Active volcanoes, remote beaches, and WWII-era airstrip-revering cults… that’s what we signed up with a stop in Vanuatu. Several days here mostly delivered on all of the above, along with a few nice surprises.
We had an extra day and half or so on the island after the flight change from Solomon Islands. I think we caught a lot of the highlights on Efate (main island) and a sample of Tanna Island. I could see spending a few more days in Vanuatu, but probably not weeks of time like a few visitors we’ve encountered.
On paper, the laws governing drone flights in Vanuatu seem pretty strict. Manageable, but strict. After asking around a bit though, it seems that at this time there is little likelihood of encountering any issues, unless you're flying like a real jackass. Port Vila actually is a law school hub for the South Pacific, so my theory is that the place has a bit of a surplus of lawyers.
These pics launched from Port Vila stadium just as the sun was coming up. Beautiful.
A short bus ride from "town" is Mele Village and hiking trails up to Mele falls. I found a nice launching point from here as well.
As this flight was ascending, a number of bats started circling the drone!
View of Mele falls descending.
Hiking trails up to Mele falls.
The main waterfall has a tide pool that you can swim in. It gets a bit sketchy as you get close to the actual waterfall and the ground drops out below you.
We spent a few hours splashing around in the different pools as the waterfall drops off.
Lunch in Port Vila, no matter how much they threaten to make something spicy... it is not.
Hamburgers at several places include roasted beetroot and cucumber, which is a surprisingly delicious combo.
"BBQ burger" @ Island Time, Beets, Cucumber, Roasted peppers
Very respectable offerings at the Tanna Coffee factory.
Port Vila harbor at night has a nice boardwalk with cafes and restaurants.
The market in Port Vila... not captured in the picture here is the fire and brimstone preacher over a loudspeaker warning people about the evils of earthly pleasures, like sports and Facebook.
Lots of very empty and picturesque beaches around, even on the main island.
Nothing like a flight over a volcano in a single-engine antique Cessna to get you in touch with your mortality. In that setting, far removed from fighting over carry-on storage and in-flight beverage service and TSA screening, the absurdity of hopping into a gas-powered machine and taking off into the clouds comes into much sharper relief.
Martha took better pics here, as the g-forces in a hard turn had me a bit queasy.
The foothills of Mount Yasur, otherworldly both from above and on the ground. You can see where repeated lava flows have chewed away at the green landscape.
The hard lava field was perfect for launching a drone flight. I kind of wish we had taken more time in this area.
From the foothills, there is some rough offroad driving that brings you nearly to the top of the volcano, leaving only a small bit of hiking to be able to peer into the crater.
The sulfur clouds burned your eyes a bit at times.
Every couple of minutes, bigger and bigger explosions kept making bigger and bigger shows of lava for us. It makes sense how religions have formed around this spectacle.
There was a final lookout point to hike up to that we skipped out on. The show was fantastic from where we were, and it sounded like it actually got uncomfortably hot on that top lookout point.
Once the light had faded sufficiently, the utility of a tripod really became apparent.
Long-exposure pics could show the entire arc of eruptions, lasting 5-10 seconds each.
The John Frum "Cargo Cult" believes that a man named John Frum, who decades ago descended from the clouds bringing treats for the villagers, now lives in the volcano and talks only to the village elder. They believe that one day he will return, possibly with even better treats.
We all agreed that getting dropped off to visit with these guys was... awkward. They pretty much just ignored us though, feverishly singing praises to John Frum.
This is a small nature preserve that advertised sharks, turtles, and coconut crabs.
Shark enclosures, honestly not very impressive.
The turtle portion was pretty cool though.
These guys really really love papaya, a treat that would seem decidedly difficult to come across in the open ocean.
They had a lot of baby turtles that they release back into the ocean after a couple of years. Pretty sure handling babies like this and feeding the adults papaya would incur some hefty fines in the states.
I was really looking forward to seeing hordes or giant rampaging coconut crabs, but all they had was this one little down-on-his luck loner.
Yes, you can read the slogan written in Bislamic language, give it a try.
This was the first stop on a round-island all day tour: The Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon from above
Needed some locals to show how it's done first.
Not as impressive, not even close.
This guy and his friends knew how to do it.
This beach was connected to Taka Village, where they made a big culture show and pretended to attack the visitors with spears and such.
Taka Village is in a pretty remote part of the main island.
Cultural show at Taka village
Launching the drone from a concrete foundation near the village attracted a huge spectacle. It was a lot of fun.
Seriously, when the drone would take off into the sky, the audible gasp from everyone... it was like... "What is this sorcery?!"
Along the main road was a pair of huge Banyan trees that you could walk inside.
Our guide Tom, demonstrating that the local spiders are completely "friendly."
Martha handling a spider
Sounds like when construction projects ended, if the government didn't buy equipment, they would just run the bulldozers into the water to destroy them.
The harbor around Survivor beach was a lot calmer.
Beach where "Survivor" was filmed, infrastructure there now is a small resort.
On the "Survivor" beach, lots of remnants of an old Coca-Cola factory.
Dinner last night at Stonegrill, maybe the nicest place in Port Vila
Sunset flight over Port Villa, launched again from Port Vila Stadium