Thursday, August 16, 2012

Vanuatu and the Volcano

We've recently returned from our first South Pacific island getaway - 6 days in Vanuatu. Since most people not from this side of the world haven't heard of Vanuatu, it's an island nation consisting of 83 islands in the neighborhood of Fiji and an easy 3 hour flight from Auckland. One of the common "beach holiday" destinations for Kiwis and Aussies.

Of course there was the tropical loveliness and sunshine and all that but it is still south of the equator and therefore still winter.  So it wasn't ever HOT - highs in the mid-upper 70s(F) - but a couple of days and nights it was downright COLD.  OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration seeing how "cold" = 65F but when you're in an open-air bungalow with one blanket it's shiver-time.  Hotter would have been better, but man was it nice to feel warm in the sun coming from winter-time cool wet days in NZ!

The highlight, far and away, was our volcano visit.  After arriving in Vanuatu we took an island hopper over to Tanna, a remote island of Vanuatu, to spend 3 days.  There is almost nothing there except for the indigenous people living a very simple life and a handful of tourists and lodges.  Just forest, mountains, and an active volcano. And active it is!

We knew to expect something special, but we had no idea it was going to be quite so amazing.  Yes, it active every day and ash billows out in big plumes.  We knew that, and knew that you can get a guide to drive you in a 4x4 (absolutely essential - the "roads"are not passable without one) all the way up to the rim to look down into the caldera.  And if the wind was a certain direction you can and will get covered in it.  Yuck.

Mt Yasur from a distance
Coming over the mountain after an hour of bouncing and swaying in the 4x4 we saw the ash-spewing volcano from a distance - and were pretty amazed to see just how active it was.

Driving further to the base of the volcano we could drive 50mph over the flat ash plain.  Rocks and boulders littered the area, giving a hint as to what this thing can do.

Then it was up to the top where we joined a handful of others looking down into the volcano at dusk.  It was pretty amazing to see this and be so close.  The whole effort of coming to Tanna and driving on those god-forsaken roads would have been totally worth it as this point.

Then the thing exploded.

Explosion time
The ground shakes beneath your feet, the shock wave hits with a deep, deep boom any subwoofer owner would be jealous of, and an explosion of glowing, tumbling chair and sofa sized rocks blasts into the sky above you, seemingly in slow motion.  Oh. My. God.  Awesome!!

(And we were upwind, so no ash-covered Americans here!)

And it kept doing this, maybe once every 5 - 10 minutes, sometimes one right after the other.  And it does this every day!  Which is why people come here - to witness an exploding volcano close-up yet know it will (probably) be safe.  After we were there for a while and it was dark, the thing had such a big explosion that the flying, glowing magma came a little to close to where we were.  So even the seasoned guides accompanying everyone said, "It's time to go now!"  Well I wanted to stay but Anne insisted otherwise. :-)

So really, this should be on more people's bucket list.  It not only was an amazing experience of the trip, it ranks as one of the most amazing experiences of our lives.

Here is a YouTube video with a more complete set of photos plus some video clips courtesy of my iPhone.  Note that the first video clip ends right as the first explosion happened - I wasn't expecting it AT ALL and was just turing it off when it happened.  I started it up again and missed the best part - although capturing Anne's reaction was pretty good.

Volcano Video

And click here for a collection of photos from the trip. (Tip: click or tap the photo to show/hide the captions and next/prev controls)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Star Struck on Jervois Road

He really needs a coffee.
Guess who just saw Eomer (Karl Urban) getting a coffee in Herne Bay?  Yep!  I was waiting for my trim flat white, one sugar, when this scruffy looking guy comes in.  The woman behind the counter says, "Your usual, Karl" and I realized I recognized this guy in baseball cap and flannel shirt.  Maybe I'm going overboard, but this is the first time I've ever stood right next to a movie star.  And no, I played it too cool to get his autograph.