Must Do’s in Tanna

What we recommend you see and do in Tanna

Fly directly to Port Vila and experience the local sites and tours and get a general feel for the friendly and slow paced lifestyle of Vanuatu. Take a quick flight to Tanna Island and stay for a few nights at one of the resorts. Enjoy a village and local market tour and take a night tour of the live Volcano, Mt Yasur.

Mt Yasur may be the draw card for Tanna Visitors, but it will be the memory of the friendly and welcoming local Ni Vanuatu that will remain in your heart forever. Tanna truly is the land where time stood still.

 

Take a quick flight South of Port Vila and you will find yourself on Tanna Island. Tanna is 40km long and 19km wide, with a total area of 550k and a population of approximately 20,000. Tanna is populated almost entirely by Melanesians and they follow a more traditional lifestyle than many other islands. Some of the villages are known as Kastom villages, where modern inventions are restricted, the inhabitants wear penis sheaths and grass skirts and live in hatched huts, and the children do not go to public schools. This island is the centre of the John Frum Cargo Cult which worships an American World War 11 soldier as their god. The tourism industry has been slow to grow in Tanna, with Mt Yasur, the live volcano being the main attraction.

Geography of Tanna Island

Protected by coral reefs and black sandy beaches, Tanna Island is a combination of thick untouched tropical rain forest, ash 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 kava, coconut, coffee, fruit and vegetables in quantities large enough to export. Travel inland to breathtaking waterfalls, underwater caves and crystal clear blue swimming holes.

Tanna Island Travel Story

Our party of 4 arrived at Bauerfield Domestic Airport 1 hr prior to departure as directed, for our 8am flight to Tanna Island. Only to discover that we were to travel in groups of two on two separate flights, the first leaving in 10 minutes. After a quick weigh in (yes the light aircraft has a weight policy) and payment of our 200vt departure tax, we were walking across the tarmac to board our small aircraft. No toilets or lunch service on this 45 minute flight. We watched with interest as supplies including livestock, fresh produce and a digital Tv were loaded aboard. A quick detour to Erromango Island found us landing on a short grass strip runway to the applause and cheers of the local Ni Vanuatu. After a quick unload and reload we were on our way to Tanna Island. Our flight was uneventful, and the view from above spectacular. Who would have thought that water could be so clear! The next day we discovered another flight had encountered a delay at Erromango when the aircrafts wheels became bogged and had to be dug out with sticks, shovels and bare hands. That’s Vanuatu for you, no two days are ever the same.

Tanna Island Facilities

Picnic spots and public BBQ’s, there are no council parks or picnic areas in Tanna, you simply pack a picnic, portable BBQ, grab a blanket and set off to find your own private piece of paradise. The General store located in Lenakel are basic but are well stocked. Selling everything from fruit, toiletries, bread, household products and gas bottle refills. It is a good idea to check used by dates. Resorts stock very small supplies of toiletries, sunblock and first aid supplies.

Lenakel public hospital is a small 40 bed facility that serves over 20000 people from the 6 surrounding islands, with a female ward, a male ward, a labour/delivery ward, a pediatric ward, and TB ward. There are also a few small one room “Bush clinics” scattered throughout the villages. Public Toilets are not provided in Tanna.

Tanna Island Transportation

There is no public transport system in Tanna. Your resort will organise a transfer from the airport and once you are in Tanna, you will need pre-arranged transfers as there are no taxi’s or cars for hire.

Tanna Island Services

Call rates, internet rates and phone line rentals are high in Vanuatu, local and international call rates are high and mobile rates higher. It is not uncommon to encounter telephone or internet disruptions. Once again patience is required.

Money

Vatu (Vt or VUV) is the local currency and Foreign currency exchange in Lenakel is available at the local banks. It is a good idea to exchange your foreign money in Port Vila and to bring enough Vatu with you for your visit. You will be able to pay for your accommodation and meals and tours booked through your resort in Vatu and by credit card. Credit card use incurs a fee anywhere from 3-6.5%.

 

Tanna island is Vanuatu’s most popular short term destination and offers accommodation that is rustic, in Melanesian style bungalows and guesthouses. Travellers have a choice between budget, very basic bungalows to expensive more luxurious expat owned resorts. Tanna island accommodation is an experience within itself. Whether you choose total beach front access, jungle tree top accommodation or a room with a view of the volcano, the absolute untouched beauty of Tanna Island will surround you. Hosting comfortable beds, hot water, some have ceiling, fans flush toilets and restaurants that serve western style food and local meals, the absolute beachfront views will only endear you to the charm of these village style bungalows. As with most out of the way locations, prices for accommodation vary and can be expensive.

All resorts are family friendly yet offer little in the way of “Adult only” vacations. Most Tanna island accommodation is offered as twin share and is clean but basic. Remember to pack your insect repellent

Tanna island

Tanna Island for Families

Got kids? Tanna is a safe, fun and adventure packed holiday location for kids of all ages. There is a plethora of activities to enjoy with your children. Including; Volcano tour (not recommended for very young children) horse riding, swimming, snorkelling, bike riding, helicopter or seaplane flights, fishing, kayaking and various island tours. While local resorts offer children friendly activities such as petanque, board games and racket sports, there are no kids club facilities available or TV in most places.

Tanna Island Weddings

With its romantic sunsets and beautiful landscapes, Tanna is a popular wedding and honeymoon destination. Local resorts and restaurants offer excellent facilities for receptions to suit small wedding groups.

Tanna Island Conferences

Although a little out of the way and expensive, the major resorts in Tanna could provide you with a unique and intimate conference venue. Be aware that accommodation is predominately shared and very rustic and that the restaurant areas would be the only venue available for meetings and would not be offered exclusively.

 

Tanna Island Restaurants

Resort Restaurants in Tanna offer a limited selection of foods, with local produce and seafood on offer. As limited supplies are delivered by plane daily, there is not a lot of variety or quantity on offer. Having said that, the menu offers a choice of options to suit most tastes but it is a good idea to advise of any dietary requirements before you arrive and perhaps bring your own basic supplies(eg gluten free). To ensure you don’t miss out on your choice of dinner it is a good idea to book your evening meal at breakfast.

tanna restaurant

Tanna Island Nightlife

Interested in a night out on the town? Tanna has very little to offer. You could try to find a kava bar but even those are very sedate. However, the sunsets are so spectacular that you could easily create your own fun, with good company, great wine and great views.

tanna night dancing

Tanna Island Shopping

Lenakel is the largest town in Tanna and is essentially a one street town but it has a good range of services including a National Bank of Vanuatu branch, Air Vanuatu office , Customs and Immigration (mainly used by cruising yachts), several well stocked stores (some even have wine), a restaurant or two, a market house(open Monday, Thursday and Fridays) a hospital and 24 hour electricity. The Post Office is at Isangel. Be careful of the water supply in Lenakel and some parts of Tanna. Water is often sourced from the ground and sometimes it is unfit for drinking untreated. Be on the safe side and drink bottled water only.

The Tanna coffee shed and local outdoor food markets host local produce, seafood, some shells and are a must see.

Lenakel-Market-Tanna-Island-Vanuatu

 

Calendar of Tanna specific public holidays and major events

February

February 15 John Frum Day (cargo cult) is celebrated on Tanna Island. The men dress up like US soldiers and parade with wooden rifles while the flag is raised and prayers offered to the great Cargo God that lives in the USA.

April

Yam Festival. The dates vary depending on Tanna Time. This is an excellent time to see authentic custom dancing and feasting as the people of Tanna summon the spirit of the Yam.

June

June 21 Fete de la Musique (in Port Vila and on Santo, Tanna and Malekula islands)

July

Horse Racing Day The Race of Champions as the wild horses thunder down the old airport runway. Then comes the foot races! Tafea Agricultural & Trade Show; this is a rodeo and horse display as well as a showing of local produce

July 31- 6 August

Aniwa and Tanna Swim Safari. Aniwa and Tanna Islands

August

Circumcision Ceremonies – The rite of passage for young men with colourful custom dancing and feasting.

Mini Games This is the competition for all Tanna athletes for the regional games. It is held at the Lenekel soccer Stadium.

August 15-20 National Sandroing, this sand drawing festival takes place each year at a different location, in the northern tropical islands of Vanuatu.

September

September 8 Tanna Trail, Tanna Island

October

Cultural Spirit Arts and Carving Exhibition Local artists show their handicrafts in Lenakel.

Toka or Nekowiar Ceremony This is one of Vanuatu’s most famous and enthusiastic festivals. Three days of feasting and dancing while the whole community debates and arranges marriages.

November

November 6-11 Vanuatu Aniwa and Tanna Swim Safari, Aniwa and Tanna Islands

 

Mt Yasur

Mt Yasur is the world’s most accessible and active live volcano. Despite constant and increasing volcanic activity over time, tours to Mt Yasur continue. Local tour companies offer “flyovers”, day tours and the most amazing night tours. The Volcano really comes alive at night, promising you a natural firework show that you will remember forever.

Diving and Snorkelling

Tanna is surrounded by a coral coastline dotted with deep blue, rock pools and blue holes, teeming with colourful marine life and live coral gardens. Wearing reef shoes is a must in Tanna, as many blue holes are accessible only by walking across the rocky coral shoreline. Take a short boat ride out to Lemnap underwater cave, duck dive under the cliff wall and drop into a stunning 60 metre wide grotto. You will swim amongst a myriad of sea life in the clearest of turquoise seas. For the more adventurous, dive the wreck of “The Fijian” a sailing boat that sunk in 1916 and lies in only 20 metres of water.

Beach Life

The beaches in Tanna vary from volcanic black sands, through a mix of white coral sand to white sandy beaches. Beaches are dotted with the most amazing shells and bleached coral, creating heaven for any avid shell enthusiast. Port Resolution, with its white sandy beaches and deepwater harbour, is a favourite for visiting yachties. Nearby attractions include Shark Bay, (yes there are real sharks here), hot springs and freshwater lakes and Turtle bay, where turtles come to lay their eggs.

Cave Tours

People travel from all over the world to explore the ancient caves on Tanna Island. There are blue water caves, with snorkel access only, underwater caves that require a leap of faith to enter, and caves that come with their own skeletons.  An experienced guide will explain how these caves were formed and the local legends associated with them.

Fishing, Boating, Kayaking

Fishing tours can be organised at your resort with local fishermen, usually in a small aluminium dinghy. It is a good idea to bring your own fish hooks, lures and heavy lines as supplies are limited on Tanna. Local game fish include Marlin, Wahoo, Yellow fin Tuna, Barracuda and Skipjack, all fish caught are given to the local village who may in turn sell them back to the resort for your dinner that night. You may even catch some lobsters.

Sea kayak or outrigger canoe tours offer an interesting alternative and an opportunity to visit local blue holes and dive right in. You may even sight a whale or two.

Surfing

Popular surf spots just off the reef in Tanna include Port Resolution and Lenakel.

Swimming

With its clear turquoise seas, Tanna offers some amazing swimming opportunities. Whether you enjoy a calm float in blue hole or an ocean swim beyond the reef, you will return feeling refreshed and relaxed. Each year these gorgeous calm seas attract local and international competitors for the “Aniwa and Tanna Swim Safari”.

Walking

There are some pretty good walks on Tanna but few or no tourists using them. Walking on Tanna is a cost-effective means of getting around, a means of exploring the island and there are some challenging mountains to climb in the south. Tanna terrain offers rugged mountains, rainforests, waterfalls, clear streams and is sparsely populated. There is a road but it is lightly trafficked and not all-weather. You can often catch a passing truck in the morning or the afternoon. Remember to be self sufficient, take your own food and water, let the resort know where you are going, and the best advice is to take a guide with you.

Mountain Bike Hire

To discover Tanna, up close and personal, hire a mountain bike and design your own tour. There are many fascinating village, beaches and points of interest within an easy ride of your accommodation. Ask your resort to pack a picnic for you, grab your swimming gear and head off for a day of relaxed discovery.

4WD Tours

Tanna has some good sealed roads and travelling around the island by 4wd is a fairly comfortable experience. However if it has rained heavily recently you could be in for some off road adventures.

Cultural Village Tours

To experience a way of life that has been largely uninfluenced by western culture, you can take a cultural tour to a number of Kastom Villages. Here locals will share with you their local customs and culture, their knowledge of traditional medicine, dance, crafts and styles of cooking. Some of the tours available include: South Tanna Cultural Tour, Ipai Custom Tour, Black Magic Tour and Yekel Custom Villages.

John Frum Cult Village Tour (Friday Evenings)

Join in the dancing and enjoy the celebration of this unique cult. These Tannese people were encouraged by the WWII soldier John Frum to turn from Christianity for the promise of a better life with the addition of Western goods such as radios and coca cola. John returned to America and his followers are still awaiting his return and the bounty he will bring. If you visit on a Friday you will be privy to the weekly ceremony when John Frum members conduct rituals including raising flags and marching in unison, holding the belief that mimicking these American acts will lead to the delivery of magical cargo such as radios, jeeps, fridges and other manufactured items owned by American visitors during WWII.

Hot Mineral Springs

Hot mineral springs are renowned in the South Pacific for their relaxing and therapeutic properties. The hot springs are warmed by Mt Yasur Volcano. They flow over the beach and into the sea at Sulphur Bay. This is a popular location for the local villagers to do their laundry and bathe in the hot water.

Horse Riding

Within minutes of arriving on Tanna Island you will discover the wild brumbies roaming the grassy plains. There are a number of horse riding tours available and can be booked through most resorts. Explore the island’s beautiful landscapes on horseback with rides available along beaches, into the forest and to one of the world’s largest banyan trees.

Seaplane and Helicopter Tours

Discover Tanna Island from a higher perspective and take a helicopter or seaplane tour. Tours depart from Port Vila and bookings are essential.

Kava Bars

Trying Tannese kava is quite an experience. If you haven’t already tried kava, it’s a strong herbal drink made from kava root that is a major component of traditional Melanesian culture. These roughly made Kava bars can be identified on the roadside by their hanging lanterns. The experience is one to be tried at least once.

Due to transport challenges, Kava export is a slow growing yet profitable trade in Tanna. The kava root is sourced straight from the Jungle where it is then ground into a fine powder and added to water to produce a dirty coloured liquid. Kava is traditionally used in custom ceremonies and at the end of the working day. Due to its relaxing effect kava is ideal for: relaxing muscles after a busy day working, calming of nerves, reducing anxiety and giving a sense of well being and contentment. Perhaps this is the reason why Vanuatu was recently voted “The Happiest Place on Earth” by the Happiest Planet Index.

tanna boat

tanna kayaker

tanna atv adventures

tanna dancers