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A South Pacific Private Island

An insider’s look at Ratua Island in Vanuatu.

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The archipelago of Vanuatu, a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Brisbane, Australia, has long been the poor cousin of the South Pacific. Politically stable, pristine, and undeveloped, with some of the world’s best diving, it marches to its own drummer: People walk around barefoot and a village sensibility is the rule. But until recently Vanuatu lacked a resort stylish enough to tempt travelers away from Fiji’s more comfortable (albeit rather standard and built-up) charms. Now, with the late-2009 opening of the sustainability-minded Ratua Private Island, the archipelago is finally commanding attention.

Ratua’s French owner came across the 146-acre island in 2005 while sailing, quickly realized its coconut palms, turquoise waters, and powdery white beaches demanded preservation, and after meeting with village elders decided to develop Ratua as a self-sufficient resort that would employ locals.

Today less than half the island has been developed—and even then just barely. At the Yacht Club it’s Franco-Polynesian cuisine from ingredients organically grown, raised on-island, or caught from its shores—smoked snapper eggs Benedict, sesame-crusted bonito, that sort of thing. Alfresco barbecues can also be arranged.

A two-room spa, built over the water, recently opened and 15 teak bungalows were shipped from Indonesia and impressively outfitted with Balinese daybeds, wicker settees, and cowhide ottomans. Sleeping two to four, they’re like tropical hideaways from a long-ago era, when the South Pacific was just being discovered. TVs are taboo here, as is air-conditioning, but ceiling fans and the sea breeze keep things cool, and the Media Center provides a connection to the world beyond.

But after a day spent snorkeling, diving, horseback riding, canoeing through mangroves, or playing in the warm sea with the kids, e-mail isn’t exactly top of mind. Forget watches, too—the sunrises and sunsets and the church bells ringing on neighboring Aore Island are as much of a time-check as one ever needs. Villa rates begin at $900 a night (ratua.com.au).

Getting to Rauta

2.5 hours by plane from Brisbane to Espiritu Santo. (Air Vanuatu and Qantas share a weekly flight. More frequent flights have stopovers.) PLUS…

30 minutes on the resort’s motorboat from the Espiritu Santo airport to Ratua itself.

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