Mt Yasur Volcano Tanna Island – Tours

Tanna is the most populated island in Tafea Province, almost entirely Melanesian. Most of Tanna’s 30,000 inhabitants still closely follow the lifestyle of their ancestors and their customs practiced for hundreds of years.

The principal attraction of Tanna is Mt Yasur, known as the most accessible active volcano in the world.

Today Tanna is one of the islands where custom and culture are still very strong. Many villages have turned their backs on modern ways preferring instead to follow their traditional way of life. The Tanna people recognise the importance of their “kastom” and ask that all visitors travel with local guides.

Captain James Cook was the first European to come to Tanna in august 1774, after seeing the glowing light of Mt Yasur volcano in the sky. The HMS Resolution anchored in a small bay in South East Tanna, which he later named Port Resolution. Captain Cook requested permission to climb Mt Yasur volcano, but was refused by the chiefs as it was considered tabu (sacred). The trading era of the 1800’s was marked by widespread fighting and tribal warfare. Missionaries also met with difficulties and were quite often killed.

The Jon Frum Movement emerged on Tanna during WWII. While accounts of their formation vary, the movement can be partly explained by the presence and apparent generosity of the American soldiers. With their abundance of radios, Jeeps and Coca-Cola, the Americans would certainly seem mysterious to the Tanna islanders. The Red Cross, a symbol for the medical aid, remains an emblem of the Jon Frum cult even today. Strict adherents follow a traditional lifestyle, wearing only grass skirt or nambas and not participating in any government services (such as public school).

Tanna’s land is one of the most productive in Vanuatu and produces Kava, coffee, coconut and many other fruits and vegetables.

Dances and custom ceremonies are held year round. The Toka or Nekowiar ceremony is the most remarkable. The festival lasts three days and the village hosting the ceremony tries to better the previous one in the quantity of food and gifts (pigs, mats etc) offered to the guest villages. A beauty contest takes place where women and men elaborately paint their faces. More than 100 chiefs lead Tanna’s people. The chiefs form “custom councils” which create and uphold the village laws (pigs and kava are offered in compensation for disputes brought to the custom councils). Many people in Tanna rely solely on traditional plant medicine to treat their illnesses. The local doctors, or kleva, are healers with special abilities to cast spells on enemies.

Fig. 1. A) Map of the Vanuatu archipelago and associated tectonic. B) Location of the Yasur-Yenkahe complex on the south-eastern part of the Tanna Island (SRTM digital elevation model). C) Structural map of the south-eastern Tanna including the Yasur-Yenkahe complex. D) Picture from the summit of Yasur to the east showing the main structures of the Yenkahe and the terraces at the junction between the two edifices.

About Mt Yasur

To watch the Mt Yasur webcam LIVE and check on current volcanic activity visit

Mt Yasur is an active volcano on Tanna Island, Vanuatu with a height of 361 m (1,184 ft) above sea level, located on the South East coast near Sulphur Bay. Mt Yasur has a largely unvegetated pyroclastic cone with a nearly-circular summit crater 400 m in diameter. It is a stratovolcano caused by the eastward-moving Indo-Australian plate being subducted under the westward-moving Pacific Plate. It has been nearly continuously erupting for centuries, although usually it can be approached safely. Its eruptions, which often occur several times an hour, are classified as Strombolian or Vulcanian.

The glow of Mt Yasur volcano was apparently what attracted Captain James Cook on the first European journey to Tanna Island in 1774. Today the mountain is a sacred area for the John Frum Cargo Cult. The cult reveres John Frum, a deified messenger who foretold the bringing of wealth to the island by American forces. They believe he resides in Mt Yasur with his countrymen. The village of Sulphur Bay, the centre of the movement, claims the volcano as part of their territory.

Because of the importance of the volcano to the tourism industry in Tanna, the local government has created levels to restrict people’s access:

Level 0 – Low activity, access to the crater allowed

Level 1 – Normal activity, access to the crater allowed

Level 2 – Moderate to high activity, lava bombs may land beyond the crater rim, access to the crater is closed;

Level 3 – Severe activity with loud explosions, lava bombs ejected up to hundreds of metres outside the crater and large plumes of smoke and ash, access to the summit zone is closed

Level 4 – Major eruption affecting large areas around the volcano and possibly other parts of Tanna and even neighboring islands, all access closed


Tanna Volcano Tour Tips:

  • Bring a camera tri-pod to capture that perfect Mt. Yasur eruption shot
  • Raise your camera’s ISO setting over 1,000
  • Pack some warm clothing (wind jacket is desirable) as it can get a bit chilly at the crater rim
  • Pack sneakers or other closed shoes; do not go with open shoes or thongs (flip flops)

NOTE: Mt. Yasur is not an amusement park. It is a live volcano, so listen to advice from the resort tour staff but don’t forget your sense of adventure – Tanna is an island lost in time with Mt. Yasur; the most thrilling, awe-inspiring, natural phenomenon you will experience in Vanuatu.

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