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Trekking & walking in gaua, Banks Islands

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.

Along the coast of Gaua , there are few beaches but extensive reefs with sheltered waters inside. Just north of Namasari village there was a Japanese station in World War Two. All that remains are a few graves, a truck engine and a sunken boat near the beach. The Japanese withdrew before the Allied forces came.

Most of Gaua's population lives in the east. There are small stations and coconut plantations all about. Many of the Ni-Vanuatu you will meet around East Gaua are recent settlers, mostly from Mere Lava and Merig islands, where land is in short supply. Gaua is not far from Santo and relatively easy and inexpensive to visit. The easiest way to get there is to buy a return Air Vanuatu ticket. Shipping services are infrequent and not recommendable.

Air Vanuatu flies to Gaua on three days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. When leaving Gaua, plan to be at the airport early. There is no regular shipping service to the Banks these days so don't plan on travelling by ship to or from Gaua.

There were no private transport trucks on Gaua. You will have to walk, good training for trekking to Mount Garet !

  • Airport to north Walking time
  • Aver village 10 minutes
  • Lembot village 15 minutes
  • Namasari village 25 minutes
  • Airport to south
  • Tolo village 15 minutes
  • Lemanman village 25 minutes
  • Kaska Bay 35 minutes

Gaua now has a tourism office, by the airport. It's actually OK and should be the best place to pay kastom landowner fees.

The Mataka Health Centre is between Lembot and Namasari villages.

Mobile phones now have coverage around the Banks & Torres Islands . Telecom Vanuatu has just recently increased its coverage zone to include the northern most islands in the archipelago. The main objective for most visitors to Gaua is Lake Letas and the Mount Garet Volcano. Access is by walking. If you are to climb Mount Garet , you need to cross the lake and there are two canoes on the lake for this. Most visitors’ camp overnight by the lake then paddle across to the volcano in the morning.

From East Gaua there are basically three trekking routes to Lake Letas and they all take about three hours up to the lake:

1) The track from the airport is most often used by tourists (from Wongras Bungalows). The distance is about 12 km and easy walking.

2) The walk from Kaska Bay , about 10 km, is difficult only between the waterfall and the lake, the rest is easy. The waterfall detour is hazardous and mist limits your opportunities for taking photos. Anyhow, the waterfall is a remarkable sight. Allow one to two hours for the waterfall detour.

3) The walk from Namasari village is easy, only a little steeper than the track from the airport.

Camping —There are many places to camp around Lake Letas . There are few flies or mosquitos and it's cool, but not cold, at night. The lake is good for swimming and the water is OK for drinking (better to stick a purification tablet in when you refill your bottle). Camping on top of Mt Garet can be done (has been done) if the weather is fine. You just need to carry some water up the mountain. The view from the summit on a clear morning is absolutely breathtaking: you can see the Torres Islands , all of the Banks, Maewo, Ambae, Pentecost and Santo.

Mount GaretCrossing Lake Letas is about 2 km and takes about 1 hour by canoe; however it may take longer if the wind is not in our favour. The new fibreglass canoes are very sturdy and can take 6 passengers.

There are many walking routes up Mount Garet ; most of them involve bashing along wild bullock tracks and getting lost. There is one good track, discovered by Wongras Bungalows, and it's easier if your guide knows this route. During the low season (December to April), the track may be overgrown with ferns. It takes about 1 to 2 hours to climb Mount Garet , depending on how clear the track is. Wear long pants to save your legs from getting scratched. The upper section has loose ground and gravel so take care.

The "smoke" emitted by Mount Garet is rich in Sulphur Dioxide. It is acidic and you will get a shock if you stray into the gas plume. Stay upwind and uphill of the vent and you will be fine.

Detours —If you like to explore more, and have time, there are some worthwhile additions to your volcano trek:

- Boiling mud pools, these are at the north-western end of Lake Letas , not far inland.
- Duck island, this is where the White-eyed Ducks (Hardheads) lay their eggs (seasonally).
- Siri Waterfall, it's huge!

Guides and fees —Services’ of a tour guide is essential and your guide will navigate your path through the forest to Mt. Garet. There are kastom fees but sometimes it's not clear that these are passed on to the landowners. Fees can be different, depending on where you stay. It is better to go the Tourism Office next to the airport to explore the different kastom fees. Tourism Information Centre is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, when there is an Air Vanuatu flight from Santo. You can pay your fees at the tourism office and they will give you a receipt. You don't need to book any tours there if you don't want too.

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