A shockwave lighted the crater below, followed by a minor earthquake which pushed us back, followed by a deafening explosion that made our ear pop; sending rocks and boulders up into the air way above our viewpoint. Shortly thereafter, another one, and another; after which the second crater to our right also spewed a fountain of glowing rocks into the air. It was the end of the day, and my second visit to the volcano that I had so much looked forward to seeing and experiencing. Right after I arrived in Tanna, I had shared a 4WD to drive close to the entrance of the volcano around its base, which allowed us a first glimpse of Mount Yasur. I had to walk around to find a place to stay (I was determined to stay in a treehouse), and when I could finally leave my bags and get on my hiking shoes, it was already dark. Frank, a good-tempered guy willing to forego dinner, showed me the way up - the track was easy enough to walk up even without a torch. We could hear regular explosions above us, and there was a continuous red glow above the volcano whose contours we could sometimes make out. Cars were coming down, and when we reached the parking lot after a half hour climb, the last two vehicles were just leaving. A concrete boardwalk provided access to the actual rim of the volcano; ahead of us, the red glow grew always more intense. I was very excited: I would finally look into the volcano I had so much looked forward to experiencing.
It was only when we reached the crater rim that I was finally able to get the magnitude of the spectacle. From below, we had heard explosions at more or less regular intervals, but those had been the heavier ones; the two craters are actually constantly spewing out rocks and boulders with an intense orange glow. I found a place to sit, and then, just waited and watched. Then, suddenly, the earth shook, I felt my body being pushed back, while at the same time, my ears popped and a fountain of rocks was hurled high up into the sky, to well above our viewpoint. After a few seconds, we could hear those rocks, some of which I judged to be enormous, land on the ground below with a soft sound, after which the intense yellow-orange glow slowly died off. Most rocks, however, landed inside the crater, and rolled down into it, to be launched up again a few moments later. We were fortunate: they were sent up mostly vertically into the sky; sometimes, they spread out more, making watching the spectacle at the rim of the crater a little tricky. At times, the two craters would explode simultaneously, creating a double fountain of intense yellow and rock light in the dark sky. Sometimes, clouds of smoke would fill the crater, totally blocking the view, but they thankfully did not last long. So there we were, three grown-ups, looking down with the excitement of little boys playing with fireworks. We continued praying for a really big one, which surely always happened sooner or later. It was getting late, and we had not had anything to eat, but it proved difficult to leave; we were afraid we would miss another loud explosion. When we finally got down, we had a late dinner; after it, it started to rain, which lasted for more than a day.
I very much wanted to go up again, and see the volcano in daylight; the third day, the weather cleared and I walked up in the late afternoon, refusing the lifts that were kindly offered by one 4WD after the other: I wanted to conquer the 361m high mountain myself. At several points, I saw steam coming out of the earth - Mount Yasur is a very active volcano. It was great to finally see the scenery I had missed on my first ascent, the bare, grey volcano rising out of the lush green vegetation and mountains surrounding it. There was a small crowd up at the rim, and lots of oh-s and ah-s whenever Yasur showed its power. Where two days earlier, it had been a dark experience with mysterious explosions below me, I could now see the context of these explosions. I watched in awe as a shockwave rippled through the crater, the earth trembled, and yet another loud explosion followed. Seeing Yasur at daytime is a different experience: there are no fireworks, but you do get to see more of how an eruption builds up before it happens. One of the explosions was so tremendous, that a boy ran away followed by one of the guides - I saw shock in his tears-covered face. I, however, could not get enough of it, walked to the other side of the crater rim, and just sat there as night fell over Mount Yasur. The weather was clear, there was an almost full moon right over my head, and the clouds bellowing up from the depth of the earth were orange-red. The others soon left; I saw a parade of torches to the parking lot, and then a row of headlights making their way down. But for the real experience of Mount Yasur, you have to stay close to the entrance, with time on your hands. Now that I was alone on the volcano, the experience got only more intense. I walked back to another viewpoint, where there were less clouds, put on my sweater, and sat. Again, it was difficult to leave; when I finally did, it was 10pm. The moon made walking down very easy. Another late dinner was followed by a short night: I was up at 3am under a starry night. From my treehouse, I could see an orange cloud above the volcano. The moon had gone, and walking up was a little harder in the dark, but when I got there, the spectacle was perhaps even better than in the evening. I was surprised to see a torch: someone else had come up before me. The silhouette of the crater rim, behind which the sky was slowly turning deep blue, was a perfect background to the explosions of Yasur that continued to shake the earth. I ended up walking around the entire rim, allowing views right into the crater mouths; I could now finally see that they are actually continuously moving and boiling, preparing for the next big bang. It was time to say goodbye to Mount Yasur; I walked down with the roaring monster behind me with a big smile over my face.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Mount Yasur (Vanuatu). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Mount Yasur. Read more about this site.