Tanna , Vanuatu Islands. Part one - The Volcano

Zipadedoda of Dart
David H Kerr
Sat 2 Aug 2008 21:40

As mentioned in the previous blog, we flew down to the Island of Tanna for a day trip to see Mt Yasur, one of three active Volcano’s in the Vanuatu group of Islands.

The Island of Tanna is some 140nm south of Efate.  It is 75 x 45km in size, has a population of approximately 25,000 souls and there are 24 local languages. That is in addition to Pigeon English, English and French. It is said that it would be impossible to get lost on this Island. The simple reason being that the vast majority of the people live in very small villages. So there are just loads of them, and if you travel more than a mile you will surely stumble across one.


Once we disembarked at the airport and paid our airport tax…for departure (?) we were introduced to our drivers and the guide….Sam.  The transportation consisted of two Toyota HiLux pick up trucks. Dorothy and Peter elected to travel Alfresco style……………


  Cane & Wicker Sofa….unsecured…H&S nightmare


This was a great idea when the truck was stationary. Very dodgy when on the move as the seat was not secured in any way. Also most of the roads are dirt, so there were huge clouds of dust thrown up by passing trucks. So this really did turn out to be an adventure for Peter & Dorothy, as it was quite a long drive to the Volcano. Mercifully we stopped off at a “resort” along the way for refreshments and a pits stop. (AKA Comfort Break).


The landscape was very lush with truly luxuriant growth everywhere. The soil here is extremely fertile and so growing food for the locals is easy. The top soil is about 3 to 4 feet thick and looked to be packed with nutrients. Water is also plentiful.


As we approached Mt Yasur we could see the landscape starting to change, with volcanic ash and large lumps of lava becoming evident. At the same time the roads deteriorated to deeply rutted tracks, which made progress rather slow.


  Crew, enjoying the inland beach


At the first full sight of the volcano we asked the driver to stop to let us take pictures. First impressions were that it looked more like a slag heap in mining country in Wales than a Volcano. Especially as it only erupted in 2002, so the countryside around it looks like a regular South Pacific Island, with Palm tress and massive Banyan trees, interspersed with Sugar Cane and Banana trees.


This view changed rather rapidly as we got closer…………………….


   Look at the Lava lumps…some the size of a small car!


The landscape adjacent to the Volcano takes on a Lunar quality………..


It was at this point that our guide Sam decided to tell us that under no circumstances should we run away from the volcano if it went into a massive eruption and started throwing huge molten rocks and ice (yes ice) into the sky.  We were instructed to watch the flying projectiles and duck out of the way as they landed. That was our safety briefing. He re-enforced this point by advising us that a Japanese tourist had been killed the previous week because he ignored the advice! “What are we doing here”, we asked ourselves at this point!


  Check out our laid back guides jacket…….as he sits on the lip of the volcano


It is impossible to relate the awe that an active volcano inspires. The noise, the vibration though the ground beneath your feet. The smell of raw sulphur and the odious taste of Hydrogen Sulphide in the air you breath. Whilst at the same time being buffeted by the gusting and swirling winds at the lip of the volcano’s mouth, some 1000 feet above the sea.


  First the rumble……


It is like a living, breathing, bad tempered beast. That is thoroughly unpredictable to boot!. You just know that this is some deeply malevolent being that is just out to get you………….pure fantasy of course. BUT, this is one bloody dangerous place to be.


  Then the explosion


There were two active chimneys when we were there, but apparently there can be as many as four. So knowing where to look for the flying deadly debris results in a severe case of Wimbledon neck!


  Followed by the molten lava spray


What these pictures fail to display is the molten lava and rocks that were being tossed in to the air above us, up to a couple of hundred metres. The strong breeze was blowing these over to the opposite side of our vulnerable observation point. But as we were standing on lots of ditrus and rocky lumps that had been disgorged from the belching volcano, it was quite evident that at any time we could have life threatening missiles heading in our direction.


After all of this excitement, it was gratifying to note that the local authorities had thoughtfully placed a plush pubic toilet nearby for our convenience.




Robert from Heidenskip was the first to succumb to its charms….apparently a very moving experience!




Finally for those of us who survived this experience, the local Post Office had thoughtfully provided a post box, so you could write home and tell everyone how you braved Mt Yasur….and survived to write about it!  Alternatively you could post your last will and testament before the visit up the mountain……….


On that cheerful note and after all the fun of reliving the Mt Yasur experience, I will sign off now. Tomorrow a more benign side to Tanna……………..