The Banks Islands are a group of islands in northern Vanuatu . Together with the Torres Islands to the northwest, they make up the northern most province of Torba —the group lies about40 km (25 mi) north of Maewo, and includes Gaua and Vanua Lava, two of the 13 largest islands in Vanuatu. In 1979, the islands supported a population of 4,614 on a land area of 780 km².
The Banks Islands were the first part of Vanuatu discovered by a European explorer, in 1606 when Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós sailed past Mere Lava and stopped at Gaua, before landing on Espiritu Santo and establishing a short-lived colony there. They were later overlooked in 1774 when Captain James Cook explored Vanuatu and believed he saw the whole chain. They were first explored by William Bligh of the British Navy, and named after his patron Sir Joseph Banks. They were charted by Matthew Flinders. Vanua Lava was first explored by the New Zealand Bishop George Augustus Selwyn in 1859. Banks has a contrast of untouched resources and unbeaten tourist tracks for visitors to explore. There are bungalows and guesthouse around Gaua, Mota Lava and Mere Lava.
Gaua's scenic centre is an awesome place for bush walking and trekking with:
- - Lake Letas , the largest in Vanuatu .
- - Mount Garet, an active volcano.
- - Siri Waterfall, a truly impressive sight with a large flow out of Lake Letas falling down 120m. The most spectacular in Vanuatu .
Trekking to Lake Letas and camping overnight is a great walk. There have been no catastrophic eruptions from the Mount Garet Volcano for a long time and the caldera rim is cool and forested. Cross the lake by canoe, climb up the hill and you will be surprised by a desert-like landscape on the summit of Mt Garet.
Vanua Lava, big island of the Banks
Vanua Lava has mountains, a volcano, crocodiles, reefs, rivers, waterfalls and rainforests. There is plenty to experience, here in the northern islands of Vanuatu. Sola is the provincial town for the Banks and Torres Islands. From Sola you can make excursions to Mt Sere Ama, an active volcano, the Selva River and Kwakea Island. The northern tip of Ravenga island has a surf break onto the reef at high tide but it's not easy to access, you need a boat. See our Sola page for guest houses in town —Air Vanuatu now flies to Vanua Lava 3 times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. These days, ships to the Banks and Torres Islands are rather infrequent. You might be lucky but it's not possible to plan ahead for travelling by ship. Speedboats between Vanua Lava and Mota Lava are convenient, almost daily, and this makes it easy to visit both islands on the same trip. You can fly in to one island, make the crossing by speedboat and fly out from the other island.