26 October 2010
James and Isabelle
We arrived at the island of Tanna, in Vanuatu, after a three day sail from Fiji. We had two days of beautiful sailing in calm seas, spinnaker up, sunny days and moonlit nights. Then, after a period of calm, the wind started building and the last 24 hours was fairly rough but quick.
Tanna is an island down near the bottom of the chain of islands that make up Vanuatu. Captain Cook, in the Resolution, came here to the bay we anchored at, Port Resolution.
The island is one of the most primitive we have seen. The villagers nearly all live in thatched huts still. Oddly though, many have mobile phones ,having made the leap straight from no phones to mobile phones, skipping land lines in the middle. Huge Banyan trees dominate the forests with sprawling branches and canopies, and endless root systems shooting down from the branches. They reminded us of the trees in the film Avatar. The Island is known for having one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world and at Port Resolution the villagers were able to cook some of their food in the hot springs, boiling eggs, yam and other vegetables.
We came here mainly to see the Volcano 'Yasur'. We went at dusk yesterday. It's about 350m above sea level. We drove most of the way and then it was a short walk to the rim. As we were climbing up, there was a deep rumble in the earth below and we saw a rock flying out sideways from the top! Walking up towards the crater, the earth was strewn with boulders which had been spat out at an earlier stage, just a little disconcerting. It was all black sand/dirt and rock, desolate. Like you'd imagine the moon to be.
Standing on the rim, we watched smoke billowing up and then heard a roar like a jet engine followed by a boom, felt a shock wave and then a shower of molten rock came flying up from the central crater. Enormous amounts of lava would fly high into the air, and we saw big, glowing blobs of it separating in mid-air like toffee on a confectionary hook. It was incredibly spectacular. Awe inspiring. The sonic shock waves kept hitting every 30 seconds or so. Sometimes it was quiet for a while and then there'd be a great big rumble, boom and a huge explosion. Sometimes a mushroom cloud of ash would drift towards us causing our throats and eyes to sting with sulfur.
Our local guide told us that they rate the activity of the volcano on a 1 to 5 scale and the day we went was a 2. He said if it had been a three, we wouldn't have been able to go.
We just kept thinking, we would never be allowed to do this if it were in Australia. The guide told us of a number of tourists who had been killed visiting the volcano. One just last year.
As it got darker it became even more spectacular. The best fireworks show we've ever seen.