Tanna Volcano Trip Part 1

The Adventures of the Good Ship Equinox
Cate and Chris Galloway
Tue 20 Sep 2011 18:22
Hi All,

While in Port Vila we took a side trip to the island of Tanna, some 130nm south of the "main" island of Efate. Tanna is famous for coffee and Mt Yasur, which is a still-active volcano which can be viewed by tourists standing on the rim looking down into the continual eruptions emanating from within. The trip is not without its risks, usually every few years visitors and guides are killed by hot lava falling to the ground after eruptions. The island is typical of the volcanic islands of Vanuatu, with a range of mountains down its central spine which runs north-south. The eastern side of the island is quite lush, while the west is drier, although there is plenty of agriculture on both sides.

Our trip was really interesting and one of the best experiences we have had in the Pacific, if not in our entire cruising life. We departed Vila about lunch-time in an Air Vanuatu turbo-prop aircraft (an ATR72 for the planespotters) for the 35 minute flight down to Tanna. On arrival we were met by Mark from the Jungle Oasis "Resort" who was to be our guide while we were there. He escorted us to our transport, which was an aging Toyota dual cab ute. 12 of us with baggage then embarked the ute for the 90 minute trip across the island to the resort, which lies at the foot of Mt Yasur. Enroute we finally settled down to a modicum of comfort, until the driver stopped at a tin shed surrounded by tyres and picked up his spare wheel which he then proceeded to add to the pile of seven humans and luggage in the back of the ute.

As we drove over the island the dirt roads became steadily worse, requiring quite some effort for those of us squeezed in the back of the ute to hold on. Once on the eastern side of the island it also began to drizzle, adding to the general ambiance. Nearing Yasur, the terrain became flat and we drove out of the thick jungle vegetation interspersed with villages (and villagers jumping off the road as we rattled past) and onto a massive ash plain. Here the incessant slow- speed bouncing around stopped and we sped up to breakneck pace across the slightly undulating ash field. It was both exhilarating and somewhat frightening, but we made it in once piece.

We then arrived at the "Resort" and checked in, where the Silver Foxes were shown to their tree house accommodation, and the Equinoxes were allocated our quite palatial grass hut for the night. As we settled in we could hear quite plainly the explosions coming from the volcano which was only about 2km away. About this time Mark indicated we should get our shoes on and we boarded another ute for the trip up the volcano. At about this point the fear began to set in and we again hung on for dear life as we drove to the car parking area about three- quarters of the way up the volcano. From there is was a short walk of about 200m to the rim where we were overwhelmed by the size and violence of the eruptions happening immediately below us. We fianally settled on the edge of the volcano looking into one of two vents about 200m away. The vent glowed bright red and every few seconds there was a small eruption which threw up spurts of molten lava. Then things warmed up - literally. The volcano erupted with a massive explosion of lava, steam and gas. The shockwave pummeled our bodies and compressed our eardrums and masses of molten rock exploded up into the sky. Some larger rocks, about the size of a small car landed with a thud and a hiss and slid slowly to rest on the sides of the calderra, the closest about 75m away. While on the rim it was cold and raining,, as the sun set and the sky became dark, the display became even more dazzling. After 90 minutes just watching the show (it seemed like 90 seconds) it was time to return to the ute and make our way down the volcano to the resort.

Dinner for the 12 of us on the tour was the usual island fare, with a Vanuatu string band and ice cold beer, surprising given that we were in an area with no electricity. We were pretty weary as we climbed under the mozzie net and collapsed into the comfortable bed (from which we had previously evicted a dead spider and the bugs that were eating it....

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12 of us in a ute. This was a banyan tree we stopped at; the road here is about the best we saw....

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The girls climbing up the volcano - the ground was shaking (or was it our knees)...

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An eruption taken from about 200m away

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Yep, we got that close!