The Story

The unspoiled nature, the wild animals, and the kind people. These were the features that once spellbound me and my husband, when we first visited Arugam Bay in January 1980.

Those days we arrived by pure accident in Pottuvil, Arugam Bay’s nearby little town. It was the end of the road, and acquaintances in Colombo told us not to go, as they considered it an uncivilized zone. Being adventurous we jumped on uncomfortable buses and drove on bumpy roads towards the unknown. We soon fell in love with Arugam Bay and its people. Over the next couple of years, we travelled from our home in Denmark and visited the area quite often.

One fine day we decided to create the Stardust Beach Hotel on a piece of bare land with one coconut tree. We made a good team. Me, being an architect by profession, and my husband Per Goodman, a restaurateur and hotelier. Assisted by friendly and competent local craftsmen and authorities with a positive attitude, we started building some small nice huts, an open restaurant and a kitchen, while living in a coconut shelter on the sand at the beach. We were enjoying ourselves immensely.

The War

When the civil war began in 1983, It did not affect the South East much in the beginning, but during the last half of the eighties we had to close the hotel temporarily. In 1992 we started up running the hotel again during a ceasefire. The region was now controlled by military. Since then we have been running the hotel with varying occupancy. We have received many happy guests during the years and were always supported by our loyal local staff, who was trained by us.

The Disaster

The Tsunami struck on Boxing Day in 2004. The dream became a nightmare. The first wave took everybody by surprise during breakfast at 9 am. The sea that suddenly engulfed us was 12 feet (4 m) high.

I was riding on a piece of wood and ended on the other side of the main road 300 meters away, when the first wave subsided. Nobody knew, what had happened, and several of the guests, the staff and me went back through the devastated landscape to seek for family and friends near the hotel, where only one building remained intact among ruins.

Again, another wave thundered in from the sea. We all ran for the 1st floor in the remaining building, and survived in the water tower, where all the water had run out. We could only see the coconut trees’ tops, when the sea was around us. Thereafter all the water was sucked out to the horizon revealing the sea bottom and the reefs. During the next five hours, the sea moved inland and out again with half an hour’s interval.

Finally, around 3 pm the sea was back to normal. We all fled to higher grounds, where we slept in the fields. The next day we were evacuated through the jungle, as the bridge over the lagoon to Pottuvil had disappeared in the waves. At that time, it was evident that 3 of our guests, 2 of our staff, and my dear husband had perished in the waves, too.

A New Beginning

After New Year 2005 I returned to the hotel and decided together with my staff to rebuild and continue receiving guests as soon as possible, hoping to regenerate happier times. We worked hard until July, when we could welcome our first guests again in a few rooms and cabanas. In 2007 we reopened the rebuilt restaurant, kitchen and yoga hall.

Today we have achieved to enlarge the Stardust Beach Hotel’s big beach garden. The Villa was built in 2009-2011 and a few more bungalows and cabanas, too. We now employ 26 local staff all year round.

I am proud to say that despite the obstacles, we all enjoy doing our best to give our guests, coming from afar, an unforgettable holiday experience.

Merete Scheller

Managing Director & Architect of Stardust Beach Hotel,

Arugam Bay