A long way north but it’s still raining - much warmer though which is great, it was really quite cool in Tanna. We grabbed a cab and went to see if we could find a room in the only place in town that mentioned a beach. No problem, this island as well was very quiet with very few tourists. The beach at Beachfront Resort was black sand and the water was very stirred up from all the rain but the place was very pretty. Again the bungalows were quite basic but did have hot water and the staff put fresh flowers everywhere. A tradition here and makes things look so much nicer.
A tour guide came to us in the resort and asked what we wanted to do. There were a number of tours we wanted to do but the main one was a trip to Millennium Cave. Unfortunately he said the water was too high and the roads not passable for the next day so we chose to do a half day WW11 sights instead.
We ate in the resort the first night - great food, the steak is just fantastic. The other guests were mainly people who
Our route - don't know what happened to the fish feeding part...
are working or living on the islands, great conversation and information, we had a really enjoyable night.
In the morning we walked into town and had a look around, much smaller than Vila with only very basic shops and services. 2 of the guys we talked to the night before were starting to run a ferry service between Vila and Santo (they were in Santo getting licenses), the engineer had told us about some of the WW11 wrecks off the wharf so we went off to look at those. There was such a lot of stuff visible from the shore, if the weather had been better it would have been great to snorkel around and take a proper look at what else was there.
On the tour in the afternoon we went to Million Dollar Point where there is so much wrecked stuff it is amazing - the place was also beautiful with a lovely sandy beach. Then off to the jungle to see the remains of a wrecked plane. It was an interesting tour, but very expensive for what it was - much cheaper to have got a taxi to the same places. Nearer the end of the
day the guide got a call and then said that it was OK for the cave the next day if we still wanted to do it. Great… I was really looking forward to that.
There was little information about the tour so you did not know what to expect, we set of with another couple (aussies on honeymoon). The scenery was great, we were going up into the centre of Santo, rough dirt roads. We were told by the driver the boss was following in his Ute with more people. It was not long before we became bogged - amazed it had not happened sooner really but the skill of the driver and us 4 moving to different corners of the bus to adjust the weight had got us out of previous bogs. This time it was not budging - at the same time the ute appeared behind. The owner got out and told the 3 lads on board to come and help (we had to stay in back corner for weight). It was a real laugh watching these French lads trying to push us out with their girlfriends getting pretty cross in the background. They ended up covered
in mud and we were in stitches and clean - we got out. On we went until a point were our vehicle could go no further. Boss told us to jump in back of ute with French girls but they were having none of that - had a hissy fit about being crowded so we just decided it would be easier to walk.
We finally got to the village - a real jungle bush village in the old traditional manner. We were told about the tour and it sounded great fun. Only trouble is that I wish I had known you needed a waterproof camera. I did not have one and the scenery was just amazing. Anyway we set of through the jungle - as it had been so wet it was like walking the Kakoda trail, up to ankle deep in mud, slipping and sliding. We had a bet on who would fall down first. It was on this trip we first noticed the amazing local hibiscus plants. They cut the branches and use them as poles to hang on to up and down hills, they also use them to make ladders down the really steep bits. The funny
thing is that even once cut at both ends, nailed together the plant starts growing again. The walk was about 45 mins and then we went down over a bamboo bridge and down towards the cave. The guides helped us down as it was quite steep, we were wading through small bits of water. Then we had to cross a deeper fast stretch of water - it was a real shock as the water was incredibly strong moving and very cold. Only for a minute though as you soon warmed straight back up. Reaching the bottom and the mouth of the cave we were all handed waterproof torches. It was a huge cavern and heaps of swallows darting around. There were supposed to be bats but I did not see any sign of them. We were told to follow the guides and use our torches to work out were to tread. The bottom was large boulders and although the water was not that deep (varied from ankle to waist) it was just to be careful about slipping or injuring yourself. In places the water was very fast but the locals knew where to go and expertly guided us from one
Looking back into the underground river
side to the other and away from fast patches. It was very dark; an underground river would be an accurate description. A short way along there was in indoor waterfall - at about 10 metres up there was a perfect circle hole around 20 inches across and an amazing amount of water was pouring through with the light behind it made an incredible scene.
Further we went, then suddenly we turned a corner and you could see the end a tall opening slit. As you got nearer you could see the green of the forest outside. It was like a picture book setting - stunning, huge ferns, palms and other tropical plants. We came out to a river crossing the entrance - here again the water was running fast and a human chain was made across as it was not easy to stand against the current. About 8 meters from the current water level was the level from 2 days ago - all the plants were still flat from the force of water. Our lunch had been ferried across land (and our cameras so I have some pictures of this spot only). We were all wondering what was next
- it had already been totally amazing, but now the guides were blowing up kiddies rubber rings?
Next the guide showed us that the aim was to walk to knee high, then lie face down on the rubber ring and launch off round the bend in the river - it was fun, the water flowed at a rapid rate so it was just like something in Waterworld - but real. There was always a guide ahead, showing you to go left of right and when to stop. This was a shortish ride and we stopped before we went over the first set of rapids. We scrambled over rocks and once past the rapids threw ourselves back on our rings for another wild ride. This next one took us through a tunnel and into a deep pool area but there the trouble started, it appeared that they could not get through the normal way, 2 of the guides went this way and that trying to work out a way through while we hung in the water - in the end they indicated a small cave entrance and said to go that way. The current here was strong and it was
hard to swim back to it, once there you could see a narrow neck, then out to clear sky. Steve was there - the current just took him through behind the guide. Steve is not a strong swimmer so could not hold himself back and ended up getting stuck in the neck bit with lots of bamboo and other debris. I was trying to push the bamboo logs from behind him - once they were through he would float through. The guide did the same from the front and soon all was free. It is lucky the others of us were stronger and able to hold ourselves back otherwise we would have had a pile up.
Another rock scramble and then more trouble. We all ended up on top of a huge rock looking at some really fierce white water. There were 6 guides and they spent over 20 mins trying to find the way through here. We found out later that there is normally a ladder but it had been washed away in the last rains. Eventually the guide picked one of the more gung ho French lads and led him through the water. From our end it
looked as if he disappeared through a cave and then ages later he was out the other side on dry land. One by one everyone went, each took quite a long time and after the first person, when one got to dry land there was heaps of clapping, we could not work it out. My turn came - what actually happened is that you ended up going between a narrow opening with very fast water and a large drop - there was a chain that had been fixed into the rock and the aim was to use this to kind of abseil down the rapid, then swing left out into the shallower slow moving water. Quite an adrenalin buzz - if you could have gone back I would have liked to do it again. Once everyone was through there was a trek over a hill and past some very fierce rapids to yet another river ride. This one was deep water, through canyons of amazing rock, fantastic plants growing up high, big crabs and waterfalls. The scenery was so stunning and so untouched it was just fantastic. This ride was a much more gentle pace we had left the mad
stuff behind. After awhile the guides told us to stop at a point on the bank, he said it was then end of the water and to just follow the path - we looked at him and said “what path”. To us it all looked like a steep jungle covered hill. The guide then went ahead (and disappeared, it was a great game, the path split into 2, neither looked very used but I followed one and came only to a steep waterfall. Just as we were about to turn round he whistled to us from above - that was the path, you climbed directly up the running waterfall. This trip just got better and better. A few very steep log ladders later and another muddy trek and we were back at the village and the end of the tour. Certainly a trip I would recommend, worth every penny ( and it was not much more than the WW11 trip that was a waste). You just can’t tell, some trips are great and some are not so crash hot.
We got back to the resort at 5.30, dripping wet, cut in a few places from the rocks but totally exhilarated.
That night and the next we also had the prime minister and his entourage, police, army etc staying in the resort.
The next day we did a tour that combined going to a custom village and watching the traditional dancing and cooking, then on to a kayak up river to a blue hole for a swim and snorkel.
This turned out to be another very mediocre tour. The village was interesting and the dancing enjoyable but it was a bit too orchestrated. The guide took us to an amazing spot for a BBQ lunch, would have been the best place yet to swim and snorkel - but tide was out again. The kayak up the river was beautiful, the water is so clear that it looks as if everything is floating. The blue of the holes is incredible too. I was surprised at the variety of fish when I went snorkelling and the sudden drop of into the holes was unexpected. The river in general being 1 - 2 metres and the holes 4 - 8, apparently this is where spring water enters the rivers. The best part of the day was spending time talking to Tim the guide,
he was full of information and had worked hard to get to own a business - he had never been to school as his parents could not afford it. He was a prime example of what you can do if you want to - he started running these tours in 1991 and had by now done really well.
The next morning we left for Lonnoc Beach, up the east coast of Santo, around 60km away. It was a slow drive as the road is only currently being turned from dirt into a hard road. Again what a stunning place, it was beautiful, the resort was even more basic but just so well set out and the cove itself was lovely. The beach was a coral beach, but there was a cleared area where you could get enough height to swim out in high tide. We thought that we would have company but the only other guests actually left the afternoon we arrived. So often on these islands we have felt as if we have our own private resort, tour guide, restaurant etc. The power was only on for 3 hours per day in the evening. The rest of the time
there were candles and a hurricane lamp. We really just lazed around, snorkelled a little, walked over to champagne beach (stunning) and generally did not much for a couple of days, very relaxing and finally it had stopped raining and the sun came out a few times a day. On the afternoon of the second day our usual tour guide came by - he was taking a french couple to Port Olry and he asked if we wanted to go for a ride - why not another place to see. This was the islands main fishing spot and few tourists got up this far, but again another beautiful place and an even more swimable beach.
We fly back to Vila tomorrow, Monday 17th.
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