Off the Beaten Track | A Guide to the Outer Islands of Vanuatu
Vanuatu’s most frequently visited islands (namely Éfaté and Espiritu Santo) are well known, and easy to research as a prospective visitor. We wholeheartedly recommend visiting the most iconic island beauties – but if you’re seeking a more adventurous Vanuatu experience, then exploring the outer islands might be just the thing for you! We’ve compiled a guide to the outer islands for those with the true explorer spirit.
We’ll start with Tanna, the ideal destination for a breathtaking adventure without having to forego convenience or comfort. One of the larger islands in the Vanuatu archipelago, Tanna is easily accessible via domestic flights from Port Vila, and is serviced by a number of excellent tours.
The island’s most popular tourist destination is Mt Yasur, one of the world’s most easily accessible active volcanos. Conditions permitting (safety levels are closely monitored), you can climb to the crater rim and witness the fiery depths below! Scenic flight tours are also a great way to see the island – many travellers recommend staying overnight rather than doing a day trip, in order to see the volcano at sun down.
Mt Yasur by night
Tanna Island has a lot to offer besides Yasur – with some of the most stunning reefs in the world and a number of virtually untouched underwater caves, it’s the perfect place to snorkel. If you’d like to see more of the island on foot, we recommend a hike amongst the beautiful tropical rainforests, to visit the island’s cascading waterfalls and see the brumbies that still roam wild. Mountain biking is also a fantastic way to explore the areas that cannot be accessed by cars and buses.
To step beyond the typical tourist experience, pay a visit to Erromango Island! Although it is a large island, you won’t find any hotels, major roads or public transport here. There are bungalows available for those who wish to stay overnight, and camping is also an option for the adventurous traveller.
Walking is the order of the day on Erromango; a few of the locals have SUVs and might be able to give you a lift, but don’t come if you’re not keen on travelling by foot! There is an abundance of fantastic hiking trails across the island, and on your way across to the stunning Suva Beach you will discover ancient cave paintings and ruins. Travelling by speedboat is another way to see the island and cover more ground if you have limited time.
Pentecost is best known for the cultural tradition of land diving, during which local men tie liana vines to their ankles and dive from specifically constructed towers. Land diving only occurs in the autumn months, but if you happen to miss out, there are still plenty of adventures to be had on Pentecost Island. The island is home to beautiful waterfalls and crystal-clear blue swimming pools, found in some of Vanuatu’s best preserved rainforests.
There are also a number of traditional coastal villages alongside coral beaches where you can snorkel and swim with dolphins, and witness the traditional art of sand drawing. If you’re in the mood for adventure, a half day climb will take you to the top of Mt Vetmar (and back again) to soak in the magnificent coastal views.
Locals sit by south Pentecost Island waterfalls
Maewo is a small, mountainous island, made distinctive by its rugged landscape and black sand beaches. There is a great range of available watersports; yachting in particular is a popular way of seeing the island and its surrounding waters. It’s the ideal place to go bird watching amongst the particularly lush, dense forests, and a long day of trekking in central Maewo will be rewarded by the discovery of its natural hot springs.
The island is also known for its cultural traditions – in particular for its history of ritual sorcery. There are also traditional dances in which men and women participate separately – it is forbidden for the sexes to witness each other’s dances, and visitors to the island must respect and adhere to this tradition also. Direct flights to Maewo Island are available from Port Vila and there are bungalows for overnight visitors, but there is no regular system of public transport on the island. Local tours by truck are available, for which visitors must pay a full charter.
Gaua is one of an outer group of islands known as the Banks Islands. Gaua Island is a large shield volcano, with gentle outer slopes. Mt Garet forms its highest point – it is an active volcano, the activity levels of which are closely monitored. At the base of Mt Garet you will find a stunning crater lake called Lake Letas, which almost encircles the mountain.
A day trek to the lake is a must when visiting Gaua, and once you reach it, you can canoe across its stunning waters to the Siri Waterfall. We recommend that you undertake this journey as part of a tour, as local guides will best be able to ensure your safety and maximum enjoyment. There are no vehicles anywhere on the island, so you’ll need to embrace nature with walking and canoeing!
Siri Waterfall, Gaua. Source: @vanuatumoon on Instagram
Another of the Banks Islands, Vanua Lava an experience for the adventurous traveller! Like Gaua, it is home to an active volcano, which can be explored via an overnight tour. If you’ve had enough of mountains (is that even possible, though?!) – just head to the coast to the intriguing Musina village. Here, you can snorkel to your heart’s content amongst a bewildering variety of colourful fish and aquatic plant life, and experienced divers may wish to venture to a large underwater cave.
BUT! For all the keen swimmers out there – keep out of Vanua Lava’s rivers! These rivers (in particular the Alket and Salva) are home to none other than the world’s most dangerous reptile – the salt water crocodile. There are some beautiful bushwalking trails for those who like to hike, but it is advisable that you travel with a local guide, whose knowledge of the area will keep you out of any croc-related trouble.