Mud, sweat and broken bones. Climbing in the Caldera. Ambrym, Vanuatu

Walking on black volcanic ash is not as easy as it looks. Initially it was hard and compacted, and like walking on a footpath, but soon it became loose and feet could disappear to above the ankle. The ground was still flat, but after about an hour we started to climb, and the ash ended, being replaced by lava and mud.

The ash river in Ambrym, Vanuatu

My host booked the car for 5:00AM, again the local pigs removed any need for my alarm clock. When I say the car, I mean literally “The Car”. West Ambrym has one taxi (and I believe East Ambrym may have another one, which makes for only 2 cars on this island). This could make for a problem if it ever broke down, but that was not something I thought of at this time.

Living by solar power and bartering. Craig Cove, Ambrym Island, Vanuatu

Alarm clocks are unnecessary on Ambrym. If it was not the Cockerels sensing 4AM was a good time to test their lungs, then the pigs scrabbling and fighting beneath my hut ensured sleep was over.

Chickens, Dexter and the volcanic sand landing strip at Ambrym island, Vanuatu

The Air Vanuatu Twin Otter's act like buses to the islands surrounding Efate, the main island of Vanuatu. Expensive buses though, particularly for locals, as this 45 minute flight costs about US$100. The alternative is to go by boat, a 24 hour journey at a quarter of the cost, in a pretty uncomfortable ferry. Which have been known to sink. Air Vanuatu is my choice, a very safe airline (there has been the odd mishap, but mostly at night and in bad weather, so I will gloss over that).

Lamen Bay and Peanuts, Epi, Vanautu

There are so many islands to explore in Vanautu, eighty three in total. But, unless you have a yacht you are constrained by the Air Vanuatu schedule. Epi was the choice this time, not a live volcano, although the island itself is the remains of one, and underwater volcanoes, and the cone volcanoes of Lopevi and Ambrym are neighbours.

Wala, an island of large statues and small Namba's

Wala is a small island, a short ferry ride off the north eastern tip of Malakula, its much larger neighbour. The island is a curious mix of Malakula and Ambrym, with Tam Tam statues making an appearance, while the islanders wear small namba leaf penis sheaths. Namba in Bislama means Number, an oblique reference to the penis, and their traditional costume proudly shows off their small namba's, albeit surrounded by a healthy amount of flowers from a native tree.

Coconuts, fishing and lying in a hammock on Epi

Epi is a great destination to just relax and contemplate life, while munching on fresh peanuts.
The beaches are black volcanic sand, and the water would be enticing, although it was a bit too rough for swimming and searching for the legendary Dugong which lives in the waters of Lamen bay. The waves did not stop the locals wading and then swimming into the waters with nets to catch their meals for the day.

An unexpected island, Paama. Vanuatu. Black Sands and Sharks

Lopevi, the spectacular cone volcano, was only about 15 km from Lamen Bay in Epi. I wanted to land on this little visited island and explore the lava flows and abandoned village, and arranged with a fisherman in Lamen Bay to take us out there on Sunday.

Of Hats and mass burial sites, Aretoka Island

Hat Island, also known as Artok and Aretoka, is a sacred island 3km from Efate in Vanuatu. It became Vanuatu’s first UNESCO site when it was added to the world heritage list in 2008. It is the site of a 13th century Melanesian chief, Roi Mata, who unified many of the disparate Vanuatu islands under his leadership.

Coconut palms, buckets of kava and reggae beats - Fest Napuan

This weekend is when the Fest Napaun takes over Port Vila. This has to be one of the best music festivals in the world. Attracting local and international acts, the atmosphere of this festival is unforgettable. Entrance is always free, and the locals converge on Saralana park (next to the Cultural centre and museum). Stalls are erected selling food from different islands, the Tanna bread cakes are particularly recommended, while Kava is brought in buckets from the Chiefs Nakamal.

Sunsets in Port Vila, Vanuatu

Unless you island hop by yacht, Port Vila on Efate island is the entry point into Vanuatu. It has the international airport on it, a relic of world war two, providing a challenge to pilots as it is in a basin surrounded by four hills. There is often wild talk of a new airport being built to open up Vanuatu to more mass market tourism, I hope this remains only talk.