Vanuatu: Trip to Yasur Volcano, Tanna

Friday morning we were up bright and early and packed our overnight bag. We headed ashore, dumped our rubbish, dropped off our laundry in the Yacht World office (they do a wash, dry and fold service) and then walked into town. We stopped at the pharmacy to buy malaria tablets which are available over the counter here (unlike New Zealand or Fiji which required a doctor’s prescription). We then went for a hearty breakfast in Jill’s cafe and started our course of tablets. By 11.15 we were sitting on a wall above the Waterfront bar and restaurant awaiting our transfer to the airport.

This turned up promptly, we met our fellow tourists, and drove to the airport. We passed two prisons on the way which looked pretty grim (to say the least) and lots of industrial activity. We arrived at the airport domestic terminal and were met by the Air Taxi crew who sorted out where everyone would sit and weighed both us and our luggage. We met the pilot and waited patiently to be called once we had paid our airport departure tax of V200 pp (less than £2).

We did wonder how we were all going to fit in as the trip advert said they had eight and nine seater planes and there were 11 of us. But they had two aircraft readied and a family of three went in one small plane while the rest of us were in the other. Here we are with our plane, a view of the cockpit from our seats and heading down the runway as we took off towards Tanna.

We had hoped to see Erromango island en route but the low cloud cover was dense so we travelled across the top of the clouds at 9,500 feet. Got quite chilly up there too. As we arrived over the island we were flown over and around Yasur volcano (whose crater is 400mx700m to give some idea of scale). It was absolutely breathtaking.

After a 75 minute flight we were approaching Tanna airport.

The White Grass Airport was small and with no officials around we just walked through to the lounge to meet our ongoing transport.

We were given complimentary baguettes and water before we drove across the island for about two hours enjoying the sights with most people waving at us along the route. The road was often unmade and very uneven and then suddenly you would come across a concrete road which wound up and down in hairpin bends around the mountains. We saw lots of sights but the funniest one was the bread delivery truck!

We stopped to admire views of Yasur volcano in the distance. We also drove across the ash field and saw the volcano rising above us while we got covered in dust from the plains in the wind.

Arriving at the bottom of the volcano we were met and given transport numbers for our lift to the top of the volcano in 4WD trucks. But first we had to pick out our country name and take it to a welcome area where all the tourists congregated sitting on tree stumps.

The presenters talked through what was going to happen in English and French and then the main guy Max had to choose a chief for our tribe. And, yes, you guessed it, Richard was chosen even though we were sat down amidst the middle of the 100+ crowd of tourists. So he did the ceremonial giving of the kava root to the chief and sat back down.

Then the dancing started which was reminiscent of Africa particularly the women who were jumping like pogo sticks which looked very similar to the dance of the Masai warriors. There was a lot of noise with whistles, chanting, jumping and stamping of feet. The ground vibrated beneath us. And at this point one of the guides came over to us and told us to listen carefully to what they were saying – and they were thanking Richard for bringing his tribe to visit them in this special place.

Afterwards we were taken to the trucks and we all squeezed in – it was pretty tight to say the least, all wearing hard hats.

We then arrived at the bottom of the path going up to the first lookout point so we trekked up there. It was much steeper than it looked so we did have to stop for a few breathers along the way.

As we arrived at the first point we were told we could carry on towards Point 7.

At the top there was a barrier but it was rickety and not to be trusted. One slip and you were tumbling straight down into the lava.

It was decided that the volcano was playing nicely so the guides started to take people to Point 8. But this was up a very steep narrow ledge to the rim being buffeted by the strong wind where one wrong step and you were toast. So we decided that this was a step too far for us and stayed put.

That decision actually did us a favour as the crowd thinned and we had ring side seats. The clouds of sulphur were growing and there were groans and loud explosions from the earth beneath us down into the centre….then it glowed red….and then the lava exploded into the air. It sort of came out in slow motion – hit the mountain slopes just below us then slid back into the hole. Was pretty spectacular and awe inspiring.

To stand on the rim of an active volcano was way up there in our bucket list of things to do but we never thought it would be possible. This is one of the few places in the world where it is allowed. And what an experience. The smells and the noise of the power of nature as it erupts are truly awesome.

We then waited for the sun to go down. The eruptions increased in size and intensity and, of course, we now had a light show in the dark. Wow!

Finally it was time to go, although it was difficult to pull ourselves away. We picked our way carefully back down in the dark to the trucks, returned to the bottom of the volcano across the plains, and then picked up our transport to our overnight stop. The road was largely unmade and a few times the driver had to have a few runs at it to make it up the steep rutted road. Finally we arrived at Rockwater Resort and were met by the owner and his staff. This resort has all been hand crafted over the last few years and remains a work in progress. We had a lovely simple room and enjoyed a quick shower to get off all the dust off the day. We then went to the restaurant for dinner and enjoyed a nice cold bottle of wine.

Throughout the day we had been chatting to fellow sightseers and they were from all over the world – with two Brits, two Spaniards, two Australians, three Turkish American, one Norwegian and one Swedish in our group. We thoroughly enjoyed chatting to them all and listening to their travelling tales. We also bumped into fellow cruisers at the volcano who had come up from Port Resolution the nearest anchorage. We had a lovely night’s sleep in a bed that didn’t rock and felt huge. It had been a very long day but OMG what an experience!

In the morning we were up very early for breakfast just after 7 in preparation to be collected at 8. We wandered the resort and enjoyed looking over the ocean at the impressive coral and the beautifully clear sea below us on the cliff. Loved the steps taking swimmers down to the cave and the sea below. The resort is simply amazing – so glad we chose to stay there.

We headed back to the tiny airport again, paid our V200 departure tax, and took off to return to Port Vila on Efate. This time we travelled at only 2,500 feet so we did have a good view of the ocean below us and Erromango. Only 50 minutes later we were approaching Port Vila and were down on the ground in Efate, loaded back into the bus to be dropped off at the Waterfront.

We headed into the office and collected our laundry and then took off back to Morphie. We then dropped our bags and headed back into town to go provisioning as we had no fresh produce or hardly any meat left on board. Town was busier than usual because there was a cruise ship in but they didn’t get in our way as, let’s face it, going to a local butchers, the supermarket and the fruit and veg market is hardly cruise-ship passenger activities LOL.

We failed miserably in our task. The meat in the butchers looked awful and the guy serving in his wellies and blood-covered overalls didn’t inspire! So we decided not to purchase meat from him. No doubt the organically-produced beef, in particular, is stunning but the hygiene standards looked somewhat lacking. So we walked back to the Waterfront – I left Richard having a cold beer keeping out purchases safe – and I walked up the hill towards the larger supermarket. And, of course, their meat counter was great so I was able to get most things I wanted.

Reunited we then returned to Morphie and unpacked everything. Richard did boat jobs while I blogged before having dinner and an early night.

This morning, Sunday, we are getting ready to leave Port Vila on an overnight passage heading north towards Malekula Island. The local arts festival is being held there and involves lots of traditional dancing. This festival is a very important cultural event here in Vanuatu and is not something that is put on for the tourists – so really looking forward to it. Not sure about the black magic bit though LOL. Not sure about internet access going forward as we travel to more remote areas but will post updates when we can.

And I have to leave you with a final shot of the Yasur volcano doing its thing at night. An incredible sight to witness up close.

Bye for now