Is being more adventurous part of your 2019 resolution? Imagine yourself standing on top of the world’s fourth most active volcanoes in complete darkness; your body trembling with the powerful roar of its eruptions; aware black magic is still practised by the aboriginal islanders living isolated from modern civilisation. Imagine yourself meeting one of the most remote tribes in the South Pacific; exploring off-the-beaten path corners of a small tropical island in Melanesia and; swimming with green Hawksbill turtles over colourful pristine corals. All these adventures are possible in the enchanted Tanna island.
Tanna Island is one of the most special islands I have ever visited. Under 1 hour flight away from Efate Island, there is an almost untouched island inhabited by very friendly Vanuatuans. It is not very popular on the tourist radar except for that of the intrepid adventurers like Captain James Cook. Yes, the former British explorer arrived to Tanna island for the first time in August 1774, attracted by the intense light of Mount Yasur. Centuries later, modern explorers are still pulled towards the volcano and island’s charms.
Here you will find my Top 2 places to visit in Tanna and other useful information to consider when planning your Melanesian adventure.
VISITING MOUNT YASUR AT DUSK
A few seconds of relative calm before my heart pounds fast and strong again as thousands of red hot magma pieces are shot high in the air and my my mouth shrills in excitement and fear. My feet sink in the thick grey volcanic ash and the warm wind blows strong against me. I am trying to take a video of the explosion but I need to keep an eye on the falling burning ash very near us. The liveliness and power of Mount Yasur is impressive and, despite of being so scared, I feel like the luckiest and happiest woman on Earth at that moment.
Getting close to this active volcano was the reason for us planning a trip to Tanna Island. I was fascinated by the documentaries about its volcanic activity and history but nothing equates to seeing the mighty explosions in person. I know this is an experience like no other, impossible to forget, even years after. So now you can imagine what I am going to say: you need to visit Mount Yasur if you ever visit Vanuatu.
How to organise a visit to Mount Yasur…
We arranged our visit at dusk with Tanna Evergreen Resort tours for being the best option to enjoy both the volcano visit and a comfortable stay in the island. The driver picked us up at the hotel in the afternoon and made a couple of quick stops on the way to take in the views and a few photos. Upon arrival at Mount Yasur, a local guide knowledgeable of the Mount Yasur’s behaviour introduced himself to us and handed us a torch and briefed us on safety tips for our visit. The visit was organised to enjoy the volcano with light, at dusk and at night, allowing you to see the surroundings well and the magic of natural fireworks.
The drive back was made in pitch darkness as there was very little light on the roads and my excitement knocked me out completely. The visit is pricey but well organised and totally worth it. I met a few travellers visiting the volcano who were staying in homestays near Mount Yasur and had arranged the visit themselves with their hosts. So, this could be a more affordable option of visiting Mount Yasur for the most adventurous travellers.
If you are short in time and are willing to spend a bit of money, Air Taxi Vanuatu organises helicopter day tours from Efate Island. This gives you the option of visiting the volcano from the air without overnighting in Tanna Island.
EXPERIENCING THE YAKEL TRIBE
The Louinio Village is part of one of the most remote tribe in the South Pacific, known as the Yakel Tribe. The village is located deep inside Tanna Island tropical forest, counting with around 150 villagers living with very basic infrastructure and keeping their ancestors’ traditions alive.
Honestly, I was a bit skeptical about visiting the Louinio Village at first. I thought it would be a tourist trap where the locals pretend to live in a way they actually don’t anymore. But I am so happy I decided to visit the village in the end because it was one the best experiences I had in Vanuatu.
After an hour jeep ride through dense tropical forest uphill, we arrived to a clear scarcely dotted with man-made straw huts, where the Louinio Village was located. There were a couple of wild chickens and hens minding their own business and plenty of smiling young children curiously looking at us through the jeep’s windows.
As we stepped down of the car, the kids quickly greeted us with their warmest smiles and staring eyes, inviting us to converse with them and take their photos. They waited for the chief’s instructions to introduce us to the tribe’s welcoming dance. Holding hands together in a circle, the children jumped up and down and twirled to their joyful chants. These first 10 minutes with these children made the visit to the Yakel Tribe already worth it.
Our guide was a male adult of the Yakel tribe who would converse with us in perfect English and translate the explanations, questions and comments from his fellow tribe members. We were taken around the Louinio village, showing us their common spaces like kitchen, orchard, plantations and ceremonial grounds, built with simple materials such as jute, straw and leaves. Two young mothers explained us about their daily diets, offering us to try a few of their tasty staples like garden-grown fruits and Taro. The younger female artisans and entrepreneurs displayed their handcrafts for us and the older tribemen showed us how to make fire out of woodsticks. The visit ended with the entire village performing their traditional dances and greeting us farewell with grateful words and loving smiles.
Despite having seen similar remote villages in the Amazon rainforest before, the Louinio village impressed me for their simple infrastructure and warm happy people.
MORE ACTIVITIES TO DO IN TANNA ISLAND
In case you have an extra morning or afternoon on the island, you can opt for mingling with the locals at the local market, chilling by the beach or doing one of these activities:
- Visiting the Blue Cave on the Northwestern coast
- Visiting the World’s largest Banyan tree
- Snorkeling in the Northwestern reef with sea turtles
- Scuba Diving
- Learning more about Tanna Island’s culture and Black magic.
Many of these activities can be organised for you by Tanna Evergreen Resort and Tours.
WHEN TO VISIT TANNA ISLAND?
As I always say, one visits a place whenever there is time or money for it. This of course also applies to Tanna Island but I highly recommend to avoid the months of December to April. This is the hottest, wettest and tropical cyclone season and although, a little rain never hurt anyone, the tropical downpours and cyclones can be very devastating in Vanuatu.
My recommendation is to visit Tanna Island from May to October where climate conditions are less likely to play against you.
WHERE TO STAY IN TANNA ISLAND
Tanna Island isn’t your typical honeymoon tropical destination. It’s very underdeveloped with poor infrastructure and very limited tourist accommodations. The visitor can choose from local homestays with varying facilities, very basic hotels or one of the 2 resorts offering international standards. Whatever you choose, I’m sure you will be welcomed like at home and given Tanna’s top hospitality treatment. The locals’ friendliness and welcoming spirit are difficult to top!
The two best resorts of Tanna are located on the North Western coast, a few kilometers away from Tanna’s airport. We stayed at Tanna Evergreen Resort and loved every bit of our stay. It is a moderately new resort investing lots of effort to make it as sustainable as possible. I will write a separate blog post about this hotel and friendly stuff.
PRO TRAVEL TIPS
Bring all your medicines, toiletries and other indispensable items with you from abroad (or from Efate Island). Finding last-minute pharmacy or drugstore needs can be a real challenge in Tanna Island. Ensure to have mosquito repellent with you because mosquito coils are not that popular outside top resorts and, trust me, mosquitos are persistent here.
If you are visiting Mount Yasur up close at dusk, a head lamp or torch might come in very handy when walking around the crater’s rim.
It is very important to confirm your flight in and out of Tanna Island with the airline company 24 hours before. This will avoid you surprises like “there are not enough passengers to fly out our airplane” or “Sorry, there is no airplane for today’s flight”. We had to stay one extra night in Tanna because the airline failed to mention there was no airplane scheduled for our already booked flight (although we enjoyed that extra day very much!).
If you have any dietary constraints, please make sure to tell the accommodation with enough time. Resources are scarce on the island and many of the “fancier” ingredients come from Efate Island.