Only 24 hours before my scheduled flight to Vanuatu I got the flight cancellation message from Fiji Airways. Instead of drown my anger with tasty local “Fiji Bitter” beer I decided to spend the
additional day in Fiji with diving. Near the small island of Beqa sharks are fed for over 20 years and the baited shark dives in Beqa are considered to be world class. And indeed, we saw around
15 up to 3m long bull sharks elegantly cruising around the bait – fish heads stuck on a spike – and catching the bait directly in front of the divers. After that great dive I wasn´t anymore upset
with the cancellation.
The next day I finally managed to fly to Vanuatu´s capital Port Vila and travel onward the next day with a pretty old Twin Otter aircraft to Tanna Island, home to the active volcano Yasur. For the first time on my trip I met travelers who are on very similar journey as I´m, with focus on photography, nature, diving and with a budget well above the normal young backpacker crowd. After a 2 ½ hour drive with a 4WD Nissan pickup across the island we reached Yasur volcano and the lodging directly at the base of the mountain. Very special place to sleep, the bungalows are built high in Banyan trees and every couple of minutes you hear the thunder of another eruption of Yasur. From there it´s only an hour walk to the crater rim of the volcano. Most tourist just arrive for twilight and stay another hour in the darkness to watch the volcano, I stayed more than twelve hours to get the perfect pictures. The general activity level is currently quite low, meaning less eruptions and also less violent eruptions. Therefore I dared to leave the beaten tourist track and I went down closer to the hot spot. Forbidden, but exhilarating and still in a relatively safe environment. This picture of the eruption was taken with an ultra-wide angle lens (14mm) and the photo isn´t cropped, giving you an indication how close the eruption could be watched. After a couple of hours sleep we went to explore a small river canyon through pitch black lava sand, before we ascended in the early evening again to the top of Yasur. There was already smoke obscuring the view on the eruptions during our first visit, but on the second day the smoke persistently filled the entire caldera and besides seeing the red glow and hearing the explosions there wasn´t much to experience.
The next day started clouded and on the way to the airport the rain started pouring. Heavy rain and strong wind caused finally the cancellation of my flight back to Port Vila, and I had to stay another night in Tanna.
Next day I managed to fly to Espiritu Santo not without some more troubles with the flight re-booking and my luggage being on the wrong plane. But except the lost time and the unnerving re-bookings I didn´t suffer any loss and arrived – together with all my luggage – safely in Luganville, the major town of Espiritu Santo. Divers flock here to dive the SS President Coolidge, one of the biggest, most impressive and most easily accessible ship wrecks in the world.
The SS President Coolidge was a 200m US luxury ocean liner that was completed in 1931 and after some modifications in the late 30s served as a troopship from December 1941.
Espiritu Santo was a major weapons and manpower base for the US army in World War II due to its strategic position in the Pacific. The harbor was heavily protected by mines against hostile submarines. On 26 October 1942, the captain – being civilian who was not properly informed about the mines – hit two mines at entry of the harbor. On board were over 5000 army personnel, medical supplies, weapons and motor vehicles. The captain realized that the ship was lost and steered it into the shallow reef, and all but two crew member could evacuate safely! The wreck slid down the sloppy sand ground and the bow lies nowadays in 21m while the ruder hits almost 70m. From the shore it´s just a short walk in shallow water and a short swim before you dive down to the impressive wrecks. Unless other wrecks (i.e. in the Red Sea), most artifacts are still visible and not looted by divers. The sheer size of the ship offers dozens of different dives, visiting cargo holds, engine rooms, gun stations and much more.
One of the most memorable dives was the wreck night dive. Not a dive for the faint-hearted. In almost 30m depth and deep inside the wreck (normally you go neither deep nor inside a wreck during a night dive) everyone switches off the lights. Absolute darkness, except the blinking of dozens of amazing flashlight fishes (like fireflies or glowworms, but fishes), creating an ever moving star sky above and around you.
To completely desaturate I spent the last day before my next flight in the Millennium cave, a four-in-one combo of hiking through the jungle, caving in a several hundred meters long river cave, followed by canyoning and finally swimming in the calmer part of the Bamboo river. Wonderful lush nature, and the best of it, it´s all community based tourism and the entrance fees pay for school teacher´s salaries and help to improve the yet basic infrastructure in this part of the island.
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