Stof and I have visited a lot of fabulous islands in the Pacific, so
it takes some thing really special to make us all flustered about
visiting a particular island. For Ambrym, it was the volcano.
Vanuatu is famed for having many active volcanoes. The most accessible of them is on Tanna in the south, but we had to miss Tanna in order to get to Port Vila and arrange the smooth arrival of our Dr Dave. We were going to be heading past Ambrym Island in our meander to Santo Island (where we check out of Vanuatu), and put my foot down: we were going to visit that volcano and see some lava.
On the advice of our cruising guide we headed round to Ranon village
on the northeast side of the island from where we were assured we
would have eas(ier) access to the most impressive of the active
volcanoes (there are FOUR on the island) and some pretty gnarly
traditional culture as well.
At Ranon we encountered a first: a guy from the village paddled out to
welcome us and invite us to participate in the various activities
offered in the region. We duly arranged to do the volcano trip on a
On V-day* we awoke really really early for our 5(ish)am pick up and
drove for about 30 minutes to the start of the trail with our lovely
guide, Reuben. We’d been told it would take 4 hours to get to the
crater, but we thought we might beat that statistic. Ha!
The first part of the trek involved a rather steep hike up through the
jungle. In the rain. Reuben whipped out his swiss army knife and cut
us banana leaves to act as umbrellas. It would stop raining, we’d
dispose of our forest-provided cover, only for Reuben to have to cut
some more leaves about 15 minutes later. We started to worry that the volcano would be cloaked in cloud, but Reuben assured us that it would be clear by the time we reached the summit.
Once we reached the top of the “big hill” (clearly Reuben had very set
ideas about what constituted a mountain), we walked down a little path to the ash plain. The ash plain is an enormous plateau that had been filled by volcano ash. In some areas of the island (those
predominantly down wind of the sulphuric fumes released by the
volcanoes) the ash plain is devoid of any life, but where we walked
there were quite a few trees, including a whole lot that are only
found near the volcano. There was also an abundance of pink orchids,
which Reuben proclaimed were endemic to the volcano. Walking along the ash plain was an absolute pleasure. It had only the slightest slope towards the crater and it was like walking on hard sand: soft under foot, but still stable – it was almost like walking on a dry river bed. The crater itself was still swathed in cloud – so we couldn’t see where we were headed – but after the steep climb through the forest the hour and a half amble on the ash plain was most welcome.
Finally the wind picked up a little and we started to glimpse the
walls of the crater of Mt Benbow. Shortly thereafter we had our last
snack break before tackling the final onslaught. Climbing up onto a
ridge of dark volcanic gravel we could at last see the path that we
would follow until the edge of the crater.
The rain clouds had dissipated, but there were still billowing white
clouds above us. We soon realised that this was actually smoke from
the volcano, giving the the last ascent a rather mythical feeling. We
marched to the edge of the crater and peered below us. The cliffs
stretched down in layers of red, black and burnt (I couldn’t resist)
orange. The smoke swirled and gushed around the abyss. We were struck by the sound of crashing waves wafting up from the crater. Suddenly the wind abated for a few seconds and we caught sight of the earth bubbling below us!
Reuben, Dave, Stof and I stood entranced for nearly half an hour. The
conditions probably weren’t the best for lava-spotting as the strong
winds kept blowing the sulphuric smoke from the volcano back into the crater – obscuring our view. But we whooped and gasped every time we were able to peer far enough down to see the cauldron of spitting, bubbling lava. I think we might have stayed there for another half an hour had the wind not had another unfortunate side-effect: making us positively chilly. My mum is right: never go on a hike without a jumper. Even if the hike is in the tropics in summer and the
destination is a volcano crater!
After snapping our pics and drinking in one last look of the lava, we
turned on our tails and started the rather long trek back to Ronan.
BUT: As we should have realised, that there is never drama in short
supply on a trip like ours. On the way home Reuben received an sms:
Takalani had been spotted escaping from the bay in front of Ronan
village! Panic! We cannot imagine a world without our Taks. She is our
home. And we are not insured (we know, we know…)! We broke into a
jog and arranged for the truck to fetch us where it had dropped us
The urgency abated when we heard that a group of men from the village had taken a boat out to rescue the Laura Takalani and bring her back to the bay. Nevertheless we were puzzled: we had anchored in relatively shallow water and put out more than enough chain. It was
windy, but we have anchored in much gustier conditions without
dragging. This was only the second time that the anchor had dragged at all in our whole nine months on board. We still haven’t figured out
how it happened, but we were assured by everyone that we met in Ronan that the first anyone had seen of the incident was when our floating home was seen floating way further out than she should have been.
So we survived a day of mounting a volcano and retrieving our boat. We thanked Takalani’s rescuers profusely** and enjoyed a hearty dinner and passed out.
A final coda: The next morning we took many of the goods that we no
longer need (some, we never really needed in the first place) on our
boat to shore and set upon some tables in the area built for the
market. The village descended,sniffed around and then returned with
some fantastic traditional carvings and masks to trade for our
paraphernalia. In case our memories and photographs alone were not
enough to keep Ambrym in our thoughts, we now have a trove of artwork to remind of us of the island where we nearly lost our boat when looking at the lava.
* V for volcano.
** Truthfully? We were a little suspicious about the whole episode
when rather hefty “rewards” were demanded, but we had no way of
knowing what had happened when we were away from Takalani. So we