Monday, 18 August 2014

Two for Tanna

One of Vanuatu's most popular destinations, Tanna Island is home to one very specific tourist destination, its active Strombolian type volcano, Yasur
This sizeable island lies around 50 mins flight due south of the capital, Port Vila.   Mount Yasur is named for the volcano god and is one of those rare active volcanoes that puts on a pyrotechnical show around the clock, seven days a week, 365 days a year, with only occasional catastrophic eruptions causing damage to surrounding villages.  Its activity is carefully monitored by the locals who decide when the activity passes the danger point from Level 2 to a Level 3, unsafe to approach, standard.  About 25 years ago three people, a tourist and two local guides, were killed by flying debris so, like all things to do with with Mother Earth, predictability is never guaranteed.

Local kids sing a welcome to the visitors passing through their tiny village.

Once over the backbone of the island we stopped to get a good panoramic view back north up the east coast of Tanna.

Some tourists simply fly in from Vila on a day trip - we stayed two nights at White Grass Ocean Resort which is only two kilometres from the airport. We left in the early afternoon on our Volcano Tour, driven in a 4WD by an extremely knowledgeable Tanna local named Phillip.   He filled us in about many aspects of life in Tanna on the way to the volcano, proceeding through numerous villages made up of huts constructed from bamboo and coconut leaves.   On the way we stopped at one of the villages where, by prior arrangement, an adorable group of children had been assembled and were waiting to regale us with some songs and present us with flowers.   It was their way of supplementing their meagre income and brought us great delight as well as photo opportunities.

This is taken from the same vantage point as the shot above, but looking due south.
Mt Yasur and its ash plain clearly visible to the left and a larger, older extinct volcano extreme right.
It takes an hour or so to cross the island heading south on roads that are at one time solid concrete interspersed with a very knobbly, pot-holed old road.  As no one in Vanuatu pays income tax, there's very little revenue for luxuries like roads.  Some bridges were rebuilt by British Army engineers after severe cyclone damage, while countries like Australia, France and New Zealand send regular aid packages to Vila to help with the country's burgeoning infrastructure - though clearly precious little had filtered through as far as Tanna island.
For us one big highlight was the ash plain - a vast, desolate area spreading down the sides of Yasur and into the jungle for several kilometres.  A lot of the wind-borne ash gets dumped here leaving behind quite an eerie landscape amidst an otherwise incredibly verdant jungle backdrop.

Photo opportunity in the ash field. 
I found this place quite striking - the cinder cone is not that high but the ash desert surrounding it is impressive. 
Philip our driver seemed to know exactly where to take the 4WD (possibly because he's been here before a few hundred times...) however a local family out for a drive became heavily bogged in the loose, light volcanic ash.

Note the big guy who did nothing but record the event on a video camera while the tiny kids
were literally under the truck trying to clear out some of the sand around the rear wheels.
I tried to help push the front end round but it became hopelessly bogged.
Philip came to the rescue with a tow rope and had the vehicle shifted in a matter of minutes.

My particular favourite from the Yasur volcano visit.  Shooting just after dark makes the gaseous lava explosions really pop out of the gloom in an orgy of spectacular colour, but you need a tripod to get a result like this!
FujiFilm X-T1 Pro camera,  18-55mm lens set to 45mm focal length, ISO 200, f16, 8.5 secs.  I specifically chose this camera to shoot on Yasur because it's [nearly] 100% waterproof, and therefore well protected from the fine ash particles and sulphurous smoke blowing across the crater ridge.
One of Natalie's best (daylight) shots.  ISO 1000 gives a pretty fast 1/280s shutter speed that does the job of 'freezing' motionless the trashcan-sized blobs of molten lava being ejected from the core.  Correct focussing was the hardest thing to achieve here partly because the eruptions were coming from different parts of the volcano's floor - out of sight to the spectators.
You hear a muffled boom, then see a flash of red light and almost instantly these massive blobs of red hot magma sail into the air.
A beautiful light illuminating the back of the Yasur cinder cone and the jungle in the distance. 
Snapped, literally, from the car park on the final walk to the summit.
FujiFilm XT-1, 18-55mm lens. ISO 200.
Spectacular thump and boom eruption from Yasur.  When these mini explosions go off you have to be quick because within a few (more) seconds the flying lava is completely obscured by the sulphurous gas emissions.  What's more focussing can be next to impossible in the low light and the smoke.  Setting the lens to manual focus (MF)  helps a lot - pre- focus on a spot and stick with it (but of course, test the focus to make sure your clarity is on the mark.
Canon 5D Mark III, 1/60s @ f4, 1250 ISO.  
For me, a panorama usually does the job of capturing the real feel of a wide open space so much better then a single snap. Natalie went a bit overboard here shooting 14 sections - I processed half of them to get this great-looking result. Panorama sections should by vertically framed, be overlapped by 15-20% and shot in Manual metering mode to avoid problems matching brightness values between frames.

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