AUSTRAL, February 24th, 2017, Tanna Island, VanuatuPosted on Wednesday 1 March 2017
By Harry CHRISTENSEN
Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands, of which two—Matthew and Hunter—are also claimed by the French overseas department of New Caledonia. Of the 83 islands, 14 have surface areas of more than 100 square kilometres (38.6 sq mi).
Vanuatu was first inhabited by Melanesian people. Europeans began to settle in the area in the late 18th century. In the 1880s France & the United Kingdom claimed parts of the country & in 1906 they agreed a framework for jointly managing the archipelago through a British-French Condominium as the New Hebrides. An independence movement was established in the 1970s, & the Republic of Vanuatu was created in 1980.
Tanna Island is 565 square kilometres & is part of five of Vanuatu’s most southerly islands known as the Tafea. It has a population of 20,700 & its main attraction is its accessible volcano called Mount Yasur. Tanna still holds age-old festivals & there are still numerous traditional Kastom villages. Tanna has about 1000 Chiefs. There is one per village & another, more senior chief for each group of villages. The Tannese still believe in Kastom medicine & Witch Doctors, who they believe can cast spells to heal or harm people.
There is a legend about Mount Yasur: In the local language Yasur means ‘God’. The Tannese believe that the volcano is the originator of the universe & that it’s where a person’s spirit goes after death.
Throughout the morning, L´Austral was steaming along the island of Tanna. We could see the plumes of smoke & dust rising from Mount Yasur. Early in the afternoon, we anchored off the small village of Waisisi.
Shortly afterwards, we boarded the Zodiacs® for a short transfer ashore. Here we had a short walk to view the Welcome Ceremony. Then we started our journey by boarded the vehicles for a bumpy ride to Mount Yasur. The journey afforded great views of huge fig trees, ash plains & steaming fumaroles.
The highlight of course, was the specular show of billowing ash clouds, ejecting incandescent pyroclastic lava bombs & associated sound waves. We then returned to the vehicles in the dark & eventually returned to L’Austral for a welcome drink over dinner.