Vanuatu, Tanna Island: Volcanic Paradise

When visiting Vanuatu it is hard to stick to just one island, almost everyone visits Efate as the international airport is situated there.

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Beyond Efate lie a whole plethora of possibilities and should we of had the time we would have spent much longer exploring these. To give you an idea though there is 83 in total, 65 of which are populated. Espirito Santo in the North is popular for beaches and wreck diving. Pentacost Island is home to the annual land diving festival (Nanggol), something like bungee jumping without the bounce! The men of the island jump off 20-30m high wooden platforms, their ankle bound with two tree vines with the aim to brush their shoulders against the floor on landing, but often taking quite a hit in the process. In the South lies Tanna Island and our destination for the next few days.

Tanna airport was a delight, one building, zero security, and a hole in the wall for baggage collection all set in what looked like forest surrounding. There are very few tarmac roads so bouncing around in a pick-up, or as we did in the back of a pick-up is commonplace along the dirt roads. What becomes immediately apparent is how untouched the island is, beautiful vegetation and quaint thatched villages with vegetable patches and communal shelters.

We were staying at Whitegrass Resort, and it was beautiful, full of landscaped gardens and pristine paths leading to the bure accommodation dotted around in the sunshine. Looking out over the Pacific the water is dotted with reef and the beached made of weathered coral. A picturesque and peaceful slice of paradise we were lucky enough to encounter.

The resort neighbour’s some well-known snorkelling spots, accessible only at low tide, blue holes 1 and 2. Once the tide recedes these are left isolated, as pools in the reef shelf and often trap wildlife including reef shark and sea turtles. We did not encounter the aforementioned but we did have an amazing experience in these holes. Along from white grass lies Kiss Kiss Beach a secluded, coral beach with rugged volcanic rock protruding from the turquoise waters.

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Further along from this we found Blue hole 1, indicated by a small signpost perched on a rock. We headed out across the rock shelf (reef shoes are a necessity here as the rock is seriously sharp) and found the edge of the pool. The blue holes are pretty much what they say on the tin, the rock plunges away to a coral cliff and an expanse of water is trapped within, 10-15m deep at times this is a seriously big natural aquarium.

Finding a clear spot and jumping in away from the edges is a good idea so as not to damage the coral or yourself so we did just that plunging in with some trepidation. Once in all fear was gone and replaced immediately by awe, the holes are huge and the walls covered in coral of all varieties. Giant corals also grow in pillars and islands from the seabed and swimming over them makes you feel a little like a fish yourself! In blue hole 1 we saw loads of Angelfish swimming in groups, as well as brightly coloured smaller species all flitting around in their schools. The warm water heated by the sun and the cooler water below made for a tricky bit of vision as the thermals spun around us. After circumnavigating the pool we hopped carefully back out.

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While we were drying I spotted the flick of a tail and we soon discovered it belonged to a sea snake, the yellow-lipped sea krait, swimming in the shallow corals. With a black and white banded body, yellow snout and rudder like tail they are pretty cool to see but we backed off fairly quick when it decided to come out of the water and slither towards us as they are also venomous! We also visited blue hole 2 which was much clearer, the drop off was over hanging and its very much a fear of the unknown plunging in… I let Guy go first! Hopping off the shelf we were immediately greeted by wrasse, incredible corals of all colours shapes and sizes, including a giant one rising from the sea bed that looked like a huge open rose. The diversity of fish was fantastic too loads of clownfish shimmying in and out of the anemone, damsels, a variety of tangs and dozens more that we could spend hours identifying. There were caves and overhangs and gaps where coral from the seabed met corals on the walls, nature at its finest and we had it all to ourselves. Certainly the best snorkelling either of us had experienced but just a side attraction to the real spectacle of Tanna Island.

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Bouncing along for an hour and a half in a dusty 4×4 was all part of the adventure, passing the villages of Tanna and kids leaving school for the day, all waving and some worrying saying goodbye, we were off to Mt Yasur; one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Sitting on the south-east coast Mt Yasur is an intimidating bump in the landscape.

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As we neared the lush vegetation was replaced by volcanic dunes and barren black plateaus the stratovolcano herself rising up in impressive steepness.

Yasur sits upon the eastbound Indo-Australian plate which is being subducted by the westbound Pacific plate causing regular Strombolian eruptions, in fact the volcano has been erupting almost constantly for the past 3 years. We had the good fortune to experience her at level 2 on the warning scale: major unrest!

Before setting off up Yasur we were welcomed and blessed by the kustom tribe that live at the edges of the mountain all dressed in their traditional grass skirts and paints.

We each received a lei as a form of protection from the volcano and the tribe performed a dance to ensure our safety. Heading up the final climb to the peak we drove as far as we could and then hopped out and walked the last 200m to the crater.

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It was crazy! Stood on the edge of the caldera with the sun setting behind the opposite rim we watched the glow of the lava, the plumes of gas and the volcanic explosions throwing bombs and lava spouts hundreds of metres in the air.

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Our guides seemed pretty unfazed by the drama but for us newcomers it was pretty alarming at times. The explosions shook the ground and the shockwave shook our ear drums. Mt Yasur certainly put on a show for us with multiple explosions at once and regularly throwing glowing lava into the air where it cooled and fell, seemingly in slow motion, you could even hear the dull thud of the bombs hitting the crater sides. After sunset the volcano really came to life spluttering and glowing, it’s hard to explain how surreal an experience it really was, Mother Nature’s fireworks. We eventually made our way back by torch light full of adrenaline after our unforgettable experience.

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Despite all the action packed adventures we also had time just to sit and relax. The island is beautiful and a wonderful place to just watch the world go by. On our final night we enjoyed delicious cocktails as we watched the sunset and reflected on our wonderful stay.

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Tanna Island, a land of elements earth, fire and water all meeting in one incredible place. Where the people live simple lives but wear constant smiles.

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Our last treat was that when leaving Tanna we had handwritten departure cards handed to us. In fact they gave Guy and I the same seat and then laughed and crossed it out when we went back to check! A lovely place to have to leave.

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