Dancing with the Devil



How far would you go for photography? An obsession with active volcanoes can put you in some pretty dangerous situations; Mount Yasur on Tanna Island, in Vanuatu might have been my most challenging photography to date. If you are the adventure traveller, the adrenaline junkie or just like playing with fire then this volcano is for you.

Looking up at the volcano from your accommodation , you can see the magma firing out, each time with an explosive bang which shakes your bedroom up in the treetops. At first thought it sounds like rain on the trees outside, only to discover this is not rain, but ash falling from the sky. Reminding you of the people of Pompeii, why would people today understanding more about volcanoes still choose to live in a place like this?



Morning chores for the residents consist of wiping any surfaces free of ash, in particular sweeping the solar panels on the roof so the day’s rays can penetrate and provide electricity. Every mouthful of food is accompanied with the grit of ash between your teeth, dark sprinkles in your morning tea, blackness when you blow your nose and applying sun cream is like exfoliating.



Morning chores, cleaning the ash of the solar panels


You are driven to within 300 meters of the angry sounding crater. Everything in your body screams against climbing those last steps towards the rim, especially when you have no guide and only a French woman and her two very young children accompanying you. All you are informed is not to run when you see flying magma come towards you, you are to watch and wait to see whether you need to move. Sharp shards of ash are flying all around you; you can barely open your eyes to see if you are safe from flying magma. The concentration of sulphur in the air is suffocating you with every breath, a metallic taste in your mouth you just can’t get rid of and you question your sanity for needing to photograph this spectacle.



On the far side of the rim you can view the three lava lakes deep below. With every explosive bone-shaking bang you can see the sound wave travel up towards you, followed by red hot magma flying hundreds of meters high over the rim. Magma the size of a car sails right over your head, fizzing fiercely, before landing on the ash plane behind you with a loud thud. Getting the correct exposure on your camera, at the right moment whilst checking you are not the next target of this violent force is extremely tricky and frankly terrifying. The biggest challenge is stopping your flight mode from kicking in; you are literally dancing with the devil.



It was taboo to climb to the summit until recently, the locals believe it is a living spirit; they are convinced that if you have been bad you will die at the top. Captain Cook was met with angry spear-wielding locals who forbade him to summit this volcano when he discovered the island back in the 1700’s. The only reason things have changed is the pull of tourism to this under developed island, with many of the locals still afraid to ever visit the crater.



Would I return? Yes and I did, there is nothing like sensing this force of mother-nature. At the current level two activity it is suggested you stay away from the crater rim and many people have died or lost limbs due to collisions with flying magma. But as stated at the beginning, if you are looking for the ultimate experience of the unknown this has to be at the top of your list.

Visiting this volcano is not cheap, but I truly believe it is worth every penny. Make sure you check the current level of activity; if it increases to level 3 you will not be able to summit the crater. Go on, be brave, go and see it for yourself!

Check out the video below to give you an idea of the force this volcano has.



Useful information

Website for current level of activity : http://www.geohazards.gov.vu/

Although very basic accommodation, for the closest bedroom to the volcano I would stay in Tanna Treetop Lodge.

Tanna Treetop Lodge

Phone : +678 541 7737

Email : tannatreetoplodge@gmail.com

Price Breakdown:

Return flight from Port Vila to Tanna around $215

Accommodation at treetops : $22 per night

Transport from treetop lodge to volcano : $8 (you can also walk up in 45 minutes)

Entrance to Volcano : $30 but if you go again the next day you only pay half again

Transport from the airport to Tanna Treetop lodge $70 per car

Here are all the photos of this amazing experience, click on any to enlarge…  please share this blog if you like what you see!