2019 Vanuatu Giant Banyans and a Blue Hole
A Chinese Ring Road, She Oaks, Giant Fig trees and a Blue Hole
The fact the Chinese have tarmacked the entire island ring road and as you can see from the photos are in the process of building sturdy new bridges over the many rivers that run down from the hills has changed the working lives of many islanders. Instead of migrating to the capital for work at the beginning of the week, staying somewhere in the city and returning home at the weekends because the pitted earth road meant the journey could take many hours if it was achievable at all, they can now catch a work bus and return home every night.
There are of course many other advantages from the tourism point of view, with numerous car hire firms offering ordinary cars right up to pickup trucks; the former would barely survive a circuit because of the rugged nature of the terrain before the road was metalled.
At the point where Rob’s little car on his map reaches the north east corner of the island is Quoin Hill and Bauvatu. US fighter aircraft used the strip during the Second World War and two can be seen in the shallows off Bauvatu because they ran out of fuel before reaching the runway.
The east coast is of course the Pacific Ocean coast and it announces its arrival with swell and constant breakers bursting into white foaming masses on the reefs. We stopped briefly to take it all in and it reminded me of the Tasman Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
The Giant (Indian) fig trees I mentioned are the Banyans whose array of aerial roots around the main trunk eventually grow to be strong enough to become part of the trunk themselves. They stood on either side of the road watching over the travellers passing underneath. Further back in the fields stood smooth, pale trunked She-Oaks. On their bare branches hang clusters of tiny, scale like leaves that look like sycamore seeds. They are thought to resemble the feathers of the cassowary bird (a big flightless bird that looks like an emu) with the Latin name ‘casuarius’ so the alternative name of the tree is Casuarina. Pretty and feminine don’t you think?
Our Lonely Planet guide told us there was an old manganese mine at Forari that operated from 1961 to 1978. After it ceased operations pozzolana, a useful form of volcanic ash that when used with hydraulic cement will set underwater, was also extracted. A bit of industry to explore we thought.
We left the car on the roadside and followed a winding grassy track towards the shore which opened up to reveal a massive building of which only the supporting structures and roof remained, all heavily rusted. Inside we noted overhead rails that may have supported the conveyor belt that took the crushed ore through the bush to the gantry on the shore and loaded the black powder directly into the ship holds.
In another more intact building we saw an old man sitting on a chair outside what appeared to be his home. He approached and we discovered he spoke only French, as do many of the people on this side of the island. He led us through the rusty building down to the shore where you can see the curved track along which the gantry once ran its daily grind. Our guide book suggested this gantry was still there despite having been tied in a giant knot by the once in a millennium Cyclone Prima back in 1992 but as you can see it is now entirely missing. The only bit I found was half buried on the beach. The anchor is massive, presumably from one of the manganese ships and was deposited where it still lies by the sheer force of Mother Nature. She’s a powerful beastie.
The mine itself, our guide told us with a wave of his hand, was up over the hill yonder and as with the village that was home to 1000 workers and their families, is now returned to MN’s loving arms. I don’t think she approved of this operation at all.
We sped on past vast plantations neatly cleared of undergrowth and the ‘mile a minute’ creeper by healthy fat cattle of the Limousin, Brahman, Santa Gertrudis type lying shiny and contented in the sun; we were thinking it would be nice to find Eton Blue Hole for a cool dip.
Lonely Planet suggests that the hole which is owned by the villagers is easy to miss because of trees but now it is very easy to see, has signs and a car park and the side we went into had changing rooms and a shower and lots of picnic tables in the attractive gardens. There are definitely two sides, opposite where we stood ready for our dip the fences etc are painted with blue paint so obviously two different ‘owners’ operate separate businesses here.
The bottom was pure white sand, hence the delicious blue colour and the hole is fed by the sea so there were nice fish to see. We did a leisurely face down exploratory circuit of the pool and then ventured into the channel that led out to the sea. Off the distant entrance is a reef which kept the water nice and flat where we were swimming but we could see the Pacific rising up and breaking on the far side and it looked as if it was much higher than the water we were swimming in. We ventured to the far end of the channel where large fish, including sharks are known to gather, but perhaps not today I hoped.
All was well and we turned back, cruising down the other side of the channel just to be thorough. We had been swimming for around an hour and after cleaning up returned to our little car and decided it was time for a beer, to get rid of the salty taste in our mouths you understand! What was going to be one became three when we were joined, not just by Jill and Mark, but also by American George who was leaving early the next morning with his son for Thursday Island on route to Darwin, hoping he would not get any more of the 56 knot winds he had experienced on his way across from Fiji. We hoped he wouldn’t too.