Vanuatu – Tanna

Tanna is Vanuatu’s biggest draw card because of Mt Yasur, one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes. It is a rugged, spectacular island with poor road infrastructure which is surprising given the number of tourists and aid groups who pump an enormous amount of money into Tanna. We visited primarily because of the volcano, but came away surprised at having experienced a bit more – black sand beaches, real traditional culture and village life, decent snorkeling around cobalt coral gardens, and friendly people. Oh, and coupled with a fiery and active volcano experience, let’s just say that Tanna didn’t disappoint. Our trip coincided with the arrival of Cyclone Donna, so we didn’t realize that our inbound flight was the last one the island would see for a few days due to Air Vanuatu’s overcautious cancellation policy. From the petite Whitegrass Airport, we were met by a friendly Rex Morgan, owner of our village bungalow, Tanna Magic, that we booked on Airbnb. Since the weather forecast showed rain on the horizon, we were keen to visit the volcano straight away as we had heard disappointing feedback from those who had visited during inclement weather (zero visibility, low hanging cloud and fog). So it was a mad dash from the east coast of the island toward Mt Yasur, a journey of 90 minutes along a rough and bumpy road via 4WD, with the black ash road deteriorating as we neared the base of the volcano. We arrived as the afternoon group was starting their ascent of the volcano and reached the crater rim after an easy 10 minute walk. From the rim, we observed the colors of the volcanic crater change just before and after sunset. Our group was allowed to roam around a third of the crater’s edge, making for an unforgettable sunset backdrop. As dusk approached, we were rewarded with an exciting display of erupting lava and fireworks emanating from the volcano’s 3 vents. Even without safety goggles, we thoroughly enjoyed our volcano experience despite the relentless attack of volcanic particles! Our homestay experience with Rex and his family was quite nice as Marlene prepared delicious meals and Rex organized our daily activities. Other highlights of our Tanna visit included a jungle hike which gave us insight into traditional village life, a black magic tour which explored Tanna’s custom and culture of circumcision rites, marriage binding, and transition away from early cannibalistic activities to Christianity, etc. Our only regret was not pushing hard enough for the John Frum Cargo Cult visit – we had read beforehand that Friday was the day to visit but Rex mistakenly told us that Wednesday is the cult’s main day of worship which we later found out is not true! In retrospect, we enjoyed our Tanna visit but must forewarn potential visitors that it is prohibitively expensive for budget travelers. You pay a lot for what you get as it feels like tourists are milked for as much as possible (entry fees, transport, tours, and food). There are also no ATMs or banks on the island so you must bring enough cash with you or else stay at the high-end resorts where you have an option to pay with credit card (with high end fees). Was it worth it? Yes, if you really want to have easy access to an active volcano. But our next Vanuatu volcano visit would be to the island of Ambrym which has two lava lakes.

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