown if they stay in water for too long. They consume coconuts and can climb palm trees and bring down coconuts that they crush with their claw and consequently, their flesh has a coconut flavour. We did see coconut crab on a few menus in Santo but there is growing awareness that these unique crabs have been almost hunted to extinction so most tourists are opposed to purchasing them and some will not dine at any restaurant where they see coconut crab on the menu.
We all ordered the ‘chicken’ option and wondered how it would appear. We did try to ask the waitress but as we don’t speak French or the native language we were on struggle-street.
Meanwhile I put on my snorkelling gear and headed into the water. The sand is perfectly white and soft underfoot and once you’re in the warm water it doesn’t take long to find patches of very beautiful coral and lots of sea life. At certain times of the year Port Olry is home to many turtles but we didn’t see any unfortunately.
After my leisurely swim I returned to wait around 10 more minutes before our lunch arrived. Well…when it was placed in front of me I was a little underwhelmed. This dish took so long to arrive and came with very basic presentation and cost 1800 vt or $23.00. The meat was missing off my chicken leg so there was just a naked bone to look at and I thought the salad could have been a little more interesting than a tomato slice. If there was meant to be dessert it didn’t arrive.
I wasn’t really looking for a meal of this size for lunch anyway and think that at lunch time the restaurant would be better off serving simple things that are quick to prepare like baguettes and toasted sandwiches.
Barrier Beach House does make up picnic hampers for guests heading out for the day and that’s what we should have done in this instance or dine at Little Paradise Restaurant that’s further along the beach. However, we were supporting a local village and that thought alone did cheer us up.
The restaurant is very ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and I loved the sandy floor, open walls and thatched roof; you really do feel like you’ve arrived at a tropical paradise. The place isn’t overrun with tourists so there’s an atmosphere of peace and tranquility and if that’s not enough to send you into a relaxed state, there’s the view of the turquoise waters, the warm breeze and the stunning natural beauty that time has not changed.
If you would like to stay at Port Olry basic accommodation is available in Little Paradise Bungalows that are basic and have been built by the men from the village using natural materials like bamboo for the walls and natangura palm leaves for the thatched roofs. A bungalow costs 4000 vt per night (about $48.00). The rooms contain a double bed and a single bed while the bathrooms are communal.
Port Olry is well worth a visit as this would have to be one of the prettiest beaches in the world and it’s hard to understand how it is that there are so few people visiting such a pristine and natural and beautiful environment. The restaurant may be on Island Time and the menu limited and the food basic but you are sampling life as lived by the people of Vanuatu.
Verdict: Absolutely stunning.
Port Olry: At the end of the Coast Road, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu.