Rockwater Resort, Tanna, Vanuatu
The island of Tanna and its ni-Van inhabitants, despite their proximity to and easy access from Vanuatu’s main island of Efate, and their massive tourist drawcard of Mount Yasur Volcano, have managed to resist the temptations of rampant tourism-based development.
It means accommodation options on the island are for the most part pleasant but simple.
But the island’s newest lodging, Rockwater Resort, has taken the standard of accommodation on Tanna to a whole new level.
This small boutique hotel is stylish, eclectic and charming - impeccably designed, beautifully well managed and immensely welcoming.
Rockwater Resort is independently owned and operated by John and Silvana Nicholls (in association with a silent partner) and they finally turned a long-time dream into reality when they opened their doors to guests, via a soft opening, during 2018. The resort is located approximately 30 minutes drive north of the Whitegrass Airport, which is serviced by once or twice daily flights to Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila.
The resort’s most distinctive feature is clearly the way it is one with the landscape, quite literally - the guest rooms have been created by cutting into the limestone hillside.
This means each room is unique, crafted from the natural environment and incorporating the existing walls and recesses within the rockface. The results are enchanting and so different from your average hotel room, including some truly impressive bathrooms spaces that are a masterful blend of cave and comfort. We highly recommend the Rock Suites to truly appreciate the work of art that has been created here.
Being built into the rock face also ensures that even on hot days, the guest rooms remain pleasantly cool, and all that is required is some stylish yet unobtrusive fans to provide air circulation.
And at the front of the suites, a small courtyard features a day bed from which to appreciate the beautiful view over the garden to the ocean.
The resort encourages barefoot relaxation, including in the bar and dining area, where your toes can enjoy the white sand floor over drinks and dinner. The open air dining area is shaded by an overhanging canopy of flowers, filling the air with their divine scent.
The pool should be complete by the time you are reading this, and the manicured gardens, all planted by John himself, should have matured nicely providing an abundance of colour and adding to the already spectacular view.
All the resort staff are residents from nearby villages, and while admittedly their hospitality skills and knowledge are still a work in progress, their willingness to please, keenness to learn (yes D found himself behind the bar conducting demonstrations on more than one occasion, and yes he was welcomed) along with their big beautiful smiles make up for any occasional looks of confusion.
In addition to the bar-staff, restaurant staff and housekeeping team, local villagers are also employed to provide transport around the island (including to and from the volcano and the airport) and tours to local attractions.
John and Silvana are long time Vanuatu hotel operators. Prior to opening Rockwater, they put their hearts and souls into highly popular Vanuatu locations including Breakas Beach Resort in Port Vila, as well as White Grass Ocean Resort and Tanna Evergreen Resort, both in Tanna (you will in fact drive by both these later accommodation options on your way to Rockwater). However it is fair to say they have certainly taken Rockwater Resort to the next level.
The location they chose for their new labour of love won out for one simple reason, the stunning house reef which is part of the very limited protected ocean areas surrounding Tanna. What does that mean? No fishing occurs on the reef in front of the resort, and hence there is an abundance of coral and sea life for you to encounter.
From the pathways at the front of the resort, it is possible to sink into the translucent water, and a short swim through a half-submerged natural rock tunnel brings you to a sheltered cove with beautiful coral, colourful fish, and the occasional turtle and stingray.
Rockwater Resort is also within easy reach of the unmissable Blue Cave, one of Tanna’s most beautiful destinations - a swimming and snorkelling site that seems to be straight out of the movies.
From nearby Ipak Beach, just a five minute walk from Rockwater, a local boat-owner will transport you to the entrance of the cave. From there a short underwater swim brings you into a stunning cave, illuminated in turquoise glory by a small hole in the roof. Protected from the surf outside, the waters inside the cave are calm and cool, and the gently lapping waves echo softly around the cavern.
Back at the resort restaurant, breakfast is included in the tariff and includes all the usual suspects, including fresh fruit, a basket of bread and pastries, and a hot selection of eggs and pancakes.
Lunch and dinner are charged separately and are based on a small menu that changes daily. Local seafood is a highlight, but all dishes are tasty and lovingly prepared, with the chefs and waitstaff taking obvious pride in their work.
In addition, John and Silvana are keen to accommodate requests, and will always ensure that alternatives are available if there is something in particular that you fancy.
Of course it is most likely that your primary reason for being on Tanna is to visit the awe-inspiring Mount Yasur Volcano. The team at Rockwater Resort will arrange your tour for you, keeping an eye on the current weather and the conditions on the volcano, to ensure you visit at the best possible time - and if the conditions are right, they will encourage you to go as soon as you arrive (and we would suggest you take their recommendations, as the volcano can be misted over for days at a time). They were also invaluable at arranging the extra time that we spent on the volcano beyond the end of the usual tour - this is something that is not well publicised and seems to be an ad hoc arrangement (necessitating several phone calls and a good bit of cajoling from John and Silvana), so we can thoroughly recommend their assistance in this regard.
For everything you need to know about visiting, and photographing, Mount Yasur Volcano, see our posts below:
Photographing Mt Yasur Volcano, Vanuatu - Part III: Image Types and Camera Settings (Still to come)
For everything else you need to know, and of course to book direct with the Resort (highly recommended for any independent accommodation option as it allows the operator to avoid the substantial expense of using booking websites) just visit www.rockwaterresort.com.
Oh, and do please tell John and Silvana we say hi, and that you read all about their new Resort here on YOLO Travel :)