The unique island of Ambrym in Vanuatu’s Outer Islands is as alive with culture as it is with volcanic activity. Here’s what to expect when you visit.
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Rich volcanic soil makes up its garden beds, roads and its airport runway. It lines its shores, mountains and riverbeds.
Up on the mountain, near Benbow volcano, its plains of rich black soil promise to take your breath away.
‘Have we been abducted?’ we ask each other, a quizzical look in our eyes.
‘Are we on Mars?’
‘What is this landscape?’
The volcanic island of Ambrym, in the Malampa Province of Vanuatu, is unlike any island I had the pleasure of exploring in Vanuatu. While on the surface it’s similar – smiling faces, good food, an inviting culture – it’s the nuance and variety of landscape that I delighted in, albeit briefly, that made me appreciate this island all the more.
Experience The Fanla Rom Dance and Black Magic Tour, Ranon Village
A short boat ride around the island will take you to Ranon Village, where you’ll have the opportunity to witness the Fanla Rom Dance and Black Magic Tour. This masked dance is incredibly sacred, and the black magic is only performed by people specially trained in the cultural rites.
This is a unique insight into a boisterous people that, through their dances, bring an abundance of joy and happiness that will leave you dancing alongside them with a huge smile on your face.
This tour will cost around $75AUD per person (and you can organise this with whomever you choose to stay with!). You’ll be welcomed, given refreshments, and treated to a memorable experience.
You’ll also have the opportunity to buy carved goods from the local artists. You’ll see plenty of similar, more commercialised products in the major cities, but this is a great way to support these remote communities directly.
Kayak Lonwok Lake
After a volcanic eruption in 1913 that swallowed the local Presbyterian hospital, a crater so deep you can put a cruise ship on it, emerged. It’s now known as Lonwok Lake. For $18AUD you can visit the lake, nap on the jetty or kayak around and have a picnic.
You’ll have to catch one of the local boats to get there, as the road doesn’t get around to that part of the island. Keep an eye out for remnants of the villages that once existed on the coastline. Due to rising sea levels (*cough* climate change *cough*), they’ve had to dismantle some of their bungalows and move closer inland.
Climb Benbow Volcano
Benbow Volcano was internationally renowned for its bubbling molten lava lakes. After an eruption in 2018, they no longer exist – but trust me, you don’t need the lava lakes to enjoy this great giant.
Benbow was my favourite hike in Vanuatu, without a doubt. Black rivers where lava once ran stem from the mouth of the volcano like veins on a leaf. The sharp, volcanic rock protrudes from the sea of black, and a precarious, stomach-dropping rim seems to hover in the distance as you begin your ascent.
Fun fact! Benbow was reportedly named by Captain Cook. Yup, that fella went everywhere. He named it after his mate, English Admiral John Benbow.
Drink at The Kava Bar
The Kava Bar (closest to Ocean Blue Bungalows) is a must. You’ll find the locals gathering here, cupping their shells of kava and having a yarn. Kava is an euphoric drink made from Piper methysticum, a plant native to the western Pacific Islands.
On Ambrym, the locals take kava like a shot out beside the bar, somewhere inconspicuous, and spit into a nearby bush before hooking into some washemout (finger food that is literally designed to wash your mouth out).
The kava practices on each island differ slightly depending on who you receive kava from, so make sure you ask about the local customs wherever you are!
Too much kava can leave you pretty paralytic, so exercise caution. I hit the deck pretty hard after a seemingly calm evening at an Ambrym kava bar. Read up about everything kava at the Kava House.
Find (And Eat) Ambrym Chocolate
We had the pleasure of visiting the Aelan Chocolate Factory in Port Vila, where we discovered the diversity of flavour in Vanuatu’s famous dark vegan chocolate. Each line of chocolate is named after the islands where the cocoa beans were harvested (all in the most ethical fashion, of course).
Interestingly, the chocolateurs discovered, after using the exact same recipe with each island’s cocoa beans, that the chocolate tasted completely different. They are in the process of exploring exactly why that’s the case, but once you’re back on Port Vila or Santo islands, I encourage you to stock up.
They’ve won several international awards for their chocolate, and from my extensive taste-testing session, I can see why. I bought 15 blocks.
To get practical help in planning your trip to Ambrym we suggest you start with your flights. Don’t forget you get 20% off the cost of your domestic flights if you book once you arrive in Port Vila by showing your international Air Vanuatu ticket. The travel centre and your bungalow host can support you with the rest.