In 1774 when Captain Cook was charting the archipelago of Vanuatu, it was apparently the enigmatic red glow of the Mount Yasur volcano that first led him to the island of Tanna.
Today, the same magma continues to light up the night sky like an endless sunset. But after an adventurous flight from Port Vila, dodging monsoon clouds, and a bumpy two-hour ride through rugged terrain on the back of a ute, it was something else that captured my attention.
The verdant foliage parted to reveal a hidden garden amongst the tropical rainforest. Fred George, custodian of Tanna Tree Top Lodge, chuckled proudly: “There is the penthouse suite, my friend!” There, sitting six metres off the ground amongst the tangled canopy was the manifestation of my childhood dreams: the ultimate tree house.
Excited, I climbed the airy staircase to the rustic but cosy bungalow, and sat on the balcony to admire the most unique vista on Tanna Island. Beyond the twisting branches of the tree rose the ashen crater of Mount Yasur.
That afternoon I found myself nervously following my ever-smiling guide, Phil, up Yasar.
Arriving at the crater’s edge, I looked on warily, as the land shook around us and the sun disappeared into a glowing ashen haze beyond the heaving pit of magma. In between blasts from the deep, Phil briefed us on volcano safety. “OK, please you have to be careful because tourists who have not listened have died here!” As if to confirm his point, Yasur immediately belched a cluster of liquid rock high into the air. A stray piece of ordnance landed with a slap several hundred metres below.
A group of local kids scurried down to the rapidly solidifying rock and carried it back to the top using wooden poles like giant chopsticks.
Over the next few days, the charm of Tanna grew on me. I savoured the local food and went reef snorkelling in nearby Port Resolution. I visited a sacred waterfall and swimming hole, and I watched with amusement as people attempted ashboarding the dunes on Yasur’s western slope. For me though nothing could beat ending the day in the ‘Faraway Tree’, with numb lips and a head swimming pleasantly with kava as I drank in my private view of the ever-glowing, rumbling Mount Yasur.
Air Vanuatu offers flights from Australia to Tanna. Prices start at approximately A$800 return.
Tanna Tree Top Lodge sits at the entrance to the park in the tiny village of Loanengo. It costs A$38 per night for one person and A$55 for a double. Breakfast is included but other meals and activities are extra.
Bookings are essential.