The lighthouse of the Pacific

Mt. Yasur, Tanna Island, Vanuatu / September 2016.

The locals describe Mt. Yasur as hell in paradise. Like Captain Cook, attracted to the Island’s glow during his voyage in 1774, my journey would take me far closer to this spellbinding hell.

Mt. Yasur is a 361m high stratovolcano, located on Tanna Island, Vanuatu. It features a pyroclastic cone with a somewhat circular, 400 meter wide crater. It is one of the world’s most active volcanoes having been in continuous strombolian eruption for over 800 years.

The World’s most accessible active volcano is an easy five minute climb. Getting there, however, involves a white-knuckle flight on an aircraft long past retirement.

After landing, we climbed aboard an old truck and began a three hour journey, picking up locals and supplies along the way. An hour in, we chanced upon a meeting of people in a traditional ceremony. Our driver muttered something. I thought I heard something rather offhand. He repeated… “circumcision ceremony”. Our cautious intrigue led our driver into thinking we wanted to make a guest appearance. He insisted. We politely declined.

After navigating narrow jungle strewn roads, we emerged onto the great ash plain and our first up-close views of Mt. Yasur. It was majestic in every way. Large, thunderous eruptions with a constant cloud of ash, spewing from its fiery belly.

We met our hosts Richard and Susan from  Volcanic Village Vista. Their Tribe, The Karumene, are the traditional custodians of Yasur. We felt safe. Particularly with our tents perched precariously within the volcano’s reach.

We joined the local villagers, traversing through a myriad of jungle tracks to the base of the Volcano. After reluctantly handing over 7500 vatu (about $100) as an entrance fee, we were treated to a traditional dance ceremony and blessing from the Chief.

While Yasur is already incredibly accessible, the locals made it even easier with trucks at the ready. A five minute walk was all that was required to get as close to hell as possible.

Standing on the craters edge was frightening yet mesmerising. 50 meters in front of us, huge ash and sulfur plumes belched from multiple craters. Any change in wind direction and we’d be engulfed. Large shock waves blasted sky high.

Huge lava bombs rained down, some coming precariously close. Our guide told us to be vigilant on every explosion. “Sky high lava bombs that aren’t moving are the ones coming right for you”

A fresh lava bomb, landing close to our vantage point.

My friend Christina, undertaking vital monitoring work (on behalf of Geo Hazards).

As the sun began to set, things really intensified. The grey ash plume gave way to the best fireworks show on the planet. Like a moth to a flame, we spent three days up here, taking in the best show on earth.