Vanuatu’s one of the lesser-touristed countries in the South Pacific. We had originally planned to spend a few weeks there, but instead found ourselves only spending a few days. Thankfully, though, we decided to spend those few days on Tanna Island, doing one of Vanuatu’s most popular attractions – the Yasur Volcano.
Tanna Island is about 500 miles west of Fiji. In the Vanuatu islands, it’s one of the southernmost islands, putting it between Fiji and New Caledonia. The land is lush vegetation, very fertile. Tanna Island is famous for it’s coffee (not something we enjoy), for cults, and the volcano!
Officially clearing into Vanuatu at Port Resolution on Monday was – no surprise – complicated. We buddied up with Cheeky Monkey to head into the Port Resolution Yacht Club (PRYC) to meet the officials, only to find out that the Immigrations officer came and went without seeing us. How were we supposed to know he was there? Psychic skills, apparently, as he doesn’t have a VHF or other method of informing us he was there. Customs, however, called us on the radio and we were able to get that done. Clearing in was $5,000 Vatu, plus $6,000 for transporting the official, which was split between the boats checking in. Sandy Cheeks came into the anchorage about mid-afternoon, so the officials were coming back the next day, thankfully.
Back onto the boat, David got to work. Within a matter of hours, he got the watermaker and propeller in working order. In the watermaker, the diaphragm in the low-pressure pump had gotten punctured and was leaking, but fortunately, we had a spare. With the propeller, we had our fixed props fro the factory, so David got in the water and was able to install it. Thankfully, we had been through that whole fiasco in the USVI and we knew we had all the parts for our fixed prop.
That night Ryan hosted a big party on Cheeky Monkey, and much drinking ensued…
Tuesday the customs guy gave us a call – he was back at the PRYC to clear Sandy Cheeks in, and Immigration was on his way too. We headed back in to finalize our formalities. Immigration was $4,800 Vatu. We got to meet 3 other cruising boats that we ended up spending a lot of time with – Cactus Island (you may recall they were in the Musket Cove Regatta), Cruz Control (also in the regatta but I didn’t get any cool pictures of them) and Sea Wolf. Cactus Island’s crew is Marie and Gerald, Australians, and CI is the FIFTH boat that Gerald has built, and is a fully rotating, dual masted catamaran. Cruz Control is Dal and Dave, also Aussies, and Sea Wolf is Jonas and Sebastian from Denmark. Quite the diverse group here in Tanna Island.
While ashore we met Stanley, the chief’s son, who acts as a liaison for cruisers, organizing trips and getting us help when we need it. Then we took off for a walk through the village and out to the beach on the east side of Port Resolution. The village is small, and the houses are all very traditional, woven thatch for walls and roofs with basic touches and furnishings. We walked all the way to a beautiful white sand beach, home to a future resort.
Wednesday I went ashore early to arrange a lunch at Chez Leah for a few boats – us, SC and CI, and 8-year-old Liv from Oceana. I got absolutely poured on while walking around, but thankfully the rain had let up by lunchtime. All three boats met at the beach and walked over together where we got a glorious treat from Leah. For $850 vatu ($8.50 USD) we were served about 10 platters, family style, of local Vanuatu food.
Dishes included a cabbage salad, chicken curry, rice, cucumber salad, steamed choko (what we would call chayote), roasted sweet potatoes, and a platter of cooked produce including two kinds of taro, a banana/plantain hybrid, and cassava. Dessert was fresh papaya slices and Tanna Island coffee. Anything we finished, Leah brought out more. The whole meal was served with what Leah calls lemon juice – basically lemonade, but slightly different – not as strong on either the lemon or the sugar flavors. David loved it.
On our way back to the beach, we stopped at the local school to talk to the headmaster and to drop off some donations. We got to see the computer lab and a few classrooms. I met Paul, the new school teacher who will be in charge of the computer skills program. Paul and his partner are cruisers – they sailed their boat through the Coconut Run this year and decided they needed to stop and smell the roses. They are volunteer school teachers, getting room and board for their work over the next year while their boat stays anchored in Port Resolution.
As we were starting to get our dinghy together, a guy approached us – Martin – who said he had a local friend, Mowi, who was putting on a small show and would we like to come along? We said yes, and Marie and Gerald from Cactus Island joined us. Mowi is trying to start this as a business. Martin said her husband left her with 6 kids and no income, so she’s trying to start up a cultural show.
Mowi and two other women were dressed (somewhat) traditionally and were prepared to make laplap, a traditional Vanuatu dish. This worked out pretty well because I’d been wanting to try it. The ladies used sticks to grate the banana and taro, which was then mixed with shredded coconut and folded into a banana leaf. Then, the packet was put into a halved coconut husk. Then, hot rocks were put on top of the packet and the other half of the coconut was used to close the “oven”. The heated rocks cooked the laplap and 20 minutes later, we tried a taste. It was very similar to the lovo bread Alifreti made for us in Fiji. The banana flavored one was a big hit.
While the laplap baked, the ladies showed us how to weave the dried plant into bracelets, and their kids ran around playing, screaming, and hamming it up for the cameras. Mowi asked for a contribution, and we gave her $500 Vatu and then were offered papaya and bananas. It was a small little thing, but I enjoyed it!
That night, we had George and Liv over to have a movie night, complete with popcorn and dropping our main salon table. We watched the Lego Batman movie and served the kids dinner and ice cream before sending them back to their happy parents.
Ryan and Ted from Cheeky Monkey had been gone most of the day after organizing a ride to Lénakel, and they return to tell us that the ride was beautiful (they passed the Yasur volcano) and the town was small and not much of anything. Ryan bought a sim card with 1.5 GB of data for very cheap. The ride into town cost $3,000 Vatu ($30 USD).
Our plans for Vanuatu were to make our way from Tanna Island up to Port Villa (the capital) and Luganville (for diving) over the next few weeks, but a look at the weather told us that there was a very rare opportunity of north winds coming, making it ideal to sail to New Caledonia. CM and SC had never planned on heading further north in Vanuatu. We really wanted to, but the further north you go in Vanuatu the harder it is to get over to New Caledonia, so we joined our friends’ plans to head to New Cal.
Thursday we met the officials to clear out, only paying a split of the cost for the officials to get there ($6,000 Vatu split between six boats). On the yacht club lawn was quite a hubbub. We learned about two things we missed out on in Tanna Island that are worth knowing about. Every Tuesday afternoon there is a village market, where the women sell produce, laplap, and handicrafts. After the market is a women’s council, where they decide on a community service project for Thursday. Thursday at 9 am everyone meets at the yacht club to work on the project (whatever it is). Afterward, the ladies all stop for a picnic lunch, and the day we saw this, the village ladies also provided lunch at the PRYC for the cruising volunteers. We didn’t know about either of these activities until it was too late.
Afterward, David, Ryan, and I took off for a hike. We followed the road hoping it would lead us to the beach without having to ford the river but no such luck. We backtracked and forded the river to the black sand beach. At the far side, there are hot springs that steam up from the volcanic activity underground. Consequently, the beach and rocky shore smell vaguely sulfuric and are devoid of life – no crabs, coral or algae survive in the rocks near the spring. The water is HOT! On our way back, we popped by Leah’s and she served us lemon juice and snacks for $250 Vatu per person.
That night, Ryan had arranged for the guys to have a kava experience with Stanley. Ryan had bought kava in Lénakel and the men gathered to imbibe – no women are allowed to drink kava in Vanuatu. I enjoyed a rare night with the boat to myself.
Friday morning we were invited over to CM to enjoy some of Ryan’s internet. While we were there, Ryan graciously made us and the crew of Sea Wolf lunch – lamb neck grilled and served with rice and vegetable curry. SO SO good.
Friday night the weather was forecast to be fairly clear, and thankfully it held out for us – at 3 pm, 15 cruisers met at PRYC and piled into two trucks to go see the Yasur volcano, the biggest attraction on Tanna Island!
The early truck, with the crew of Starry Horizons, Cactus Island, Sandy Cheeks, and some of the Danish boat Veritas‘ crew, went first past the volcano to the black sand flats on the northwest side of the volcano. The view was stunning as we looked over the plains and up at the back of Mount Yasur. George went for a run up the sand as far as he could and we all took the opportunity for photos.
Back into the truck we piled and rode to the visitors center for the volcano. Our understanding is that this attraction is having rapid changes and we were visiting somewhat in the middle of the changes. It used to be that you paid the local village a set fee per person (I think $20 USD??) to get a guided tour up to the volcano. Now, it’s being run by a tour company called Entani and the site is under construction, building a visitors center and handicraft market.
We paid ($19500 Vatu total for two people, roughly $195 USD) and continued on to the cultural presentation. About 50 tourists sat on stumps around a clearing that had enough seating for over 100. There was a very brief kava presentation followed by two performances of traditional song and dance by a local village here on Tanna Island. The songs were beautiful, with hand clapping and feet stomping, and the dancers skipped and jumped around. It was fun to watch but compared to other cultural shows we’ve been to it was a bit short. But that’s not what we were there for.
Back into our trucks, we piled in to make the drive up to the volcano. The trucks stopped at a flat just off the volcano and we hiked the rest of the way up. There are several viewing stations to look down into the volcano. During the day, you can really only see the smoke coming out and perhaps some lava bubbling up from the very northernmost opening. The volcano actually erupts every 15 minutes or so, with a loud boom, a splash of lava, and a black smoke cloud.
As the sun set behind us, we climbed further north and peered into the darkening caldera. Our location on the rim was completely determined by the wind. As the wind shifted, the smoke from the volcano blew over the paths, making them inaccessible. The whole visit, we could smell the strong sulfur and ash surrounding us. I can practically smell it again as I type this weeks later. At one point, we were the furthest we could go, and we all stood mesmerized by the eruptions. That is until the wind shifted and we coughed and choked on the smothering clouds, working our way back down.
We got back to PRYC well after dark. David and I took off for Chez Leah to have some dinner. I had talked to Stanley beforehand, hoping that dinner would be waiting for us but that was not the case. We sat to wait and a bad feeling was creeping up on me. I thought I was nauseous from the smoke I inhaled at the volcano but the feeling kept getting worse.
I tried to alleviate it by walking around the village and sitting in the grassy field nearby (in which, by the way, I spotted several fireflies). Eventually, I told David I couldn’t wait for dinner, we had to get back to the boat. Leah was very understanding (and we paid her anyway). She packed up what was ready and we hustled me back to Starry Horizons. I was very disappointed to not be able to take advantage of the clear night sky. I wanted to capture some photos of the stars, the anchorage, and the glow from the volcano.
However, I was immediately sick when getting back to the boat. I hadn’t thrown up from sickness for as long as I’ve known David so I feel like I usually have a pretty iron stomach. Whatever it was though, I was in and out of the bathroom vomiting (and….) until 3 am. It was not pleasant.
That morning shortly after sunrise, David woke me up to get us underway. Most of our friends – CM, SC, Cactus Island, Sea Wolf – were already gone. With the anchor up and main sail out, I went back to bed. My body was sore and I was exhausted. We could have stayed in Tanna Island, and we discussed it. Two things kept us from staying: the weather window would be gone, and if I needed medical attention, it would be much better for SH to be in Noumea versus Tanna Island.
The 36-hour passage to New Caledonia was fairly uneventful, with the exception of David singlehanding almost all the way. Sunday morning I was feeling well enough to take over so David could get a nap in. We led the way and were the first to anchor in Baie du Boise, New Caledonia Sunday afternoon. We were quickly joined by CM, CI, and SW. SC arrived later that evening.
Turns out, I wasn’t the only one feeling poorly. I was the only one that could safely say it was a 24-hour stomach bug. Ryan started to feel really terrible too and had to seek medical attention in Noumea. It was discovered he had a systemic infection originating in his leg. He was down for several days. Ryan’s crew member Ted had singlehanded just like David did.
On Sea Wolf, Jonas got a similar infection and ended up having to fly to Australia for treatment. It was rough times for this regatta.
Monday morning we all upped anchor, and Ryan had Ted follow closely behind us. SC had left first, but the two Helias caught up to them and David flew Pheonix to try to get a cool shot. The boats have to be really close together to get anything really cool.
Monday afternoon was anchor down in Noumea! So who really won the FP Regatta from Tanna Island to New Caledonia? Cheeky Monkey won the leg from Fiji to Vanuatu and we won the leg from Fiji to New Caledonia. I can’t say it was an intense race since our single crew members were really just trying to hold things together. Honestly, I have no idea how Sandy Cheeks fared. They should have a handicap, but I have no idea what it is. I tried to look it up and it’s a complicated calculation with a ton of measurements. I’m not that dedicated to it.
Next up, we spend a week in Noumea, not of our own will…