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Tanna Island
Tanna Island

Tanna Island

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Once called the New Hebrides, Vanuatu is a virtually untouched South Pacific paradise of 83 tropical islands. The area has the world's most accessible volcanoes, plus turquoise ocean waterways with excellent diving, crystal waterfalls and a tropical landscape.

Sometimes called the "timeless islands", Vanuatu is never hurried and everyone enjoys a gentle pace — locals and visitors alike.

There are around 105 languages in Vanuatu, each village with its own identifiable tongue. Wider communication is generally in Pidgin English. Most children speak French, some go to English school, but whichever tongue is used, the passing down of stories and legends is very important. Many villages shun Western influences, including cars, and the only access to many communities is by sea.

Tafea province gets its name from the five most southerly populated islands — Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Erromango and Aneityum. Isangel on Tanna is the administrative centre for the region's estimated 24,000 people. Archaeologists say people moving southwards first occupied the island in around 400BC. European discovery came in 1774 when Commander James Cook was attracted by the glow of the volcanic Mt Yasur.

Tanna is 565sq/km, has a population of 20,700 and its main attraction is the volcano. Geography is a mix of savanna, thick forest, plains and rugged mountains. The north-west, in the rain shadow of the central ranges, is covered with grassland and scrub. The garden area in the centre of the island is very fertile, producing coconut, coffee, fruit and vegetables in quantities large enough to export. Kava is a major cash crop.

Local legend has it that Tanna was once the only land in the universe. Chief Mahdikdik took the soil of Tanna and threw it in all directions, thereby creating Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and America. Soil caught by the wind and scattered created the Pacific islands.

Traditional Vanuatu is alive and well — residents respect the word of their village chief. Tanna has around a thousand of them. People also have absolute faith in the healing powers of the medicine man. These witch doctors cast spells to heal or harm. Rainmakers can call up wet weather and try to stop cyclones.

Jon Frum Amerika is an active cargo cult on Tanna. It is said a certain Jon Frum, on his return to the island, will provide its believers with promised goods or cargo. Jon Frum achieved deity status in WWII when US transport planes delivered food and other essentials to troops and islanders who looked at the mysterious food parcels falling from the sky and believed the gods were smiling on them. No one is sure where the cult's name came from, but it is most likely a distortion of "John from America".

The Skeleton Cave is an ancient burial site, complete with human bones, from where you take a boat ride to the Blue Underwater Cave. Along the way is the beautiful white limestone coast, lush greenery and clear blue water. The boat anchors at what appears to be a flat, stone wall, but it is the entrance to the secret cave.

To access the cave you need a "dive of faith", to duck-dive into the water and swim towards the magical sunlit cave. Inside you see what was the roof thousands of years ago but which has fallen, creating a platform. Inside is a large pool of beautiful, clear water.

As well as taking a guided tour of Yasur, the island offers lots of walks, so it's a good idea to pack sturdy shoes.

White Grass Ocean Resort is the perfect place to stay on Tanna. You can laze beneath tall palms, take a safari tour, kayak or just wander around with your camera at the ready.

Accommodation is island-style bures, there is an island-front restaurant and cosy guest lounge. There are 300m of private, white sand beach with rockpools for exploring and swimming. There are also other beaches within easy walking distance.

You can pass time at the Resort's nine-hole pitch 'n' putt golf course, play tennis on grass courts or enjoy a game of volleyball, petanque or croquet.

Location

Vauatu. A three-hour flight from Sydney.

Cost

Flight Centre has seven-night packages to Tanna, including return airfares, five nights' twin-share accommodation at White Grass Ocean Resort, breakfast each day and a Yasur volcano tour. Valid for sale until September 12, 2005, and for travel between October 16 to December 19, 2005, and again from January 17 to March 31, 2006. Conditions apply and taxes are included.

Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

More information

White Grass Ocean Resort
PO Box 5
Lenakel Vanuatu
Ph: 0011 678 68 688
Fax: 0011 678 68 677
www.whitegrassvanuatu.com.vu
whitegrasstanna@vanuatu.com.vu

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