Standing at the Edge of Mount Yasur


Tanna is a small island visitable only by plane or helicopter from Port Vila in Vanuatu. It has several claims to fame.

One is that it is the home to two cults. One is the Jon Frum cult. They believe that one day he (who some contend was only a kava-induced vision) will return and bring prosperity like the Americans have to the island of Tanna. The other is the Prince Philip cult. They worship Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh.

Two is that it is the most visited outer island of Vanuatu. And that is because,

Three, it contains Mount Yasur, touted as the most accessible active volcano in the world.

Why is it so accessible? Probably because any developed country would put up too many bureaucratic conditions to getting so close to such a geographical danger.

volcano sparks

Jacob, Ryder and I caught a forty minute flight with Air Vanuatu. They’d had a crash just two days before (the brakes failed), but we had no problems.

Our drivers from Friendly Bungalows picked us up, and they asked us if we wanted to stop in town to buy anything before we went on the hour and a half drive to the far reaches of the island. We said yes.

Little did we know that the main town would consist of two stores with nothing but some canned goods and bags of crisps in them. I got some peanut butter and jelly, crackers, and juice and we were on our way.

The island is nothing but villages. Locals sit together and talk. Kids play soccer. Men visit nakamals and drink kava. The colors are dark and unspoiled, much like the people. Children grab my hand and say “I love you!”

We stop at the market at the foot of this gorgeous banyan tree.


Jacob tries some of the local kava. I avoid it, because the one time I had my piddling 50 vatu shell, I couldn’t stop burping for the next 5 hours (an average of three burps per minute.) It’s more of a male bonding ritual anyway. Some people say it makes the Ni-Vans lazy and ruins the country. Some people say it’s harmless and better than alcohol comparatively, and some people say it’s great—makes people calm, relaxed, and stress-free. I don’t know how I feel about it. But I do know that people from Vanuatu use it daily, and they’re just about the nicest people I’ve ever met, so it can’t be that bad.

We arrive and are greeted with cups of lime juice. We’re overlooking the black sand beach, and it truly feels like island paradise.

After spending a day just relaxing and meeting people from the local village, we go to the volcano. Ryder gets left at the bungalows. I don’t really want him inhaling sulphur.

It’s a very bumpy and unmarked road out to the volcano. I  felt like I was on the surface of the moon. The ashen plains were deserted. No animal would be crazy enough to head where we were heading—to the black mountain furrowing fumes ahead of the volcano

It was a short hike up to the top once we parked the truck. Booms and cracks could be heard before we saw it—the fiery pit below.

No fence stood between us and the open flames, sparks, and balls of lava that gurgled directly in front of us. When an explosion happened and fire shot into the sky, every instinct in my body screamed to run. The picture below was not posed. It really was just that scary.

 scary volcano

Instead, I just grabbed Donald, our guide’s, hand. Incidentally, Donald has offered to adopt Ryder, seriously. He says he would give us land in Tanna for him. He says he loves him so much. All of the people in Vanuatu do. I don’t suppose they see many white babies. And there’s not much to do in Tanna. There are no books, no movies, no shopping. In fact, no electricity. Babies (and the making of them) seem to be the sole form of entertainment.

He would command us to stand still as we ducked and yelled.

Truthfully, they never got close enough to hit us, but it felt like they could, and it felt like our lives were in danger, which made me have a heart attack every time it rumbled.


It was simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. It was certainly a unique experience in our travels, ranking in exhilaration factor with jet boating at Iguazu Falls in Argentina, though probably not topping the white water rafting the Nile. It was an expensive trip—over $1000 when said and done—but it was worth it.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 369 awesome articles for us.

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