Volcano trekking in Ambrym and a detour to Malekula

From Santo, we took a flight via Port Vila to Ambrym to do some trekking and see the volcanos Mt Marum and Benbow. We didn’t know what kind of adventure we had signed up for! Ambrym is wild, undeveloped and feels very very remote. Already the flight with the tiny aircraft and the landing on grass (a first for both of us!) were an experience. Then we got a pickup truck from the airport to our guesthouse in Lalinda on one of the islands only „roads“… Well it really wasn’t much of a road at all! Wow – we had expected at least gravel, but this really felt like an adventure!!

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We spent one day relaxing in Lalinda, going for short walks to the nearby villages. There wasn’t much at all and everyone we met wanted to shake our hand and say hello. The reason for our relaxing day was Mathijs‘ foot which had suddenly swollen up after a wound got badly infected. It seemed ok though for him to do the trek, so we set off together with our guide Joses the next day.

The hike up to base camp at the ash plains took until noon and led through thick rainforest most of the time. Some parts were steep and a bit slippery but for most parts it wasn’t too hard of a trek.

After some crackers and tuna (food on this trek was really really bad!), we set off again to climb up Mt Benbow. Originally we had wanted to see Mt Marum, but the weather over there was too bad – we wouldn’t have been able to see anything. So Benbow it was! The hike led us first across the ash plain and then up the first crater, which was sometimes a little steep. What we didn’t know was that inside that crater is the actually interesting smaller crater – so we had to climb down a very steep and slippery trail first, then shortly up the smaller crater… and then we were there!! Joses made us close our eyes while he led us up the last steps – when we opened them, we were staring at a bobbling lava lake! Wow!! It just looked like a boiling soup, but then bright orange of course… It was amazing!

Pictures can’t quite capture it, as it is the case so often. We had to wear gas masks since there’s quite some smoke coming up at times which makes it hard to breathe. After enjoying the lava lake and taking hundreds of photos, we had to make our tough way back, this time steeply up the outer crater, which was exhausting but a little easier than the way down. On the way back, the views over the ash plain and the volcanic landscape were really cool and dramatic in the low light created by smoke and clouds.

We slept very well after a rather disgusting dinner. The breakfast was cookies with peanut butter. Have I mentioned food was the worst part about our Ambrym adventure!? Anyways, we then packed up and headed down the same way we had come up the day before…

A pickup truck then brought us to the main „town“ Craig Cove, where we wanted to book our flight to Port Vila for the next day… We had just looked at it an hour or so ago, but suddenly it was fully booked. There also didn’t seem to be any option to get out of Ambrym for the next couple of days – I started feeling a bit panicky since it seemed like there was no way for us to get back to Port Vila in time to make our (already booked) flight to Tanna… shit. It seemed like we were stuck, in a very remote place where no-one was able to help us, with no way out. By that time I was also very sick of the canned food, dry rice, cookies and peanut butter, so in all honesty: I just wanted to get out of Ambrym. After loads of research and back and forth, we found a way: Next morning, we were going to take a boat across to neighbouring Malekula and fly out of Lamap the day after. Phewww! It wasn’t cheap, since we had to charter a boat to get to Lamap – even though it’s just 1.5h there is no public boat going this route.

Anyways, we were happy to have a way out and to catch a short glimpse of Malekula along the way. The boat ride was smooth and rather boring, but in Lamap we found a really nice accommodation at Ocean View Guesthouse with sweet Agnès who straight away invited us for family lunch (it was Sunday) which was delicious and loads of fresh food – exactly what we needed after our time in Ambrym. Anyways, we really liked the people on Malekula – they were all just super sweet and welcoming!

We didn’t have too much time to do and see anything on Malekula – we just walked around the village for a bit and then took a tour to try and see dugongs in the nearby bay. Apparently there are 20-30 and it’s super easy to see them. Well… we didn’t see any. I know, this is nature, but it sucked! Best and easiest place in the world to see them and we’re unlucky. Apparently there had been a cruise ship in the area the day before and the motor boat engines chased the dugongs away. Disappointing. Would have been the perfect ending to a perfect day in Malekula…


Espiritu Santo: Beaches & Blue Holes

We landed in Espiritu Santo in the morning after an early flight out of Port Vila. Taking a bus to Luganville was easy, finding a free hotel room for us was not! Due to some agriculture festival, everything was fully booked. Luckily, a friendly guesthouse owner let us keep our bags at her place and also booked us on a bus going to Lonnoc Beach for the afternoon. Instead of just waiting around though, we took a minibus to Million Dollar Point for some snorkelling. Million Dollar Point is a spot where the US military dumped a whole shipload of war material after Vanuatu couldn’t afford to buy it from them at the end of World War 2. I didn’t expect much, but it was actually really really cool!! There were ship wrecks, tanks, cars and more. It was lots of fun to snorkel around and dive down in between! One of the wrecks was busy with groups of fish, some of them very big. A very enjoyable snorkel site!!


Later on, we went to Lonnoc Beach by minibus, where we set up our tent for the first time! Yayy! It was a beautiful spot for our first camping experience – right next to the beach. Next day, we walked to Champagne Beach which we had all to ourselves in the morning. It’s truly one of the most beautifully white beaches I’ve ever seen!!


When it got more crowded around noon, we left and walked to Hog’s Harbour – a little village with not much going on. Unfortunately there was no restaurant and only a little shop, so we were once more forced to eat at the expensive restaurant of our accommodation. It’s easy to save money in Vanuatu by camping, but unfortunately the places hardly ever have a shared kitchen, so you end up having to eat out, which was often double of what we paid for camping! A bit odd, a bit annoying.

After Lonnoc, we hitched a ride to Port Olry where we camped once again right next to the beach. Awesome! Weather was a bit cloudy that day, but the beach was still really beautiful! Yeps, Santo definitely has some great beaches to offer.


We had a busy program on Santo – so next day morning we woke up early to take a minibus back to Luganville where we went for a dive on the famous wreck of the SS Coolidge. Unfortunately our dive center ended up being really bad, so instead of the originally planned 2 dives, we only went for 1 dive. Even with shitty equipment and a careless divemaster, it was still good to see though and an impressive wreck to dive! The water wasn’t very clear on that day, so I can imagine with better visibility and a better dive shop, this would be a really awesome experience.


The rest of the day we just relaxed, set up our tent in the back of Asia Motel’s garden and went for a walk to the local market. South Pacific markets are beginning to get a bit repetitive at this stage, but it was still nice to see this part of Luganville! We generally quite liked Luganville, only in the evenings it was hard to find any restaurant. Luckily the Asia Motel DID have a shared kitchen!


On our last day in Santo, we wanted to visit some blue holes. Hitching a ride up to near Matevulu Blue Hole was not easy, but in the end a friendly guy dropped us off at a kayak rental place – the best way to reach this blue hole is to paddle there along a pretty river! It was further than expected and against the current, but after about 40min we arrived. Wow! We were suddenly surrounded by very blue water and there were some cool swings to jump in and have some fun. Which is exactly what we did! Very much recommended!


Next, we paddled back and hitched a ride further to Nanda Blue Hole. Here the water was of an even deeper blue and super clear! With our mask we were able to see all the way to the bottom. Really cool!! Both blue holes were pretty in their own way, so I’m glad we went to both of them!


Hitching a ride back into Luganville was harder than expected, but in the end a sweet lady took us, showed us her cava bar and didn’t even want to take any money for the ride! Unfortunately, a little wound Mathijs had gotten after diving with Uepi in Marovo Lagoon, and which we had not paid much attention to until then, suddenly got badly infected and his whole ankle got really swollen! Shit. We were due to fly to Ambrym next day for some volcano trekking…

Solomon Islands – Summary & Pictures

People: The locals in the Solomon Islands are were friendly and helpful. We just had to get used to the slower (much slower) rhythm of life. Everything just takes a liiiittle bit longer than at home. We barely met any other tourists, and no other backpackers. The tourists we met were mostly (Australian) divers, staying in upmarket dive resorts.

Food: We had some really good food in the Solomons – mainly at Lasa’s place in the Marovo Lagoon – but most of the food was rather average. We ate lots of fish, often fish and chips, and local veggies and rice. Many places offered self-catering facilities, so we frequently cooked for ourselves too – which was mostly simple dishes given the lack of variety in most supermarkets. We had to be flexible about what to eat…

Weather: Challenging. It rained almost every day for a bit, often over longer periods of time, sometimes even days in a row. And it was dry season! I must admit, at times we were just sick of not being able to count on sunny weather…

Costs: Including all the diving, transportation etc we spent just a little over 60€/day (per person). Nothing was really cheap, but the biggest parts of our spendings went to activities (diving, snorkelling, boat tours etc) and accommodation – even though we always stayed in the cheapest available places. I don’t think we could have saved more, since we already took the ferry all the time instead of flights as most other tourists do.

Accommodation: As mentioned, accommodation was expensive, usually around 30€ for the double room, sometimes even with shared bathroom. Although we were usually the only ones in every guesthouse, so only had to share with ourselves 😉 Still, expect only very basic rooms for that kind of price…

Infrastructure: Pretty much non-existent and gave us a headache sometimes. Luckily we could align our itinerary with the weekly ferry schedule which saved us a lot of money. Almost everything goes by boat or ferry in the Solomon Islands, unless you have the budget to fly around!

Illnesses: Besides some smaller stomach issues here and there, all was fine. Only Mathijs got a small wound which unfortunately kept bothering us for quite a while afterwards still…

Safety: I never really felt unsafe, although I would not choose to walk around Honiara by myself during the night. No reason to do so anyways! Also, once I got rather scared during a boat ride. We got stuck in a storm and the waves were quite high for the little boat. I did not feel like our boat driver had it under control… As I am here to tell the story today, you see it ended well though 😉

Itinerary: If there is a typical itinerary for such a remote, untouristy place, then I guess we followed it. We took the ferry from Honiara to Gizo, then backtracked step by step to Noro/Munda, Seghe/Marovo Lagoon and back to Honiara. I do think Malaita would have been interesting but I’m not too sad we missed out on it. I don’t think I will go back to the Solomon Islands, since it was all in all quite expensive and a big effort to organize – and we have seen the main things now.

Highlight: Marovo Lagoon, above and below the surface.

Lowlight: The bad infrastructure, MV Anjeanette and as in places – Honiara.

Click on the photo below to see my full photo album of the Solomon Islands:

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Destination: Everywhere