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Friday night the weather was forecast to be fairly clear, and thankfully it held out for us because we were booked in to do the biggest attraction on Tanna Island – the erupting Mount Yasur volcano! At 3 pm, 15 cruisers met at PRYC and piled into two trucks to start the tour.
Black Sand Plains
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.
Up the Volcano
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.
Checking out Mount Yasur was pretty amazing and a highlight of 2017 for us. It was especially interesting to compare the volcano to the one we saw a few months ago on Hawaii’s Big Island.