Epi, an enchanting and unknown island
The 3,000 inhabitants of Epi Island live in a multitude of small villages, some of which are hidden in the lush and impressive vegetation and can barely be spotted.
Agriculture is the main activity of the island’s subsistence economy. Fishing and livestock breeding are complementary sources of food. Tourism is not an economic activity as such even if the Lamen Bay area is quite frequented.
This very beautiful bay is a spot for gentle turtles and dugongs, whose presence contributes attracting a number of pleasure crafts. Groups of tourists also land at the airport for a day trip on the island. A few bungalows by the sea can accommodate visitors but the lack of comfort cannot be fully compensated by the natural kindness of the owners and staff. The uplifting planned by the Ministry of Tourism would most certainly contribute improving the situation.
Preserving the reef in collective decision
It should also be noted that water activities on offer include canoeing, snorkelling and swimming with dugongs. The latter are clearly not comfortable with the upsurge of activity and have sought refuge around a small island some 2 nautical miles off the coast.
This large bay is, however, a most suited location for snorkellers, who may probably have the chance of coming across turtles. The sandy sea bottom is covered with meadows, which explains the presence of turtles and dugongs. To the left of the bay, on the way to coral beds, one can find the usual fish populations and a greater aquatic life than in the centre.
The village inhabitants have well understood the interest of tourists for the fauna and flora. There is a quasi-unanimous agreement on the need to preserve the resources of the area.
Crossing the island by the steep hills
The island counts 134 km of coasts and a maximum North-South distance of 40 km. The only track that runs around the island becomes impassable in heavy rain conditions. It is, however, a very enjoyable walk from Valesdir to Lamen Bay, an ideal experience that guarantees great encounters when crossing the villages. You can also catch one of the specially equipped taxis available on the island. Whatever your choice, you will discover superb coastal landscapes along this track which runs up many hills, some of them quite steep.
The outward journey by plane can be undertaken from Port Vila to Valesdir and then back from Lamen Bay to Port Vila. Single tickets can easily be obtained from Air Vanuatu at reasonable prices, unlike some better-known airlines. Whatever the mode of transport, the 17 km-long trip to Lamen Bay takes almost a whole day. The ample opportunities to stop and explore are well worth the time spent. The eco-lodge will make the necessary taxi arrangements. Epi Island can also be visited by sailboat with Lamen Bay, which is sheltered from the dominant winds, as the landing point.
An eco-lodge located in a dream natural setting
The eco-lodge is located at the head of a tiny coral-fringed inlet, some 200 m away from a beautiful white-sand beach. All the surroundings are in a wooded mountain setting with a tiny spring flowing past the house before pouring into the sea.
A stony track runs around the entire property before crossing a small village located some 2 km away. One barely hears the engine of any vehicle, maybe once every two days. Absolute calm prevails in this place while only over an hour away by plane or helicopter from Port Vila in case of medical emergency, for example.
Comfortable accommodation adapted to the natural and cultural environment
Ideally located, this house is made of wood, a material adapted to the climate as it doesn’t conduct heat, unlike concrete or traditional masonry materials. A large covered terrace looking out on the sea comprises the dining area, an ample outdoor lounge area and a billiard table. The welcoming common areas inside the house are bathed in light and well ventilated, comprising a lounge, a dining area and a bookcase. The décor uses traditional local artefacts or objects brought from remote countries visited by Alix and Rob Crapper. Three of the five rooms available for visitors have their own sanitary block. There are generous space and all the beds have mosquito nets. Fans are also available in all of the rooms, which are well lit and ventilated, and are equipped with mosquito protection.
Rainwater collected in a tank is used for cooking and water coming from the spring that runs across the property is used for other domestic purposes. A solar thermal installation supplies hot water to the household.
Energy is produced in an ecological manner using a generator powered by water from the spring. This ensures an uninterrupted power supply with very little risk of breakdown and spares you the sound nuisance caused by a thermoelectric generator, which is often the case in secluded areas. The electricity supply will enable you to recharge the batteries of your photo cameras, camcorders and laptops.
A stay in a traditional fare
Rob has built annexes including three traditional farés that add to the stunning charm of the place. A traditional faré made of local wood with pandanus roofing sits imposingly on the beach. The first floor is equipped with a bed and has a small lounge. The central pole has been carved to honour the ‘Tiki’, gods of Oceania.
The sea and the interminable wild coast are your only companions. You can spend your time writing, reading and resting. You can even try a stay overnight, especially during a full moon!
A coral flat is uncovered at low tide in front of the faré and at the edge of a beautiful white-sand beach. A few breaches in the middle of this flat will enable you to reach the outer reef. You can then admire the abundant fauna and flora around the sea wall. You will also be able to see a ship passing by every two to three days and if you’re lucky enough, a traditional pirogue on a fishing trip.
Discover the atmosphere of ‘Nakamal’
The third annex is a ‘nakamal’, a traditional faré that serves for musical evenings during which the traditional brew, the kava, is a must taste. The kava root is renowned for its appeasing virtues and is used by the Melanesian people during traditional ceremonies. It is usually chewed before being soaked in water as for a decoction. Don’t worry, the root is not chewed but crushed mechanically at the eco-lodge! Wherever you are in this part of the Pacific region, it is advised to check beforehand that the root is crushed mechanically to avoid any risk of hepatitis transmission. During these evenings, people from the neighbouring village are invited to bring in a friendly local touch.
Alix and Rob have called upon the inhabitants of surrounding villages to help in running the eco-lodge. You will quickly realise that they have created, over time, a strong bond of friendship with the locals and that a climate of trust prevails. This privileged relationship will, in part, be your key to establishing a friendly contact with the people that you will meet when crossing villages or going for a stroll in the forest.
Exquisitely prepared organic food
Mealtime is a choice moment at the Epi Island eco-lodge. Besides the friendly atmosphere in which you share a meal with Alix and Rob and the endless stories that they tell about their experience in Vanuatu, the cuisine is a must taste. Any reputed international chef working in the best gastronomic restaurants will agree that that the one thing that brings all good cuisine together is high-quality produce.
Enjoy foods that have taste
A real treat awaits you on Epi Island. The notion of organic living as it exists in the Western world has little sense in Vanuatu. The soil contains absolutely no trace of pesticides or fertilizers.
Moreover, Rob makes his own compost and grows everything: vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, cabbages, radishes, salads, etc.; fruits such as pineapples, papaya, grapefruit, oranges, mangoes, soursops (Annona muricata), etc. Aromatic herbs such as peppermint, coriander, chilli, parsley, tarragon, etc. are restored to their initial purpose, which is to add taste to our meals!
There is also a vineyard, vanilla plants, as well as a poultry farm which supplies chicken and duck meat. The livestock is fed only with coconuts, fruits and vegetables from the soil. The neighbouring village supplies the eco-lodge in pork meat from animals that roam freely in the forest and fish or prawns that are caught in the river.
A delightful combination of flavours
Fruit juice is made from fresh fruits squeezed on the spot and is available at will. Coconut milk is grated and squeezed by Carole, who helps Alix and Rob in running the house. Some very good wines and beers are also available.
But Alix does not solely rely on the quality of the produce to please her visitors. Their taste is enhanced by the creativity that she puts into every meal that she prepares to offer a delightful combination of flavours that will surprise even the most seasoned traveller. Every dish is well prepared and the presentation is lovely, often with flowers and exotic fruits from the garden.
Tropical fruits take pride of place at the breakfast table. The fresh bread baked daily is delicious. Tasty jams, sauces and compotes are prepared on the spot. For lunch, there is a choice of salads, vegetables and fruits. In the evening, an entrée, a main dish and dessert are prepared and served with utmost attention to detail: seafood timbales, prawn curry made with fresh coconut milk, exotic fruit soufflé…
A host of exceptional activities around the eco-lodge
The eco-lodge enables you to organise your vacation schedule according to your personal likings. Those looking for tranquillity and rest can take place in one of the huts by the beach and spend the whole day in a couch; those who prefer snorkelling have come to the right place while the more energetic ones can try the guided treks in the mountain or kayaking.
The treks offer different experiences. You can go to the discovery of the villages tucked in the mountains, explore miles of tracks along the shoreline and cross tiny typical seaside villages, come into contact with the mountain fauna and flora or spend a half-day at the waterfalls. Enjoying the large natural pool under the cover of trees will make you feel like Robinson Crusoe on his tiny tropical island.
We highly recommend a stroll to the waterfalls in the company of one of the villagers working at the eco-lodge. Besides avoiding you from getting lost in the thick vegetation, they will teach you how to identify certain trees and plants and you will learn about their culinary or curative properties.
The Ni Vanuatu people have been living in the wild for thousands of years and deprived of access to hi-tech laboratories, they have developed a deep understanding of the workings of nature through the ages! And indeed, their remedies have not been tested through clinical trials but on themselves. It might thus be wise to listen to any advice that they may offer you.
Moreover, you will pass by a tree that resembles a soursop tree and the villagers can pick some ripe fruits that you will enjoy eating fresh from the tree. They will also tell you about the properties of this fruit, which is recommended for various ailments. It indeed provides a good dose of vitamins C or B! You will then experience a feeling that their relationship with nature is way different from ours. This may purport that if we had retained or recovered some of this way of living, we could have been subjected to less ecological disturbances.
The fact remains that if you follow the course of the spring, it takes you to a remarkable site where a ten-metre-high waterfall cascades into a large pool below, which makes for a great swim. While swimming across the spring, you will most probably notice that some rocks bear very ancient traces of the polishing that used to be undertaken on the site.
Instead of taking the same track on your way back, try the large detour route that leads to the plateau, which offers a view of a small village tucked at the edge of the forest. You will most certainly come across some villagers along the track, which will provide you with an opportunity for a friendly chat. Some panoramic viewpoints also offer extensive views of the coast through age-old coconut plantations. The area has an abundant fauna including colonies of flying foxes hanging upside-down in the trees. The walk will take four to five hours at an easy pace.
The eco-lodge also owns two kayaks. We recommend that you consider an outing along the coastline, beyond the coral flat. The eco-lodge is located on the lee shore but if you plan to paddle down south, you may be exposed to the dominant winds. However, going south remains the best direction to take as you will paddle against a gentle current, of approximately one knot which, in calm sea conditions, will enable you to have a safe return trip and eventually snorkel your way back. In all cases, setting out against the wind is an option worth considering! This is a wonderful experience being on your own at sea, with the desert coast at a distance.