VLI (Port Vila, Vanuatu), to AKL (Auckland, New Zealand).
The VIP Club Lounge at VLI is nothing to write home about, but it does have air-con unlike the departure lounge, so that’s nice.
Another one of these
The seats in the business class cabin are nothing special, but I do have it all to myself, so that’s nice.
And the breakfast is nice.
Another hire car, this time a very nice LandCruiser, costing almost nothing thanks to Hertz points.
Time to learn all the switches and electronics of yet another unfamiliar car.
Time to get used to driving on the left again. In the past month I’ve been driving in: England, on the left. Germany, right. Taiwan, right. Fiji, left. Vanuatu, right. New Zealand, left. Wherever you are, just remember that whichever side of the car you’re sitting on while driving, you should be near the middle of the road, not the verge or the kerb. If you’re near the verge and you’ve got the steering wheel, you’ve fucked up.
Time to get back into road-tripping mode with a 3 hour drive to Rotorua, through the endless North Island farmland.
It’s a pleasantly scenic drive, sadly with no good opportunities for photos. As is so often the case, the best bits have nowhere you can safely stop. Little traffic though, and the LandCruiser is superb.
Due to a planning failure, the geological sites I’d planned to visit were closed by the time I got there, so I have to choose between doing them tomorrow or sticking with the originally planned mountain biking.
There’s a hot spring and geyser right outside my hotel room, so that’s nice. Except that there’s a sulphurous smell everywhere that makes you think there’s been a sewage problem…
In any case, I have my magnificent landcruising machine and the open road. When I grow up, I want a LandCruiser.
Yes, outside my hotel room there’s an ancient geyser smoking away and occasionally blowing off. Just like any hotel room in Sheffield.
Welcome to Vanuatu
At the Holiday Inn…
you can have one of these in the bar
and try not to step on one of these in the lagoon
Then you can visit the very laid-back capital, Port Vila
A drive all the way around the island, stopping off here and there, only takes a few hours because the roads, while not always appropriate for a hire car with very low clearance at the front,
Well, mostly empty
There are lots of places to stop, but nearly always claimed by a local who charges an entrance fee
If you do one thing in Vanuatu, skip the frustrating volcano and get to the Blue Lagoon early. The water is a little chilly at first, but you’ll have the place to yourself for an hour or so, and when it gets busy it’s still only a handful of people.
Even if you’re as bad a swimmer as I am, it’ll be by far the best thing you do in Vanuatu. After Halong Bay in Vietnam, it’s the second best place I’ve ever been swimming.
One side of the volcano is an alien landscape of black volcanic sand and brown pillowy lumps of solidified lava flows:
To get to the top you go up the other side, which is strangely much more lushly vegetated, on a very steep and rough trail that requires low-range 4WD most of the way. Again, this is one of the smoothest parts because it was too bumpy to get a photo elsewhere:
To the top, past the “volcano mail” post-box:
But not actually the top. Because the activity level is high, the upper viewing areas are off-limits, and the guides won’t let us go any closer. They even brought “security” staff to stop anyone breaking the rules:
So instead of being able to see directly into the bubbling lava in the bottom of the crater, a lot of frustrated people have to watch from a distance:
Sadly, although the activity level is high enough to prevent us accessing the higher vantage points, it’s not active enough to put on a very dramatic show. Instead of “bus-sized chunks of lava being thrown over your head”, we have the occasional explosion that throws boulder-sized blobs of lava into the air. Everyone seems unimpressed. Especially when it starts raining and we get thoroughly soaked:
There’s an obvious redness to the underside of the steam clouds, lit by the lava out of sight below the crater rim. With the disappointing viewing restrictions, I retain hope that the red light might look a bit more dramatic after sunset.
In daylight, the lava being thrown into the air just looks like big grey rocks. As it gets darker, you start to see the red that you expect lava to be. The pictures don’t convey the scale, but these glowing blobs are somewhere around 50 to 150cm. When you’re there, you can see the bigger ones wobble and deform as they fly through the air, sometimes stretching and splitting into two:
It’s frustrating to not be allowed closer. Never expected over-zealous health and safety on a tiny pacific island. The ride up the mountain in the back of the pick-up was far more risky.
If I’d had my own transport I could have just climbed up the other side, seeing more and avoiding the ludicrous tourist entry fee. At least in the darkness there were a few moments that felt properly volcanic:
In these videos the lava blobs look like small sparks, but they’re big boulder sized pieces, and what you can’t see is the noise and the pressure waves that accompany each burst:
The last 2 miles to my accommodation takes about 25 minutes on roads like this and worse. The rougher, bumpier, steeper stuff is too hard to photograph through the grimy window of a pick-up as you’re being thrown about like you’re in a washing machine, and so like 99% of everything I see and do, or the places or people or sounds or smells or any other aspect of the experience on any given day, it never makes it onto film or into the blog. (A few photos doesn’t come close to capturing the million things that make up a day of travel):
Sometimes you try, and almost lose your camera:
Lodgings are rather basic, but nowhere near as bad as places I stayed while biking around the world:
There is a bathroom, less stinky than a hole in the ground (although that’s where it leads), but dirty enough that you wouldn’t want to actually touch any of it.
From the chair on the porch I can see Mount Yasur smoking and steaming:
After a while I realise that the rumbling noise I can hear every minute or so isn’t thunder, it’s the volcano.
Every so often you see a pressure wave pop up out of the volcano and blast into the clouds, like the volcano just blew a smoke ring, followed a second later by a louder explosion. Often you can feel the pressure wave in your ears, and the curtains in the cabin suddenly suck in when the sound hits.
Activity is at level 2 out of 4. At 3 or 4, you’re not allowed up to the crater rim.
At night, it might be quite nice to fall asleep to the sounds of the volcano, but it turns out your attention is taken instead by the sounds made by the rats running about the cabin…
In Vanuatu they speak a kind of pidgin English. “Vanuatu’s best water”, for example, is “number one water belong vanuatu”: