Posted by: Carol | August 20, 2010

Tanna – To Market in Lenakel

August 7-9

From our one-night stopover in Aniwa we sailed another 5-6 hours to Port Resolution on the island of Tanna, named by Captain Cook after his own ship when he first discovered the island in the 1700’s, drawn in by the orange glow in the night sky of Mt. Yasur.  Port Resolution is a protected circle of a bay with high forested hillsides all around except at the narrow entrance.  As we approached we could see Mt. Yasur belching out clouds of ash which then mixed with cumulonimbus clouds generated by its heat to create an impressive display.  From our anchorage in Port Resolution we could no longer see the volcano, but the wind was blowing from the “wrong” direction and the ash cloud blew our way for the first 24 hours, raining down on our deck a fine black grit giving AVATAR a good start on her very own black sand beach.

Port Resolution also features hot springs and fumaroles on the hillside closest to the volcano.  Down on the black sand beach rocky tide pools were filled with near boiling hot water where the locals cooked their meals and visiting yachties experimented with boiling eggs.  At the base of the cliffs were swimming holes where at low tide the hot water mixed with sea water produces bathwater temperatures.  Above on the hillside we could see assorted wisps of steam rising up from fissures in the rock.

We went on an exploratory hike to see the vents starting from the beach where a local woman intercepted us to request a fee of 600 vatu ($6) each for us to walk along the short trail and see the sights.  This seemed a bit excessive to us; however the Tannese don’t have many opportunities to generate income so charging tourists to see the natural wonders is one of the few.  To their credit, the dirt trail was meticulously raked clean and maintained by an elderly couple that we passed part way up.  Also 2 or 3 pole framed rest stops had been constructed at view points.  And the elderly man trailed along after us on the walk, presumably our guide although he didn’t speak any English that we could understand.  He did know which branches of the trail to take to get us to the most interesting spots, and cautioned us if we strayed into a danger zone.  As well as the steam vents, the largest of which rose up from a deep canyon-like fault in the earth, we found rock outcroppings and knobby hillsides that were hot to the touch, and warm red clay which is used for the red face paint worn in ceremonial dancing.

We needed some replenishment of supplies by the time we arrived in Tanna, so our first order of business was to arrange a ride to Lenakel on the other side of the island where a big market takes place three days each week.  Of course we were approached our first morning by the ubiquitous local in a dugout canoe – this time it was Peter who introduced himself and declared that in the absence of his uncle Stanley he himself was in charge of any arrangements we might need.  For the trip to Lenakel he told us to show up in the village next morning at 7:30 to catch our transport.

We presented ourselves next morning as instructed – just Rod and I this time.  Mike and I had hiked a couple of hours the day before along the main “road” and having seen its condition Mike opted out of what promised to be a bone jarring adventure.  It took another hour before our driver was ousted out of his house with all onlooking villagers calling out his name to help us out.  Rod and I climbed aboard our transport – the bed of a battered compact pickup truck with bench seats built from 2×6 boards around its perimeter.  Fortunately for us another yachtie couple, Ken and Di from Melbourne who had been forewarned, showed up with seat cushions which they shared.  Soon the truck was piled high with we four yachties and another passel of locals all off to market, a total of 14 of us piled into that little truck.

The distance from Port Resolution to Lenakel is about 21 km, but it is such a rough road that it takes about 2 hours each way to make the trip making our shopping trip an all-day excursion.  The road is packed black soil, ruts worn for the two truck tires, grass growing down the middle.  Gargantuan pot hole gullies from rain runoff eat away about one-third of the roadway in many spots.  A couple of mudslides from two months ago had been cleared away.  At the worst spots rocks and logs have been thrown into the void to provide a bit of traction for vehicles with poles stuck in the ground marking the edge of stability.  Pigs wallow in mud puddles and scoot across the road in front of us.

Tanna is a big island with rainforest, a central plain with herds of wild horses, and mountains enshrouded in mist.  We emerged from the rainforest only to race across the barren ash plains of Mt. Yasur, wind down and out of  a winding dry wash of a gully, and then creep up and over the highest mountain on the island, its peak cloaked in fog and mist and definitely chillier than at sea level, pausing occasionally to shift into four wheel drive to help the truck and its heavy load over the steepest bits.  At least here was some concrete pavement grooved for extra traction and stability.

Our driver was an 18 year old named Darwa who did an excellent job of maneuvering carefully through the questionable spots, made good time on the straight and level, and didn’t bounce a single passenger out onto the road or off a cliff.  However we could see into the truck’s cab from our perches that the fuel light was lit up on the dashboard the entire trip – Darwa made a couple of detours in search of diesel but came up empty each foray, so we all crossed our fingers we wouldn’t wind up hitchhiking or (worse) pushing our little truck into Lenakel.

Lenakel itself was a bustling little town compared with Port Resolution which is a much more traditional village of native huts and gardens.   Flights from Port Vila carry tourists to Tanna primarily to see the volcano and there are resort bungalows, a few small shops, a customs and immigration office to clear in yachts arriving in the country, schools, churches, and a big market spread out under the dense shade of three massive banyan trees – 2 living and 1 a gigantic dead stump.  We took care of our shopping – loading up on kumara (sweet potatoes), carrots, green beans, tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers, lettuce, bananas, limes; had a coffee in the coffee shop (the ladies were embarrassed to admit the electricity was out but we talked them into boiling the water over a fire out back), met the local celebrity who was one of Vanuatu’s World Cup soccer players, bought a couple of CDs of the local music group Naio, lunched at the market on Vanuatu’s equivalent of a tamale (ground meat embedded in dough and wrapped in a banana leaf) and then repeated the adventurous road trip back to Port Resolution.  We had a few less people going back but a lot more “stuff” to fill up the gaps.

We had thought about taking the volcano tour that evening but after the day’s outing decided to delay that adventure for a day and retire to the comfort of our floating condo.



  1. Hi Carol and Mike:
    We missed the Southern New Hebrides when we came through this area in the olden days. Your report has us thinking about going back.
    Have you run into the “Cargo Cult”? Tanna used to be one of its centers.
    Steve and Linda

  2. we love reading your logs! keep them coming..not much else happening here back in sleepy old tucson!

  3. wow! i love seeing all the sights and having it narrated! Sort-of-being there!!! See you when you get home.

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