White Grass Ocean Resort may not be awarded a five-star rating, but it still ranks as Tanna Island's swankiest digs. A stay here, on a coral bluff on the volcanic island's sheltered north-west coast, is an escape to simplicity – an unpretentious ode to summer holidays by the beach, when feeling the sand between your toes and the salty breeze on your cheeks while dressed in board shorts and T-shirt was enough to whisk you away to a carefree world.
Tanna, the sixth largest island in Vanuatu, is 230 kilometres south of Efate, the archipelago's administrative headquarters. Most visitors arrive by plane from the capital, Port Vila, flying into the White Grass Airport, two kilometres south of the seaside resort. Coral reefs are just offshore, with several natural rock pools making perfect snorkelling and diving spots at low tide.
Most guests stay in one of 14 double or triple bures. There's also one family unit with bedding for five people, and three two-bedroom villas. The Ocean View Restaurant and Bar serves as a meeting place for guests after days spent exploring volcanoes, villages and caves. Be soothed by the sounds of the ocean as the deft fingers of the Nabisa Spa masseurs weave their spell, or try your luck on the four-hole, pitch-and-putt golf course. There's also beach volleyball and a pétanque court. A swimming pool that's starting to look dated still makes an ideal introductory venue for diving lessons from Tanna's only accredited PADI dive operator, Volcano Island Divers.
Everything about my bure says "beachy": the bright, pitched roof above the white-tiled floor; the ceiling fan above the king-sized bed; the sound of the ocean through the cyclone-rated timber louvres; the towel rack leaning against the outside wall on my private balcony; the sandy floor beyond; and the outlook over the ocean. It's conveniently located close to the restaurant and bar, with easy access to the water, pool and spa.
The Ocean View Restaurant and Bar seats up to 50 guests inside and an additional 20 on the outdoor decking. Or you can feel the sand beneath your feet at a table overlooking the water – a perfect place for sundowners. Happy Hour is at sunset, between 5pm and 6pm. Chef Charlie Apia had been at White Grass only two months when I stayed; before that he'd been at hotels and resorts in and around Port Vila. A typical dinner menu will list four choices ranging between beef, chicken or pork, seafood and vegetarian. All tropical fruit and vegetables are grown organically and are seasonal, bought from the thrice-weekly market in Lenakel, which guests are welcome to visit with Apia. Seafood is caught offshore and bread is locally baked. Cakes and desserts are homemade. Sweet tap water is naturally filtered from the resort's spring.
Most visitors come to Tanna to watch the fireworks from Mount Yasur, the world's most accessible active volcano. The snorkelling and diving is as good as anywhere in Vanuatu, with two blue holes a short walk (or swim) from the resort, as well as a reef where green turtles often loiter. You won't want to miss snorkelling into Blue Cave to see shafts of light illuminating a hidden chamber through a natural opening at the top. There are tours to villages that reject the trappings of modern life, and to the aptly described Giant Banyan Tree.
An informal, unpretentious holiday place where you'll feel comfortable enough to discard footwear after two days. From the moment I walk through the door, I feel like I'm on holiday.
Low season rates start around $300 a night twin-share, with discounts applying for longer stays. Airport transfers and breakfasts included. See whitegrasstanna.com
Snorkelling and diving off the end of the jetty.
Wi-Fi that's slow and spasmodic – a plus, according to some guests.
Mark Daffey was a guest of White Grass Ocean Resort and Spa.