• Britt Berning

Standing at the crater's edge

Each island in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu has its own distinct personality. Tanna Island is defined by the famed Mt Yasur, one of the world’s most active and accessible volcanoes.

Tanna has a wild beauty about it, with a jungle-clad mountainous interior ringed by black sand beaches, sea caves, vast coral reefs, and underwater drop offs. Situated on the south east coast of the island, Yasur is estimated to have erupted continually for the past 700 years as the Australian Plate moves east and is subducted under the westward-moving Pacific Plate. The volcano emits Strombolian bursts of lava bombs multiple times each hour, and occasionally erupts in more violent Vulcanian explosions of magma and ash clouds. Surrounding tribes consider the volcano sacred, and its glow is purported to have lured Captain Cook to the island in 1774.

Travelling by jeep, the overgrown jungle and tangled banyan trees gradually gave way to a barren ash plain, where the only living things in sight were local children riding their bikes over the volcanic dunes. Yasur emerged as a giant mound of earth, grey streaked with black, and surrounded by formations of pink, hardened lava.

Visitors are welcomed by residents and granted their permission to travel safely up the volcano. We piled into utes and were driven part of the way up the volcano’s cone, then our guides led us on foot the short remainder of the way to the summit. Atop the circular crater rim, approximately 400m in diameter, we could see, hear, and feel the presence of the volcano. It’s almost as if it is human. It crashes and seethes, and every few minutes it shoots lava up into the air through multiple vents in a magnificent display. Thick clouds of sulfur pass overhead and every so often you feel a sprinkle of ash on your face. The south east trades winds cause regular ashfall across the entire island. During periods of high activity projectiles up to 4m in width can be thrown as far as 250m, and the volcano is closed to tourists.

As the sun sets, the ridges of the volcano change colour and the streams of lava begin to glow. It’s hard not to be humbled in front of this ancient, larger-than-life pyroclastic cone of earth. After hours of staring in wonder in near silence, we turned to start our trek back down the caldera. Yasur gave us one final firework display, the most spectacular of the evening, as if she knew we were leaving. Driving home we could see the glow of Yasur through the back window of the jeep – a constant presence on the island.

If you’re interested in learning more about this island, watch the movie Tanna – nominated for a slew of film awards in 2017.

I booked my tour of Mt Yasur with White Grass Ocean Resort, who I can highly recommend.

Click here for more on what to see and do on beautiful Tanna.

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