Nestled on Lenakel Cove at the foot of Mount Yasur on the east coast of Tanna, this eco-friendly accommodation carries the visitor to another place in time, while still offering those little comforts we all treasure.
To enter Tanna is to enter a different universe. The island is virgin. The roads are dirt tracks. The people have an ancient air to them, of having been here for thousands of years, living together with the volcano. Tanna’s rich cultural tradition and kastom are evident in every day life. Mostly people come to Tanna for the majestic and active volcano. Setting foot on the top of Mount Yasur is one of those experiences that are simply unforgettable and unmatchable. By looking at photographs of the volcano prior to arrival, the visitor can get an idea of what to expect. Of course the pictures, cannot fully convey the intensity, immensity and magic of the visual experience that is Mount Yasur. And there is more; the olfactory and auditory experiences that pictures do not show. The volcano breathes. It breathes loud and clear, each set of breaths accelerating towards the climax of an explosion of lava high into the air, to resume again, slow and softer breaths speeding and swelling towards the next explosion.
Just twenty minutes from the volcano is Friendly Bungalows. Located on an expansive black sand beach, you can hear the explosions as you relax between your last swim and dinner, on the deck of your bungalow. The outlook is beautiful, the feeling, unique. The eight bungalows are built in traditional island style, with thatched walls, natangora roofs and an added edge of sophistication. The beds are comfy, the porch has shade and the shower has hot water. The decoration, island style, from the fares’ exterior to the interior details, is beyond cute. This is a ‘Hansel and Gretel’ little village. The fares are set along the beach on a lovely protected little cove. At one end is the entrance to the cove by the road that climbs up the hill towards the villages and Mount Yasur. At the other end is the restaurant and massage hut located on the beach.
Friendly Bungalows is owned by Australian couple Joanne Wade and Peter Rottevell and managed by the welcoming Tanna couple Greg Gregory and Evelyn Thompson. Joanne and Peter landed in Vanuatu in the early 2000s, when they heard the call of the Pacific, and ended up being partners in Port Vila’s Poppies on the Lagoon resort. Eventually, they bought the entire business and have kept building and improving Poppies to make it the successful business it is today. In 2007 they took a trip to Tanna to see the volcano, staying at Friendly Bungalows while there. It was love at first sight and while sitting on the beach after going up to the volcano, still intoxicated by the experience, Joanne whispered to Peter those very exciting words, “You know, this is for sale…” And as she said, the rest is history.
Through the years, they have developed the bungalows and restaurant, building new bungalows as well as improving the existing structures. Friendly has a small team of six staff members, all welcoming and helpful Tanna locals who run the bungalows and restaurant. The restaurant is set in a charming open-air pavilion facing the ocean and has a delicious set menu each day for the guests that choose to eat in. I don’t know if it is the sea air, the volcano air, or the unequivocal feeling that you are so far away from civilisation, but the food tastes incredible. “The team from Australian Sunrise TV program was staying with us and they say our pancakes are the best in the Pacific,’’ smiles Joanne. Besides pancakes, the menu is graced with dishes such as Thai Beef Salad, Flambé Beef fillet, fresh poulet fish and lobster when available.
It is often that visitors to Tanna will stay only two or three nights as they think there is not much to do besides visiting the volcano. Just in this one corner of the island however, there are enough interesting, out-of-this-world things to experience to keep anybody amused for over a week. Besides the mighty Mount Yasur, the mesmerising John Frum cult village is located less than 4km away from Friendly Bungalows and visitors are welcome for a special tour. This tour is the creation of one of the neighbouring villages. “One of the great things about Friendly is the community involvement,” explains Joanne. “When we first came to Friendly, the community was involved insofar as the custom land owners have created a trust where a percentage of Friendly’s revenue was placed to be shared amongst the villages. In the last years, the three villages closer to us have become involved in a ‘hands-on’ way by creating tours and activities for the visitors. More and more, we see small, organic enterprises being born, it is really wonderful,” explains Joanne. Villages have now set up their own tours in which they share with the visitors their cultural traditions such as custom dances and the local kai kai, weaving and handicraft making.
Tanna is very much about the Earth but the ocean is all around it and there are many ways to enjoy it. Tours to Port Resolution and Shark Bay are evocative experiences where one can get acquainted with the fishing and boating side of Tanna as well as enjoy lovely beaches. Then, there are tours to hot springs, waterfalls, horse riding, whale watching – the list goes on. Experiencing an adventure so singular that would, in another place, take five months of detailed preparation, four weeks of trekking through the jungle and a whole team of expert explorers to prepare, is only ‘a skip and a jump’ away in Tanna. It is truly a wondrous wonderful world.
Ph: 26856 or 23425, [email protected], www.friendlybungalows.com.vu
Story by Patricia Gil Garcia. Photohraphy by Patricia Gil and courtesy of Friendly Bungalows.