Mt. Yasur provides one of the most reliable, most accessible, and most exciting fireworks shows on the planet. Every five minutes or so, one or both of the two calderas on Mt. Yasur explode in a brief but furious eruption, beginning with an earth-shaking and hair-raising “BOOOOOOOMMMM!!!” that shoots hundreds of large chunks of molten lava hundreds of feet in the air. It is an absolutely incredible (and a bit scary) spectacle that visitors can view from only a few hundred meters away on the rim of the calderas.
Mt. Yasur does not offer a challenging mountaineering experience, unless you accidentally slide down the sandy slope inside the caldera to the vent. That would indeed be interesting. But challenging climbing is not the reason to go. Instead, Mt. Yasur offers an unforgettable opportunity to witness nature’s fury up close. Mt. Yasur’s eruption offers a reminder to all who visit that geological forces are very much continuing to shape the face and composition of the Earth. And as a bonus, the views of nearby Mt. Mele, the ocean, and the nearby Islands of Futuna and Erromango aren’t bad either.
The fury of Mount Yasur
Mt. Yasur is a stratovolcano reaching a height of just over 1184 ft. It is located on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific country of Vanuatu, a tropical archipelago consisting of 83 islands located about 1100 miles east of Australia and 500 miles west of Fiji. Vanuatu is situated on top of the Ring of Fire and has several other active and inactive volcanoes, including Mt. Manaro which recently threatened much of the island of Ambae
, Gaua volcano and Ambrym Volcano.
Map of Vanuatu showing its active and inactive volcanoes.
Vanuatu was a colony of both France and Britain and was formerly called New Hebrides before becoming an independent country in 1980. Official languages include French, English and Bislama, which is derived from English. This is one of the most linguistically diverse countries with over 100 native languages spoken by 200,000 citizens.
Tanna is home to about 20,000 people and is covered with 2nd growth tropical vegetation, coffee plantations, and several small farms and villages. It is a fascinating island with many cultures and languages, including several kastom villages where some residents live much as their pre-European ancestors lived, shunning western technologies and formal education and wearing traditional grass clothing. Surrounding much of the island are several coral reefs that are great for snorkeling. Although there are several comfortable bungalows on the island, it can still be a relatively rustic experience for the few visitors who venture to the island. That can be either an attraction for some or a turn-of for others.
Vanuatu, in fact, sees relatively few tourists. In 2004 for example, only 60,000 visitors stayed there. When we visited the southernmost island in 2006, we were informed that we were the first American tourists to visit there, which was quite surprising. Nevertheless, Vanuatu offers much to travelers looking to experience Melanesian culture away from popular tourist destinations. Ni-Vanuatu hospitality and friendliness are second to none and its other natural attractions both above and underwater are fantastic.
Monitoring the Volcano
Volcano activity levels and access vary. Very large eruptions have not occurred for several years although activity around Mt. Yasur has triggered a tsunami. In 1994 a Japanese tourist died on Mt. Yasur when she was hit by a chunk of molten lava. Since then, the government of Vanuatu has placed a station on the volcano to monitor its activity. Activity levels are designated Level 0, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 or Level 4. Tourists are allowed to visit the caldera rim at Levels 0 and 1 but not allowed at Levels 2, 3 or 4, when lava is more likely to approach or fly over the crater rim where visitors are located. So, do not be surprised to be prohibited from climbing it if the volcano's activity level rises.
Inside the Volcano
The volcano contains two calderas, each with two vents that spew out molten lava every 5 minutes or so. As of this writing, the caldera on the south side, which is most accessible, is more active. Trails surround the rim. Climbing down from the rim onto the loose ash/pumice is foolish and dangerous and would be quite slippery. During the peak tourist season you are likely to see a few dozen other people.
I recommend going at sunset to enjoy the sunset views of the nearby mountains and ocean and the nighttime views of the eruptions, which are even more spectacular. The only equipment you’ll need is a warm jacket: it can get surprisingly chilly and windy up there. I saw one tour group wearing helmets: I doubt it would help much if a serious eruption occurred. It seemed excessive.
First, you have to get to Vanuatu. Several airlines fly to Port Vila, the main entry point, from Australia. I found Pacific Blue Airlines to be the cheapest. From Port Vila, Air Vanuatu is the only airline offering daily flights to Tanna in small airplanes. It is also possible to reach Vanuatu from the Solomon Islands, Fiji or New Zealand.
The volcano is located on the opposite side of the island from the airport and is too far to reach by walking. Thus, you will need to arrange for transportation from the airport to your lodging. The volcano is accessed via a 2-mile 4wd rutted road that can be either driven or hiked. However, except for tourists staying at nearby Jungle Oasis Bungalow, most people will hire a vehicle as part of a tour and drive to the parking area located just below the rim of the caldera. An outhouse is located at the parking area. From the parking area, it is a 15-minute walk up a sandy trail to the top.
The Trailhead Parking Area at Sunset
Entrance fees are 2250 Vatu per adult for visit the first night; 1125 Vatu the second night. You can pay at the beginning of the road to the parking area or, if no one is there, at the parking area. One U.S. dollar is worth about 100 Vatu. Tours will charge approximately 5000 Vatu per person, including transportation, entrances fee, and a guide. Prices will vary depending on the guide service hired. Most people take guided tours, unless staying at nearby Jungle Oasis, because otherwise transportation across the island to Mount Yasur can be difficult to obtain or would require walking a dozen or so miles each way.
I have been told that there are a total of only 60 vehicles on Tanna.
Most people do not camp, although there are campsites available at some bungalows. Instead, most people stay at one of the numerous bungalows scattered across the island. Most offer tours of Mt. Yasur. I stayed at Turtle Bay Inn and Tanna Evergreen Bungalow and recommend them both. Prices vary.
Ask your lodging staff about getting a post card to have posted at the world’s only volcanic post located on the slope of Mt. Yasur.
External LinksMount Yasur