Vanuatu travel: Why Tanna Island is the place to go for authentic experiences

Eruptions within the crater of the frequently energetic Mt Yasur volcano on Tanna Island. Picture / Getty Photos

A world away from the vacationer path however only a 45-minute flight from Port Vila, Vanuatu’s Tanna Island is an unimaginable mixture of custom and pure wonders, writes Anabel Dean.

It takes a leap of religion to enter the Blue Cave.

And the person at my breakfast desk is disturbingly brief on element concerning the cavern hid inside the limestone coast on the northwest tip of Tanna island in Vanuatu.

“You possibly can’t see beneath the opening as a result of it is darkish,” he says, “but it surely solely takes 4 or 5 fin kicks and also you’re in.”

It sounds alarming ‑ diving from the bottom of a excessive sea cliff via the shadows into an iridescent pool inside a subterranean grotto ‑ but there isn’t a time for equivocation. The crew from White Grass Ocean Resort & Spa are ready in a small boat moored at water’s edge past a tussle of garish pink bougainvillea.

Inside minutes, we’re dashing into salty headwinds on turquoise water, color ebbing right into a distant deep blue. Alongside the shoreline, a couple of palm-thatched bures peep via greenery and there’s a hotchpotch of human exercise, figures frozen in movement as we skitter previous.

The otherworldy Blue Cave beneath the limestone coast of Tanna Island. Photo / White Grass Ocean Resort
The otherworldy Blue Cave beneath the limestone coast of Tanna Island. Picture / White Grass Ocean Resort

The journey from jetty to cave takes about half an hour. Anchor secured, we flip overboard then glide to the ragged rock wall that, the boatman reassures us, is the doorway to the cave. We now have solely his phrase for it. Following instructions, we plunge beneath rocks into sunless depths and positive sufficient, seconds later, heads come out of water right into a compact universe topped by ethereal blue shafts of daylight.

It is an unearthly realm, cathedral quiet however for the drip of droplets, and the slapping of waves exterior the watery void. How a lot time passes on this exalted dome of serenity? I can not say, however the Blue Cave is a surreal introduction to the little-known surprises of Tanna, an island redolent with customs and legends paying homage to a distant period.

The Blue Cave's waters boast incredible diving. Photo / White Grass Ocean Resort
The Blue Cave’s waters boast unimaginable diving. Picture / White Grass Ocean Resort

The clock stops on “Day Two” after we started a teeth-rattling journey by 4WD to Mount Yasur, alongside slim dust roads, via fertile forests of lush tree fern, over lunar plains of thick volcanic ash. Alongside the way in which, there is a passing parade of villagers rising from hillsides embroidered with cassava and low. Some have the distant look of revellers not but recovered from an all-night circumcision ceremony with kava. Sizzling pink and malachite green-feathered headdresses are flaming skywards and cheeks are painted with fluorescent stripes.

Villagers embrace traditional life in Yakel, one of the world's last tribal societies. Photo / supplied
Villagers embrace conventional life in Yakel, one of many world’s final tribal societies. Picture / equipped

In Yakel, one of many world’s final tribal societies, villagers embrace conventional life based on their perception in “kastom”, simply as they’ve achieved for tons of of years. The ladies are wearing grass skirts, the boys in penis sheaths. Their bamboo walled huts have thatched roofs and naked dust flooring. Livestock are a part of the furnishings. Bows and arrows are nonetheless used to hunt recreation and youngsters wander about wielding enormous machetes (“bush knives”) in opposition to leaves formed like paddles.

At Sulphur Bay, subsequent to the village of Ipelukel on the jap facet of the island, there are sizzling springs on black sand. The water temperature, in components, reaches 60C. This bay is Port Decision, the place Captain Cook dinner got here to discover Mount Yasur, in 1774.

The village individuals worship a God referred to as John Frum (as in “John from” America). Here’s a curiously disjointed story a couple of man who was stationed close by in World Conflict II, stumbled into Ipelukel, and prompt better prosperity would observe those that threw away their Bibles and returned to the outdated methods. The individuals did as they had been bidden however nonetheless look forward to the prodigal to return.

A village lady referred to as Mary seems by my facet to supply companies as information. “What are you chewing?” I ask. “Lap lap,” she solutions.

Lap lap is a gluey ricey factor full of marinated meat and wrapped in banana leaves which are buried in a sizzling lava stone oven. I am thrilled to seek out it on the next day, lined up on tables amidst the whirl of color that’s the Lenakel city market.

Markets at Yakel village. Photo / Anabel Dean
Markets at Yakel village. Picture / Anabel Dean

It is Saturday and my information has woken early to fill up on resort kitchen provides. Philemon is a heroic determine, the grandson of Chief Tom Numake, with dreadlocks that fall to the earth as if they’re the roots of a large banyan tree. His hair, like Sampson, is a personification of manhood.

“The women are asking at all times to lie with me however I do not do this,” he says emphatically. “I’m with my spouse.” Marie works as a nurse on the native hospital. “So you may see why she value me so many cows,” he laughs.

Philemon, grandson of the local chief, is a heroic figure in Yakel. Photo / Anabel Dean.
Philemon, grandson of the native chief, is a heroic determine in Yakel. Picture / Anabel Dean.

Philemon was meant to marry inside the blood line of Chief Tom however met Marie in a kava bar in Port Vila. “I attempted actually arduous to get her,” he confides. “I took her to my place after about six months however I had first to offer 4 huge pigs, and one cow, and a few fish like tuna, to her household.”

“Wow, she should have been some looker,” my companion jests. Phil is laughing too as he stuffs a pile of earthy brown taro right into a bulbous woven palm basket. He masses the jeep with tropical fruits and leafy greens. There is a useless bat that is slung from the low-hanging bough of a tree however resort friends don’t eat bat. One other marketeer grabs the corpse shortly, snaps the wings for simple stowage, then fingers over wads of notes. “It is good,” says the person.

We head again to the resort the place Phil works as dive grasp. Employment is a household affair right here: his mom is a chef; his two sisters work within the restaurant. Connections run deep and neighborhood is lore.

“I really like the individuals on this place,” confesses John Marsh, the Australian who owns the resort. He had dreamed as a younger teenager of proudly owning an island, crusing across the South Pacific, “women in each port”. He ended up with eight acres of leasehold land on Tanna after a kava deal clinched with Philemon’s grandfather – Chief Tom – 20 years in the past.

The White Grass Ocean Resort offers a range of tours to explore Tanna Island. Photo / White Grass Ocean Resort
The White Grass Ocean Resort presents a variety of excursions to discover Tanna Island. Picture / White Grass Ocean Resort

Kava is a drug made out of the roots or stump of the kava shrub. It’s identified to trigger such unsavoury uncomfortable side effects as apathy and pores and skin ulcers. “I awakened about 10 hours after the kava ceremony,” John recollects. “I could not raise my head: it was like a brick tied to the pillow.”

The Marsh household had been common holiday-makers in Vanuatu from the Nineteen Eighties, however John got here for the primary time to Tanna on a tourism convention, venturing out from Port Vila in quest of the volcano. The gap necessitated an in a single day keep in one in all three thatched bures close to the airport. The native Ni-van individuals who ran the “resort” restaurant requested John if he wish to purchase the land.

“I do not know what acquired into me,” John says. “The place had a pleasant really feel but it surely was all simply coral rocks right here. It was an excellent value and, ultimately, I purchased the leasehold for 75 years.” By then, John had just one lady in port, his spouse Robyn.

At this time, the resort is the largest single contributor to the Tanna financial system, using 50 individuals. It is a shady palm-tree pad, criss-crossed with whitish coral pathways. Hibiscuses flank my spacious family-size villa set again from the beachside bures. The quiet forces you to note the wind clacking via palm fronds and distant bonfires with smoke curling upwards. Days daybreak to the sounds of village life – youngsters, canine, cockerels going off, typically by chance round midnight.

An ocean view bure at White Grass Ocean Resort. Photo / White Grass Ocean Resort.
An ocean view bure at White Grass Ocean Resort. Picture / White Grass Ocean Resort.

White chairs for books or snoozes or sunsets sit beside a pleasant pool that appears barely used. Eileen, the receptionist, spots me paddling within the chlorinated water earlier than lunch at some point. “Oh,” she says, barely chastising, “there’s the ocean there.” She is gesturing in direction of a largely untouched shoreline studded with among the South Pacific’s best-preserved coral gardens.

That is my first expertise of an archipelago uncontaminated by lodge chains, quick meals shops, actuality tv and authorized legal responsibility clauses. In some way, charmingly, Tanna has been ignored by mass tourism despite being solely 45 minutes by air from Port Vila. How heartening it’s to land at an airport with out a baggage carousel however with an indication that reminds passengers: “Time you journey you mas putum on slipper or shoe”.

With and with out slippers, island life on Tanna hints at what the world may need been, had we not stomped about a lot on the pure order of issues. It is an training within the easy conventional values of individuals, language and tradition; a spot of inexperienced peace the place every single day is an journey.

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