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Shiver me timbers, is this cove for real Sea dog: Swashbuckling Captain Harry keeps a weather eye out 87654321012345678

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Roderick Eime braves pirates and cyclones for a glimpse of the romantic South Seas life on Vanuatu

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‘‘PULL that halyard! Put yer back into it, lad!’’ hollers Captain Harry, as I heave and sweat on the fat rope that hoists the mainsail. ‘‘Now, sweat it off like this,’’ he curses, pulling heavily on the rope and fixing it to the cleat. I’ve made the mistake of voicing a passing interest in sailing, and Harry, eager to immerse me in the experience, soon has my flabby arms aching and sore from the exertion. We’re aboard his classic, gaffrigged schooner, Cassiopeia, full rig flying and heading out of Port Vila harbour for a sunset cruise. Rum-laden punch is poured generously in true seagoing style, and tall tales are soon flowing. Harry is what you’d call a corporate refugee. A US-born architect, he was about to sign the biggest deal of his life, but backed out at the last minute, choosing instead to sail off to the South Seas. His flowing locks of dark hair, mischievous grin and neatly trimmed goatee make him an instant ‘‘Jack Sparrow’’ with a dangerous charm. I wonder if Harry, based in Port Vila and still dreaming of the odd swashbuckling adventure, may be pushing the pirate fantasy a bit too far. But our short excursion on the thankfully tranquil harbour is a fun and relaxing frolic, complete with eye patches, cutlasses and muzzle-loading pistols. To the port bow is Iririki Island, ‘‘safe haven’’ in the local language and home to one of Port Vila’s very few luxury resorts. It was once the site of the British high commissioner’s residence, now occupied by the resort’s manager, Jean-Francois Debon. Opened 21 years ago, the resort and spa complex has wooed both newlyweds and the newly retired in their quest for the perfect tropical-island getaway. During

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escape

South Pa c i fi c Ocean

Efate

Port Vila, Vanuatu Getting there: Air Vanuatu flies six times a week from Sydney to Port Vila; Iririki Island Resorts & Spa is just three minutes by free, roundthe-clock ferry from Port Vila town centre.

Idyllic: The Iririki Island resort and, top, taking in the view from the new apartments

SUITE TALK that time, Vanuatu has had more than its share of rough weather, including airline collapses, reschedules, consular warnings and cyclones. Coincidentally, during my stay tropical storm Becky was on her way. The resort has, astonishingly, continued throughout this turbulence and is now entering a new phase of its life. I’m here to inspect the latest 61 luxury accommodation units opened at Snorkelers Cove on the island, where developers have unveiled plush apartments and penthouses for those wishing to invest in their tropical vision. Now, instead of just staying for a few nights in paradise, guests can purchase their own apartments or penthouses for private use or investment. Most prefer to holiday in traditional style, with Internet room rates beginning at $380 a night for the single room fares (freestanding bungalows) and deluxe

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apartments from $560, though this rate can be reduced and bonuses attached when buying a package. As I stare out across the expanse of Port Vila’s harbour from one of the balconies, admiring what is arguably a million-dollarplus view, I can see the many attractions of this location. There’s access to a few good restaurants, berthing for your luxury yacht, a spacious leisure precinct with huge infinity pool, water sports, gym and conference facilities all secreted into the careful landscaping of the island. Some aspects, however, border on the archetypal Gold Coast development, like the stark tiling and plastering in the new rooms, and the slightly unimaginative architecture of the apartment block, especially from the rear. That said, the location, facilities and dining are hard to match in this remote Pacific republic. For those wishing to stay as guests, there’s still a lot of attraction in the traditional fares with their rough wooden floors, slatted windows and old colonial feel. Dinner at Watermark Restaurant is a polished affair, with

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French wine, delicate seafood and the trademark Santo Island beef eye fillet. The beasts on Santo live a stress-free life, up to their rumps in long, lush grass, and produce some of the tenderest, most flavoursome steak you’ll find anywhere. Iririki’s other premium restaurant, Michener’s — named after American author James A. Michener, of Tales Of The South Pacific fame — is perched imperiously above the harbour, complete with its own horizon pool. As guests tuck into their multistar cuisine and sip champagne and cocktails, I glance across the table to Captain Harry, still resplendent in his full Jolly Roger regalia. He has captivated two of the female guests with rapturous conversation, and it’s this innocent seduction that encapsulates the whole Iririki experience: an escape to the alluring, colourful and romantic life of a South Seas scallywag. I wonder if he’s hiring.

Package: Coral Seas Travel has 7 nights for price of 5 at Iririki Island Resorts & Spa in a private Garden Bungalow from $1569; includes flights and taxes, breakfasts, transfers and Port Vila and Environs tour. For travel between October 16 and December 14 and January 17 and February 29, 2008. Details: 1800 641 803, (02) 8236 9900 or www.coralseas.com.au More: www.iririki.com

■ The writer was a guest of Iririki Island Resorts and Spa.

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Shiver me timbers,is this cove for real