After what felt like far too short a time for an Australian to be on an international flight, we landed in Port Villa, only four hours after leaving Sydney Airport.
While the tropical heat is the first thing that hits you as you step off the plane, the realisation that you have left behind busy commutes, business meetings and fits of road rage soon settles in as you amble through the laid back international airport.
It must be said that Vanuatu and its people are relaxed and the concept of island time, something that died decades ago in Australia, is alive and well on the island archipelago. For those looking to enjoy a Honeymoon or escape the rat race, Vanuatu’s collection of first-class coral reefs, resorts and restaurants would make an excellent choice.
But we had not come for rest or relaxation. We were on the hunt for adrenaline, and large doses of it. We’d heard rumours the island paradise was a playground for action-adventure junkies and we were eager for our first hit.
Mount Yasur Volcano was to be our first taste and it did not disappoint. Sitting proudly on the island of Tanna, the frightfully active mountain is billed as one of the most accessible volcanoes in the world. Indeed, if the “Old Man” was situated in Australia, nervous safety regulators would keep everybody, even trained experts, at least three kilometres from the precipice.
Here however, locally trained guides ascend the Volcanoes cone in 4WDs, and then lead their tourist groups directly to the edge of the molten pit. From a viewing platform you look directly into the mouth of the angry beast. The sonic booms that are a precursor to a lava explosion are so powerful that I saw a German tourist, so startled by one blast, lose his footing and trip over a piece of hardened magma.
It is after the sun goes down that the power and splendour of Mt Yasur is best appreciated. The magnificent displays of molten lava being thrown into the black night and the sound of the ejected magma crashing back to earth are truly a once in a lifetime experience.
That night we ate freshly caught lobster and slept by crashing waves in the remote and surprisingly well equipped Friendly Bungalows.
Early the next morning, we were met by a local waterman who had come to take us up the coast to show us his family’s aquatic treasure and birthright.
Boat anchored in front of an elevated cliff face, we dove into the emerald waters of the Coral Sea and swam towards a small underwater opening. After building up the courage to free dive into the small darkened hole, we soon emerged into the sparkling sapphire waters of what the locals call the ‘Blue Cave’.
Once the eyes adjusted to the various shades of brilliant blue it became clear that we were now splashing around in a stunning cavern that was being lit by a shaft of sunlight filtering through an overhead cavity.
We had one item left on our itinerary before leaving Tanna, to head into the hills and meet with a warrior tribe to learn about their black magic rituals. Given the tribe had once dabbled in cannibalism, it is safe to say we received a far warmer welcome than had the first white missionaries to stumble into the area. That is not to say our welcome was not without surprises, and as the tribesman walked us through their black arts they took great pleasure in ambushing and scaring their guests at every available opportunity.
It had been an intense 24 hrs, and a couple of cups of Kava with the tribe’s chiefs were the perfect beginning to a relaxing evening at Tanna Evergreen Resort.
The following day we flew back to Efate, the political and economic capital of Vanuatu. Given all of the nation’s 82 islands are of volcanic origin, the rich soil throws up magnificent jungles which would be perfect for trekking. But we were on an adrenaline bender and had learned the best way for us to explore Efate was by four-wheel drive buggy.
We spent the afternoon tearing through lush jungle, cruising over black-sand beaches and sliding around open fields. Our rampage became significantly more enjoyable when the clouds opened-up and we were able to test the sideways handling ability of the buggies on the wet grass beneath. Even though our bodies were starting to feel the full effects of fatigue, we spent the evening discovering many of Port Villa’s bars and clubs.
The following morning was spent recuperating at the Hideaway Island Resort and Marine Sanctuary. Snorkelling in the clear coral reefs and sipping tropical fruit juices in deck chairs was the perfect medicine for jangled nerves as we readied our bodies to tackle what was to be the most challenging item on our itinerary.
Cascade abseiling is not to be taken lightly and probably not by anybody with anything less than a medium level of fitness. After a gruelling trek to the waterfall’s peak however, as we looked down over the 50 metre face of gushing tropical water, it was not my fitness level that was worrying me.
“Look, it’s easy,” said one of our local guides as he skipped down the top section of the cascade like a grasshopper. Indeed, the technique was not hard. What was difficult however, was remaining calm on the face of a slippery cliff with water crashing over you while at the same time trying to properly appreciate the stunning view and awesomeness of the feat you had somehow convinced your body to do.
Sinking into the swimming hole at the cascades base felt like a fitting conclusion to an adrenaline fuelled holiday. The only thing left to do know was begin the body’s recovery at one of Vanuatu’s premier resorts, Warwick Le Lagon. The tranquil gardens, swimming pools and spas seemed to accelerate the body’s healing process, and it was a pity we had only allowed for one night in the soft beds of Le Lagon.
It would have been nice to stay longer in Vanuatu, but there is only so much adrenaline even the most seasoned adventure hunter’s body can withstand. It was time to head back to the mindless business meetings and busy commutes. It was time to take a rest from all the fun and return to the real world. It was time to start planning for the next adventure.
Air Vanuatu is a full service airline, meals, drinks and inflight entertainment are complimentary. Air Vanuatu offers a daily service from Sydney to Port Vila, three days a week from Brisbane and once weekly from Melbourne (December 20 2012 – January 17 2013 / 28 March-04 April / 11-18 April / 6 Jun – 3 Oct / 10 Oct – 24 Oct).
Return economy fares including taxes start at $511 from Brisbane, $559 from Sydney and $649 from Melbourne. Air Vanuatu operates domestic air services in Vanuatu between the islands.
For more information go to: www.airvanuatu.com
AccommodationPoppy’s on the Lagoon
Award winning boutique resort with private beachfront location Nestled amongst an oasis of tropical gardens this peaceful resort is only a 15 minute walk or 2 minute drive to Port Vila's charming town centre. http://www.poppys.com.vu/Friendly Bungalows
Friendly Bungalows is located 6km away from Mt Yasur Volcano right on the quiet secluded sand beach of Lowelkas Cove, on the other side of the island from the airport. http://www.friendlybungalows.com.vu/Tanna Evergreen Resort
Warwick Le Lagon Resort & Spa is situated on 75 acres of exotic tropical gardens on the edge of the pristine Erakor Lagoon on Vanuatu's main island, Efate. http://www.lelagonvanuatu.vu