I am at Reefers Restaurant to meet up with Heidee, owner of iconic Club Hippique in Port Vila. Admiring the gorgeous view across the bay, with the ocean only a few metres away from our table, I must admit, I have fish tacos on my mind.
Heidee’s arrival in Vanuatu was a calculated move to follow her passion. “It was a cold winter day in Melbourne when I browsed ‘Vanuatu’ on my laptop.” Looking for sunshine and an opportunity to follow her dreams, the search began.
She and her husband first arrived in Vanuatu on a ‘recon’ trip back in 2005. “We saw Club Hippique for sale online and we decided to come and have a look.” A year later, in 2006, the sale was finalized and the family left the cold Melbourne winter days behind and moved to Vanuatu.
Heidee is an accountant by trade but her passion has always been horses. “My first horse was a Shetland pony that I rode from when I was about two until I was five years old. I continued to ride and work with horses ever since.”
She is not a stranger to ‘Island Life’, having grown up on Norfolk Island after her family moved there when she was 2 months old. “Norfolk is 5km by 8km in size, so Vanuatu is actually huge by comparison!”
As a child on Norfolk Island, her morning call came at 6 o’clock. Every morning she would get up early to feed and look after her three horses before going to school. “I would whistle and they would come running down the hill for their food and have their rugs taken off.”
Their business, Club Hippique, has been running for over 35 years. During the first 20 years, it was a private member’s club, supported by the large French population on the island before Vanuatu’s Independence.
Her husband Dave is a builder by trade. During their first year in Vanuatu, he was 100% dedicated to the ranch. After that, he set up his building business ‘Capital Construction’, and is now dedicated to it full time.
Her biggest reason to leave the city life behind was the children. “I wanted our children to grow up with the same sense of freedom that I had as a child, and to be in a natural environment.”
They live and work at Club Hippique. The ranch has 68 horses over 120 acres on the huge 600 acre property. Their two daughters, Shahana and Saria, are now 20 and 14 years old, and like their mother, have been surrounded by horses all their lives and are avid riders.
Her favorite trail ride is the Erakor Beach Ride. “We ride through plantation & rainforests to arrive at Erakor Beach where the ride continues along the water’s edge. It is stunning. And swimming in the ocean is just surreal.”
She has a Sri Lankan father and Australian mother. Every couple of months, she organizes a ‘Sri Lanka Curry night’ at the ranch’s rustic restaurant and bar. She cooks all the food herself. “I love cooking so when I can find the time to organize one of these nights, I get into the kitchen and cook-up a storm!” Anybody who has ever been to one of them knows the food is legendary!
When she is not with the horses, she likes to spend time in the water. “I love the ocean, swimming, paddle boarding, or just hanging next to it.”
The horse that she most loved was called Hannay, a thoroughbred ex-race horse. “Hannay was very temperamental and everyone told me that I was crazy to buy him. But I did. We had an incredible connection; he liked to play games with me and we won many competitions. I trusted him completely.”
She has not had the opportunity to travel extensively across the islands. “Next on my bucket list is Tanna to see the Volcano and Santo; I want to see the amazing beaches.”