When I arrived at the site of my dear property in Tanna after cyclone Pam back in 2015, I could only cry. Our beautiful managers, Gregoire and Evelyn were there to greet me, and amidst the destruction, Evelyn had somehow found a lime, a glass and fresh cold water to welcome me with a fresh lime juice. Their warmth, hospitality and care for my welfare made me burst into tears. We were not insured, but it made me determined to rebuild.
Now in 2017, I can stand together with Greg and Evelyn and welcome all the lovely guests who come to see what we have done and enjoy the same warmth and hospitality of the Tannaese people. It is an amazing feeling to see their faces as they get out of the 4WD and look around at the beach and the gardens of the new Friendly Beach. Evelyn makes her famous lime juice or serves one of the fresh coconuts chilled in the solar-powered fridge. The huge black sand beach seems to make a big impression, and then there are the new villas. After a peek inside, you can hear exclamations and whispers of ‘OMG! Look at this!’
The villas are our own design; they are simple and inviting. They are made out of local materials, and as much as we could, using the fallen timber after the cyclone. A beautiful piece of timber holding up the roof of the new restaurant pavilion is the big mango tree that needed ten men to pull it up into position. The work was shared amongst the villages for more than a year; we worked with the communities of Lono, Lonosunan and Lopali who also benefitted from this decision to rebuild. The villas have a separate ensuite bathroom, beautiful local hardwood floors, walls made out of woven bamboo and wild cane, natangora roofs, solid hardwood louvers as windows, and the bathroom is a designer magazine’s dream – all local river stone, coral and bamboo.
Lucas, my son, had quit his job in Australia after cyclone Pam to come over and help me; his background and degree is in landscape architecture. His subtle influence is imprinted on the whole design at Friendly Beach; there are only four distinct villas, each facing the sea and all with absolute privacy within the garden oasis he created. For many weeks and many visits, we sat down together on the sand in the beach with pencil and paper and drew all the possibilities of what would work best. Lucas spent many years in Vanuatu when he was young and speaks Bislama. He has a real love and understanding of the country and respect for the culture. Friendly Beach somehow reflects our relationship with Vanuatu – it’s not imposed on the environment, it works with the people and with the world of Tanna.
The buildings are beautiful and the gardens gorgeous. The beach is majestic and perfect for swimming any time. I especially like it when the tide is out and the outer reef is exposed, making it perfect for me to swim without the waves. Each August, the whales go past so close that you can hear them call each other and turtles lay their eggs up one end of the beach.
Tanna is very remote. At Friendly Beach there is no internet, no electricity (only solar and generator power) and no TV. There are no shops near by, we make our own bread, buy our fresh meat, vegetables and fruit from the local market in Lenakel and ship our fuel from Port Vila. Our Tanna managers live on site and make all this look and feel seamless, like it is all a breeze. Here in Port Vila, we handle the reservations and do the shipping across to Tanna, we phone Greg and Evelyn every day to make sure all is going OK.
It is hard to explain a labour of love. To most people the resort or holiday business is exciting and glamorous, but the truth is it has been hard work, for more than a year. Being the owner of Friendly is really just being the caretaker and guardian because I feel I have a responsibility to the local communities to ensure tourism grows. Friendly Beach is a very small resort, but it is still significant to these communities.
Over the past year, I have made good friends with Nancy Kauna and her husband Jack who have established Tanna Transfers and Tours. With Nancy, we have developed a daytime Port Resolution Safari tour that almost everyone staying at Friendly Beach has booked. She came to me with a proposal for a tour that featured an ancient site hidden for centuries by her family community. Since then, she has developed her project enormously and we now have hiking tours to the waterfall, sunset tours of the volcano and more. Together with Nancy, we are also creating wedding packages for the future.
We do our best to encourage at least a two-night stay at Friendly Beach, but the truth is a minimum of three nights is perfect as there is so much to see and explore. It is already on the bucket list to see a live volcano. Now, after the movie ‘Tanna’ uncovered Tanna’s back-to-nature culture and rich traditions to the world, I think it will be on the ‘must visit’ list for everyone who has romance in their heart and spirit in their soul. Tanna is amazing, wonderful and so very real. There is no place on Earth like Tanna. I am so lucky to be able to visit and sometimes call it home.
Story and photography by Joanne Wade. www.friendlybeachvanuatu.com