Vanuatu is an island archipelago located in the south Pacific. It consists of 83 small islands, many of which are not inhabited, and has a population of around 215,000 people. The main islands are recognized as being part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and this means that volcanoes in Vanuatu are plentiful. Many of the large volcanoes are constantly active and the threat of a major eruption is always present. Saying this, the last significant eruption was nearly 100 year ago and most Vanuatu volcanoes today are generally safe and a major tourist attraction.
The Volcanic Islands
The volcanoes in Vanuatu are spread across six of the larger islands. Some are active all year round, however they are rarely dangerous if approached with care. One of the main attractions of the volcanoes in Vanuatu is that they are, in the main, easily accessible by visitors and this makes some of them very popular tourist destinations. The six volcanic islands include:
The island of Tanna where Yasur Volcano is located. This volcano is the most visited of the six, as you can literally stand at the edge of the 400m diameter crater and look down into the depths below. Yasur is classed as a vulcanian volcano and it constantly throws large and small blocks of new red lava into the air. These blocks rarely reach a dangerous height though and so visiting Yasur Volcano is quite safe.
Ambrym Island, which is located in the center of the Vanuatu nation. Like the other volcanoes in Vanuatu, this one is constantly active but still safe to visit. When it erupts it sends magma vertically and the power of the eruption is often so great that the magma is blown into small fragments that fall much like ash. Ambrym Island volcano is huge and a short hike from the coast will bring you to the smoking crater.
The uninhabited island of Lopevi on which Lopevi volcano stands. This Vanuatu volcano rises straight from the ocean and has erupted over 20 times in the last 150 years. The last major eruption was in 1982 and at this time the inhabitants of the island were forced to move to neighboring islands for safety. Lopevi can be visited but not up close as it is constantly releasing large amounts of sulfurous ash.
The submerged island of Kuwai. Kuwai used to be one of the largest islands in the Vanuatu archipelago until a volcano eruption between 1420 and 1430 AD blew the majority of it into the atmosphere. Today the volcano is underwater between the island of Epi and the Shepard Islands and, although it is still classed as being active, it is now one of the most popular Vanuatu diving sites.
Ambae, Bali Hai, is currently considered the most dangerous of the volcanoes in Vanuatu. This volcano is also the largest and has been threatening to erupt for over 15 years. Lake Voui on the island is used to gauge the activity of the volcano as one of the largest vents sits underneath the lake water. And yes, it is the island immortalized by the writer James Mitchener.
Gaua Island which has at least eight separate volcanic peaks. The biggest of these peaks is Mt. Garat although Soritimeat is also an impressive peak. Both of these Vanuatu volcanoes are normally safe to visit however they do occasionally release plumes of poisonous gases and it is advisable to stay away during these periods.
Visiting the Volcanoes of Vanuatu
As mentioned above, most of the Vanuatu volcanoes can be safely visited; however it is often worthwhile hiring an experienced guide so that the most is made from the trip. Each of the individual volcanic islands have their own guides, or if you prefer there are some tour guide companies that run Vanuatu volcano sightseeing holidays – that is you get to visit each of the islands throughout the course of a week.
Over the last few decades the volcanoes in Vanuatu have become major tourist attractions. This is mostly because they are often active and people enjoy the thrill of standing on the side of a lively volcano. At present none of them are giving signs of an imminent eruption, however because of their location they are always being monitored. Vanuatu volcanoes are amongst the most accessible active volcanoes anywhere in the world, and it is this factor that draws people to the islands year after year.
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