I’d called my first post on Vanuatu “Islands of Fire” for two reasons. Firstly, it was the title given to the Survivor TV series filmed here, and secondly, this region of the pacific is famous for its Volcano’s.
And it was for this reason we again found ourselves at Bauerfield Airport. We had an Air Vanuatu flight booked from Port Vila to Tanna, an island to the south-east of Efate where we were to visit Mount Yasur, one of the worlds most accessible volcanoes.
Conditions were little different on this second occasion. It remained incredibly hot and stuffy, although at least I was better prepared and already in shorts this time!
When the Aerospatiale/Alenia ATR 42/72 which was to carry us to Tanna finally landed, I did get to see some of the most colourful luggage I’d had the fortune to spy in an airport. Who needs crates, cartons or even sacks, when you can simply check your giant watermelons in individually!
The flight itself was short, perhaps 40 minutes to an hour, before we found ourselves on another of Vanuatu’s picturesque islands.
We’d arranged accommodation and transfers from the White Grass airport on Tanna, and it wasn’t until we’d landed we learnt how smart a decision that would prove to be.
Unlike Efate and Port Vila, Tanna doesn’t have the same infrastructure. None of the roads are sealed, and there is essentially no bus or taxi service meaning that one couple who’d been on our flight, but hadn’t arranged a transfer found themselves with no immediate means to reach their lodgings.
As we piled into our utility truck, we quickly caught on to how the locals do it, 16 or 17 people to a vehicle being no problem!
Over about an hour later, bouncing around on rutted roads, we caught a glimpse of Lenakel, the islands largest town, views up the coast from the islands highlands (as well as a sighting of the Mt Yasur volcano) before finally reaching our accommodation at The Friendly Bungalows.
This place felt remote and for the next couple of days it would be our base for both exploring the volcano, as well as a bit of time simply relaxing (very much out of character for us).
The location was spectacular. We would be housed in bamboo huts, our views, the blackened volcanic sand and the Pacific Ocean fading off into the eastern horizon.
At random intervals along the beach, they’d also erected bamboo lounges and sun shelters where we could sit and savour the views, or indulge in a book whilst drying off after a dip in the ocean.
If you’ve never experienced black, volcanic sand before, a word of warning. It gets incredibly hot!
Given its colour, it has little trouble absorbing the heat from the sun, even on a cloudy day, so it wasn’t uncommon to see one of us scurrying across it’s surface like a lizard in the desert.
Our immediate goal was to see Mt Yasur, so we joined a tour for that very evening, which would also take in a local village with some traditional dance performances.
The dances were supposed to be a performance that would help bring better crops, and was a lively and colourful performance. It was all soured slightly when at the performance end, we were all expected to simply hand over a set fee in appreciation. It made it all feel a bit contrived, and we were already paying a tidy sum to simply be on the volcano tour itself.
That said, tourism is now very important to them and if we can help their younger generation stay healthy end get educated, then it’s at least a worthy cause.
From the village it was into the vehicles again, where we bounced around in the tray of the truck, trying to both hold on and take in the views that appeared around every bend in the rough road.
Eventually we emerged onto a dusty plain, a scene that I imagine to be something like Africa’s Great Rift Valley. There, towering above us was Mount Yasur.
I noted earlier, that Mount Yasur is one of the worlds most accessible volcanoes, and we quickly learnt how accessible it really is.
As we began to climb higher and higher, we were treated to the incredible sight of sulfurous smoke seeping from the earth on the side of the trail, before we finally had to leave the vehicles behind, only a few hundred metres from the top of the volcano.
The ascent to the caldera was something special, and it wasn’t long before we were watching molten rock spew forth from the earths core.
It really was an amazing sight and I hope the following pictures can do it some justice. The biggest surprise throughout the whole experience, was how absent the scent of sulfur was.
Eventually a sea mist rolled in (supposedly a rare occurrence) and viewing became impossible, so we rather gingerly made our way back to the vehicles in the dark.
Our final day on Tanna was one of leisure. We took the occasional foray to either end of our beach, but it was essentially a day of doing very little.
A local fisherman was spotted on a rocky point, where he had a degree of success catching his lunch, which we were able to observe him cook and eat on the spot.
Our last evening before flying back to Port Vila the next day gave me a beautiful opportunity to observe the Moon rising alongside Jupiter. It was incredible how bright it was, almost like the sun itself, a truly amazing sight.
One further night back in Vila saw us end our adventures on these pacific isles, and it wasn’t long before we were back home in Melbourne, to help our friends revel in the new years eve of 2012-13…