Vanuatu: Extremes of Earth Expedition (HOT)

Three days after returning from Antarctica to visit the coldest place on the planet, we repacked and headed bound for the hottest place on the planet – inside one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, Mt. Yasur. This was part of a challenge (and documentary we were filming) to visit the coldest and hottest places on Earth within a week.

We left Auckland on March 29, 2018 bound for Port Vila. The plane was almost entirely empty.

The next morning, we headed to the domestic airport, bound for Luganville, Santo. We got some views of the ongoing eruption on Ambae.

Our first destination on Santo was the dive site of Million Dollar Point. This site was created when the Americans dumped all sorts of machinery and equipment near the end of WWII. There’s plenty to see here including a large barge and marine life.

We also stopped at the Nanda Blue Pool. I can’t recommend it enough

Further north is Champagne Beach. It’s a really idyllic spot with great swimming and friendly locals.

But the beach and pools were not the reason for our visit. We had specifically come to Santo to explore the Millennium Cave. The Millennium Cave is the largest cave in the country and until 1987, had not been explored extensively.

Before entering, the locals etched some symbolic clay paste onto our faces. This ensured a safe passage through the cave. From here, we clambered over some slippery rocks near the entrance and ventured into the darkness.

The cave featured some impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations – and plenty of bats. Arg. There was plenty of swimming, waterfalls and other obstacles to navigate also.


As we pushed on, we finally emerged out the other end and into the gorge. It was absolutely stunning. Huge boulders, moss lined walls and fascinating geological features in every direction.

We were happily floating down the river, admiring the views when a storm decided to come to us (for a change!).

Within minutes, torrential rain was pouring down. The thunder was deafening. We could see the river level begin to rise and our guide looked worried. There was no escaping the 30 meter high cliffs either side. So our gentle swim turned into a mad rush out of there. Thankfully, we found an exit and to the safety of high ground.

We dried ourselves off before heading back to the airport for our next leg to Tanna. The storm continued to rage and our flight was delayed for two hours.

We couldn’t visit Vanuatu without some volcano action, so we decided to visit Yasur Volcano on the island of Tanna again. Yasur volcano is renowned for its strombolian type eruptions. Basically the best fireworks show on the planet.

On April 1, 2018 our ancient aircraft landed at White Grass Airport on the western side of the Island. Thomas, who is a good friend of mine, came and collected us. He runs the  Yasur View Lodge, which is right opposite the entrance to the volcano. The journey from the airport is about 2hrs and takes visitors across the expansive ash plain with excellent views of Yasur. Once we had settled into our bungalow, we made for the volcano.

Yasur is an incredibly accessible volcanoes. A 15 minute 4×4 will take you almost all the way – then it’s a 2 minute walk up a few stairs. Upon arriving at the crater, I was immediately disappointed. There didn’t seem to be any explosive activity. We sat and waited patiently. Finally a few rocks went flying – but I had seen Yasur erupting at Level 3 Alert and this wasn’t cutting the mustard.

With little happening at the summit, we shifted our focus to explore some of the areas near the base that we hadn’t had time to explore on our last visit. First on the list was ash boarding. Yup, ash boarding down an active volcano. Cool.

Not far from the volcano is the John Frum village, which sits next to Sulphur Bay. The village worships an American messiah, John Frum. The John Frum movement is a classic example of a “cargo cult” in which World War II troops visited the islands, bringing with them highly prized cargo. To this day, John promises to bring trucks, boats, TVs and other things.

Sulphur Bay was the first landing place for westerners when the glow of Mount Yasur attracted James Cook in 1774. Hot water seeps out of the river bed, providing a natural jacuzzi to relax in. Just make sure you bring a spade.

Yasur always puts on the best show at night, so come dusk, we headed up again and this time Yasur decided to put on a spectacular show. We were treated to huge strombolian eruptions every 3-4 minutes. At least three vents were active, spewing lava rocks hundreds of meters high. At times, all three went off simultaneously. Shockwaves were visible. We stayed on well past midnight until the rain decided to spoil the show.


The next day we returned for one final visit and we got a few daytime eruptions with  ash.

Yasur has been constantly erupting for thousands of years and gave us another great show.