Nothing can prepare you for Mount Yasur. From several kilometres away, the Tanna Island volcano already looks impressive, billowing grey smoke into the sky; closer, the mountain’s occasional roar can send a chill through you.
But it isn’t until you arrive at the rim of the crater, when you can see, hear, smell and feel Vanuatu’s (and possibly the South Pacfic’s) most famous peak all at once that you appreciate the full force of ever-erupting Yasur.
Locals bill Mount Yasur as the world’s most accessible active volcano, and it probably is: the flight from capital Port Vila to Tanna is about 45 minutes, and then it’s less than two hours by 4WD to its base.
Yet, with an unsealed and at times extremely bumpy road the only way to get here, Yasur is still isolated enough to keep away really mainstream tourism.
Most visitors, like the scores here today, arrive shortly before dusk to watch the volcano see in the evening, when Yasur is at its most spectacular.
As it spews lava high into the air every few minutes, onlookers are left awestruck. Though some seem fearful. I even hear one visitor describe the experience as “life changing”. With its blend of beauty and brute force, I’d say life affirming.
On the 150-metre final walk up to the rim, visitors can even mail a postcard from the world’s only postbox located at the top of a volcano.
Needless to say, safety is the priority at Yasur; the volcano is under constant scrutiny, and if it’s ever judged to be too active, or if the wind is blowing the wrong way (which it rarely is, we’re told), tours are cancelled.
There are no safety rails on Yasur, but stick to the solid ground of the main rim, and you’ll be fine. And if Yasur’s power does rattle you, our guide tells us not to run. But no one’s in a hurry to leave this evening – this is utterly compulsive viewing.
Where to stay? There are properties closer to Mount Yasur, but nothing compares to Friendly Beach. Thanks to its unique location, this resort offers guests the best of both worlds – that is, a beachside retreat that’s still within a short drive (40 minutes) of the volcano.
Featuring super comfy bungalow accommodation, Friendly does away with the mod cons of more conventional luxury resorts and relies instead on its exclusive location, exquisite touches (like a coral-tiled bathroom floor, and beautifully thatched roofs and walls), and overall charm.
True to its name, the property also boasts highly personal and indeed friendly service, lead by affable and knowledgeable onsite managers (and husband and wife pair) Greg and Evelyn.
The resort's a far cry from where it was 18 months ago, when it lost all eight of its dwellings to Cyclone Pam. But with the new resort offering just four bungalows, Friendly has essentially been reborn for a more exclusive, and upscale experience. Highly recommended.