A big part of my decision to go to Vanuatu was the opportunity it presented to see the world’s most accessible, active volcano – that has always been high on my bucket list.
At 7.30 on the Monday morning, with just 15 minutes notice from the tour operators, Ross, Janis and I scuttled down to the airport, paid our 200 Vt departure tax and prepared for our adventure. Anne later joined us after a mix up about what footwear was required. Our flight to Tanna Island was in a single engine Cessna and took about an hour over the ocean. On a arrival at Tanna Island we boarded a twin cab ute for the one and a half hour trip to the volcano over some pretty rough bush tracks. In places we had to hang on tight to avoid getting tossed out.
On the way we stopped at small clearing where about fifty locals had gathered for a circumcision ceremony and there was long line of people presenting gifts to their families. There was also a large, frightened boar trussed up on the ground which I presume was headed for the cooking pot at the end of the ceremony.
We finally emerged from the jungle track onto a large ash plain at the base of the volcano. The volcano was smoking in the background and, as we drove through the ash cloud, Ross and I were sandblasted by the ash particles. The driver told the people inside the cab that he was going to scare us in the back by driving at high speed towards a cliff and veering away at the last minute. He succeeded!
To get to the crater we went back into the jungle and drove to the far side where we had a short walk to the rim. My first reaction was disappointment. There were clouds of steam and smoke coming up but not much else. I was expecting fire and brimstone. Then there was a great God Almighty roar and a huge cloud came belching up. You could see rocks and debris being hurled up in the cloud. I said the F…. word and a few other expletives. There were explosions going on almost continually. My camera didn’t do the scene justice. I just wish I had my movie camera, which I left in my haste at Mangoes. Today was only category two, said the guide. Last week was category three and he pointed out a rock the size of dining table where we were standing that had been tossed up some time the previous week.
I did notice that after dropping us off at the path to the crater rim, our vehicle parked about half a kilometre away. Hmm! There is an old saying that you don’t ask the question if you may not like the answer. I just kept saying to myself, “It must be safe, the guides are here. It must be safe, the guides are here!” I was in volcanic heaven and my thirst for brimstone, if not fire, was sated temporarily. We spent about an hour at the crater before going back to the vehicle for lunch and the long trip back – covered in soot.
It was a long day and it wasn’t cheap but I am very glad to have had the experience.