Discovering Gaua

Discovering Gaua

The island of Gaua in Northern Vanuatu for some reason has always intrigued me. I have never really been sure as to why. It could be because of its remoteness, its relative foreignness as a tourism destination or the limited but always positive word-of-mouth reviews. I have to say, after a well earned post-cyclone Pam holiday, it definitely did not disappoint and there is no doubt that on this island #VanuatuStillSmiles couldn’t be more true.

After a 35 minute flight from Santo in a small but cosy plane, we landed on the island of Gaua. But not without an unintentional scenic flight past the active volcano of Mount Garet, the Lake of Letas and over the extensive crystal clear blue coral fringing reefs, prior to our landing.

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On arrival, we were greeted by our hosts and after a short 15 – 20 minute stroll complete with a storian (stories) of the area, we arrived at PeBa Memorial Bungalow. It’s a small locally run bungalow, nested within a beautifully maintained garden on the waters edge near Lembot village. After a smol spel (rest), inside one of three quaint bungalows we were served a locally-made lunch of fish and laplap as well as a fresh coconut, delicately served on traditionally styled Ni-Vanuatu dishes and plates.

8568080 origWith our energy levels regenerated after our quick flight, we set off with our charismatic guide Larry, for the 2-day trek to the volcano of Mount Garet. It sits on the edge of Lake Letas (the largest lake in Vanuatu), which flows into the 120m Siri waterfalls. As Larry carved our path with his bush knife through the overgrown tropical rainforest he told historical stories of chiefs in the area and the plants (vegetables, root crops, ropes, cooking utensils, building materials etc) used in in the everyday, sustainable livelihoods of the Ni-Vanuatu people. After a 3 hour walk we arrived at Lake Letas and were greeted by Paul and his son Hudson, who had prepared a well-earned cup of hot tea (local style) for us. As the sun began to set and the stars came out, we sat by the fire eating our dinner of Nawra (freshwater prawns) and water taro while Paul, Larry and Hudson told stories of the naughty trickster Wenagon and the spirits that are seen on occasion climbing to the peak of Mount Garet.

The following morning the rain had set in and the walk to the volcano had to be postponed for safety reasons. Instead, once the weather had cleared-up by the late morning, we set off to the Siri waterfalls. A mere 45 minute walk through the bush, the truly impressive 120m drop of cascading waters is spectacular. Incredibly, the native species of ‘monster’ eel leave the waters of Lake Letas down the waterfall into the river and subsequently to the ocean. They then make their way to New Caledonia where they breed and return along with the juvenile eels back to Vanuatu and some how up the Siri Waterfalls again…

4544634 origAfter our second night of camping on the Lake of Letas we were fortunate to have perfect conditions for the trip to the volcano. This involved a 40 minute kayak across the waters and another 45 minute climb to the 797m summit. The walk was easier than it looked and at the top we took our time peering into the crater and exploring the desert-like peaks.

Though there is no visible magma, this is an active volcano and is surprisingly said to be the most dangerous in Vanuatu. Therefore, best to check with the Geo-Hazard website prior to travel.

In the late afternoon we made our way back to the bungalow on the same trail we arrived on (there is an alternative path past the waterfall). It was surprisingly much easier and quicker on the return. And although we walked a small way in the dark, we were safely guided by Larry and our solar powered torches.

Our final night was spent at PeBa Memorial Bungalow where we happily crashed (after a Kava session) in the ever so charming double room. Facilities are basic but it just adds charm and character to a holiday that will be like no other. The ingenuity of using all natural products where possible to decorate and style the bungalows, is not only impressive but it makes you second guess the consumerist ways of the western world. As our tour guide Larry says ‘i no gat meni, be i gat laef’ in the context that there may not be much money but there is still a way to live.

3575634 origThe morning before our flight to Motolava Island we were fortunate to have a few of the women of Gaua perform the famous water dance. No mater how incredible, fascinating, awe-inspiring the volcano, waterfall and lake were, my favorite moment with my short time on Gaua Island was watching their performance. The sound, the tranquility and the happiness that emanated from the women was phenomenal. I unfortunately didn’t have the time to see the full customary dance with the entire group, but I can only image that it would not be disappointing and well worth it.

The only thing I wish I could have changed about my trip to Gaua was to have been able to stay for a few extra days.

Further information

Air Vanuatu

PeBa Bungalow VT 2,500 per person, per night, including meals
Bookings though TORBA Tourism Office
Phone: +678 5977429

Camping on Letas Lake
VT 2,500 per person, per night, including food

Also visit Positive Earth for additional information, but be aware that some of this may be out of date.

Tour Guide
Waterfall: VT 1,000 per person
Volcano: VT 1,000 per person
Both: VT 2,000 per person

Water Dance: VT 10,000

Snake Dance: VT 10,000

Transport from Airport: VT 500
(pre-organise this with bungalow host)

Handy hints

Be aware that the waterfall and volcano tour is an adventure holiday. There is a lot of walking involved and although your guides will happily help you in any way they can, a reasonable level of fitness is needed.

Essentials for the trek
Remember you will be required to carry these:

  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Sleeping bag
  • Pillow
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Torch
  • Water
  • Toilet paper
  • Towel
  • First Aid Kit
  • Walking shoes
  • Tent (optional)

Ladies should always wear culturally appropriate clothing particularly when in villages. Normally in the islands, women should wear skirts knee length or longer, and modest tops. This can be difficult and impractical while trekking and therefore it is fine to wear knee length shorts.

Be open-minded
Be prepared for the unexpected. When traveling in Vanuatu things sometimes don’t go to plan (i.e. weather, flight delays, transport problems). Remember is not the destination, it’s the journey, right?

Climbing up the Volcano is not for the faint-hearted. Don’t expect any ladders, railings or ropes. Your guide will literally cut a path for you through the bush with only a bush knife. They will also be the only ones to support/catch you if you slip on the rocks that tubble down the steep slopes of the volcano.

Always be respectful of the culture, customs and way of life of the Ni-Vanuatu people. Make the effort to speak Bislama – even if it is terrible and you get embarrassed. English is in many cases their second/ third/fourth language.