Another loud explosion, we looked at each other with a mix of excitement and worry. It made us wonder what we would see up there. We were walking towards Mt. Yasur on Tanna, one of the few very active volcanoes which was considered ‘kind of’ safe to view up close. It was still a two-hour walk, but the noises this volcano made, were already loud and frightening.
While we were walking, I thought of how we got here: I sailed the islands of Vanautu in 2007 with my wife and daughter and we had very fond memories of the people, nature, and the culture. So, the expectations were high. But what we found, made us fall in love with the people and gave us a rare insight view of their unique way of life.
For this SUP expedition, I had asked my Starboard team mate, Trevor Tunnington to come along. He didn’t need much convincing and was immediately on board. “A SUP expedition, to one of the most friendly but also most dangerous nations (in terms of national disasters) on earth, what is there not to like”, Trevor answered the same day.
We would travel light with two Starboard inflatables (Touring 14’ x 30” and IGO 11’2 x 32”), 3-piece paddles, a tent, sleeping mat, basic navigation gear and just an emergency ration of food and two water bags. The IGO has a double chamber which brings extra safety for crossing when we are far at sea.
Vanuatu consists of 13 main islands and many small ones, an ideal place to paddle and explore on stand up paddle boards. Apart from the main island, it is remote, so remote that many villages rarely see tourists. Vanuatu is one of the least visited countries in the world. After a short flight on a tiny plane, while looking over the shoulder of the pilots, we had landed in Tanna. We found a 4×4, who was willing to take us to Port Resolution, a village on the other side of the island, 2 hours over a muddy, barely doable, road.
It is custom in every village in Vanautu to go first to the village chief and ask for his permission to visit and stay in the village. Normally you always arrive with a gift, so did we. We had brought T-shirts, lycras and hats, which were very much appreciated. After we talked to the chief, he gave us permission and a great spot to put up our tent on a cliff overlooking the bay. Before we started our long walk to the volcano Mt Yasur, we had a swim at the deserted white coral sand beach on the other side of the village. Tiki life feeling…
Hiking up the slopes of the mountain, the thunder-like explosions got louder and louder, soon we found ourselves in front of the entrance of the volcano. After a brief ceremony and some instructions not to jump over the crater’s edge, we went to the rim. A light sulphur smell greeted us when we got close to the edge. Then, we saw smoke and deep down, the lava boiling on the bottom of the crater.
We were standing there watching this spectacle when suddenly we got hit by a pressure wave from a loud explosion which threw up the lava hundreds of meters in the air, a lot higher than we were standing. The first reaction of our little group of people, was to duck down and run for cover. This was so freaking awesome and thrilling at the same time. We stayed on the rim and while it got dark and the lava explosions kept coming every 5 minutes or so, with the diminishing light the spectacle got even more impressive. After a few hours we went down the volcano and luckily got a ride on a 4×4 back to our tent which saved us the 2.5 hour walk.
The next morning we blew up our boards and paddled for a few hours to the next village, Ipikel. On the way, we came across, something straight out of a scene out of the BBC Planet Earth series, a shark feeding frenzy. About five sharks were hunting a school of tunas out at sea. We saw water splashing and fins coming out of the water. We went for a closer look, until we were right in it. A few sharks were pushing them close together and the others were happily biting at any tuna coming their way. Read more.