Climbing Mt Garet on Gaua Island

January 12, 2024
February 25, 2023

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Table of Contents

About Gaua Island

Gaua is the second-biggest island of the northern Banks Islands in Vanuatu. It's famous for the natural attractions of Mount Garet (or Mount Gharat) and Siri Waterfall, the biggest waterfall in the South Pacific. It’s also the home of the unique cultural performance of the water music dance. As one of the outer islands of Vanuatu, it lacks basic infrastructure like paved roads and is made up of around a dozen villages with no major towns.

The villagers in Gaua rely on growing their own fruit and vegetables for their food. They have them located close to their homes and also in larger gardens further out in the jungle. They also have livestock such as cattle, pigs and chickens. For many people on Gaua, growing and processing kava is one of their main sources of income.

Mount Garet is a 797m active volcano located on the island of Gaua. It’s classified as ‘restless’ and is constantly erupting. Its last major eruption was in 2011. It’s surrounded on the eastern side by Lake Letas. Uniquely it has six craters with one currently active and two large ones recently becoming inactive.

A composite image of two aerial photos of Gaua Island, Vanuatu

Getting to Gaua Island

Air Vanuatu has flights to Gaua from Luganville in Espiritu Santo. These flights can run multiple times a week. At least in theory. There have been operational issues with Air Vanuatu post-pandemic which means these flights are often cancelled. Tickets cost around 10,000 VT each way if you do manage to get a flight booked.

Another option for the brave is to catch a cargo freighter between the islands of Espiritu Santo and Gaua. If you go to the wharf in Luganville, you can enquire with the harbour master or the captains directly about the possibility of joining them. They will charge a nominal fee for the journey across. Note they will travelling to other islands and stopping for days to unload and load their cargo, so this option is most suitable for backpackers with flexible schedules and an interest in exploring nearby islands.  

In our case, we’d booked a flight with Air Vanuatu from Espiritu Santo to Gaua. But after calling them to check on the status of the flight, we were disappointed to discover it had been cancelled. We spoke to someone from Air Vanuatu who advised the flight had been cancelled due to poor weather and that they would contact us to let us know when the flight would be rescheduled. We later received a phone call from them offering a flight nearly two weeks after our original flight.

We then went to the wharf to speak to some of the ship crews. We found one ship that was going to Gaua in two weeks due to the poor weather in the coming week. Another ship was going earlier, but wasn’t taking any passengers on board. We did discover from one of the captains that there was a doctor based on Gaua who may be able to help.

Dr Mark Turnbull is known for his orange airplane that he uses to fly around the outer islands to tend to and transport sick patients. We looked up his details online and reached out to him to see if there was any chance to travel to Gaua with him.

We went to the Air Vanuatu office next. We confirmed that there were no earlier flights available. They also advised us that the real reason for the cancellation was due to a lack of pilots, not the weather. We asked for our flights to Gaua and back to be refunded to us. (As of writing this, we're still waiting for the refund to be processed months later...)

At this point, Dr Turnbull’s daughter had been trying to contact us. Calling her back, she advised that Dr Turnbull had travelled to Luganville that day for a medical emergency and could fly us to Gaua. We just had to contribute 24,000 VT for the airplane fuel. And get to the airport in 30 minutes!

We hurried back to our room and packed our gear for Gaua in ten minutes. We wouldn’t be able to bring our suitcase due to the size of the airplane, but fortunately we could leave it at our accommodation. (This now meant we would be on staying on one island and our two suitcases would be on two other islands in Vanuatu!)

Our host Malakai drove us to the airport and spoke with the staff there to let them know we were flying with Dr Turnbull. Even without a suitcase and just some backpacks, it was a tight squeeze in the back of the aircraft. Being 6’ 3” is definitely not an advantage sometimes, and this was one of those times!

The flight took about one hour. When approaching Gaua, we turned right and followed the coastline. This approach gave us an amazing view of Mount Garet and Lake Letas. We could also see Siri Waterfall, which as it turns out would be the only chance we would have to see it due the bad weather the ship captain told us about.

After a very smooth landing, we exited the aircraft and was able to catch a ride with some locals. They charged us 2,000 VT to take us to our accommodation.

Jon standing next to a light airplane in front of a hanger with a man and two children near him on Gaua Island, Vanuatu

Where to stay on Gaua Island

The only options are bungalows in local villages. Three of them are right near the airport terminal. Tamess Bungalows is located to the left of the airport terminal and Wongrass Bungalows are located across the runway on the other side. The third option nearby is Chez Marie, although she wasn’t operating at the time we visited due to issues with Air Vanuatu’s flights. Her bungalows are more luxurious and are priced at 12,000 VT per night. Wongrass Bungalows are priced at 7,000 VT per night. We weren’t able to confirm the price for Tamess Bungalows. All meals are usually included with these prices (as there simply isn’t the infrastructure to source your own food).

The final option is to stay closer to the natural attractions of Gaua. Weul Bungalows are about a 30-minute walk down the main road or you may be able to organise a transfer with a local. The bungalow here costs 5,000 VT per night (for two people). The bungalow is basic, with two single beds. There’s an outdoor building with a kitchen and hall where you eat all your meals. There are also an outdoor shower room and restroom.

The bungalow and facilities are located in its own area but close to the rest of the village. The hosts Robert and Elena were very welcoming and invited us to sit with their family. We enjoyed speaking with them to find out more about their lives. We also saw how they processed the kava they were growing. This is the main source of income for their village.

A composite image of our host Robert sitting while eating a cut watermelon next to him and two young girls from Robert's family getting water from a well on Gaua Island, Vanuatu
A composite image of men putting dry kava through a meat grinder and soaking it in water on Gaua Island, Vanuatu

Three meals a day are included in the price of the accommodation. There was no issue with eating plant-based meals here. We told them at the start that we don’t eat meat or fish and they were happy to adjust what they prepared for us. We had lots of different local fruit and vegetables, prepared with rice or noodles or by themselves. Elena is a great cook and we enjoyed the variety and taste of the meals. Make sure to ask for her signature paw paw salad with coconut cream! This was the best local food we had while staying in Vanuatu.

Travel tip: Before you head to Gaua, make sure you have enough cash with you as there is only the national bank of Vanuatu and no ATMs on the island.

‍Our experience climbing Mount Garet

It takes three to four hours from the village we were staying in to hike to the shore of Lake Letas, on the eastern side of Mount Garet. The time it takes you will depend on the number of stops, the weather and your fitness level. The hike is through jungle and requires a guide to take you there.

There was a man in the village called Victor who organises the guides and has a camp on the shore of Lake Letas. Our host Robert took us to visit Victor’s house where we spoke to one of his sons. We organised to hike to Mount Garet the next day.

Another one of Victor’s sons met us the next day and we went to Victor's house where we were joined by two other local young men. If you like, they can act as a porter for 1,500 VT each per day. We started the hike by walking through Victor’s gardens and farmland. We stopped a couple of times for the men to pick some fresh paw paw from one of the gardens. They carried them all the way until we reached our destination.

We then entered the jungle. The track was overgrown in places and it required constant hacks from the guide’s machete to clear the way for us. It made us feel like we were true jungle explorers! Later we learned that we were the first overseas tourists to make the trek for about three years. We found it amusing that the guide was actually apologising to us for the state of the track and whenever we slipped or found it difficult to pass.

Benches with a tin roof over them at Victor's house on Gaua Island, Vanuatu
A composite image of one of the men on the hike climbing up a tree to pick pawpaw and our guide carrying pawpaw in a jungle on Gaua Island, Vanuatu

There were a couple of stops along the way to get fresh water. The first was a stone well that the family had created some time back and everyone uses when on the hike or in the gardens. The second was a freshwater stream further into the hike.

The closer we got to Victor’s Camp, the more slippery the path became. We were visiting in Vanuatu’s rainy season and there was light rain at times during the hike. Because the jungle canopy was so thick at this point, we didn’t feel the rain so much. Eventually we could see Lake Letus and Mount Garet through thick jungle.

A composite image our guide walking in a jungle and fern covered trees in the same jungle on Gaua Island, Vanuatu
Looking through the jungle to see Lake Letus and Mout Garet on Gaua Island, Vanuatu

Once we arrived at the camp, we met Victor who was there with his grandchildren. They were enjoying a bath in Lake Letas before heading back down to their home. Once we arrived however, they helped to prepare a local-style canoe for us to cross the lake. The canoe was made from fibreglass with a wooden outrigger setup for balance. While they were preparing the canoe, we took the chance to admire a tall banyan tree nearby and survey the scenery before us.

A composite image of Jon and Janna standing beneath a tall banyan tree and looking out to Lake Letus and Mount Garet on Gaua Island, Vanuatu

Victor and his son took one oar each and were positioned at each end of the canoe. We sat in the middle with our backpacks balanced to avoid the water on the bottom of the canoe. The weather above the volcano is unpredictable and even Victor is hesitant to forecast what it will do. As we started to cross the lake, the wind picked up and it became more difficult to paddle across.

Rain then started to fall as well. At first it was light, but it then became heavier. Five minutes later and we were all soaking wet. We struggled on and managed to make it across the lake and along the shore to the landing spot. It took us about half an hour to cross the lake. Victor stayed behind to fix some of the rope that had come lose during the trip over.

A composite image of the outrigging of a canoe and Janna sitting  a the canoe as it's crossing Lake Letus to Mount Garet on Gaua Island, Vanuatu

The path here was even more overgrown and it took more time to clear a path for us. The rain remained heavy and there was little or no jungle canopy to protect us from the water. It was already steep going up and the heavy rain made it very slippery and difficult to traverse. It took us about an hour in these conditions to get to the top. And once we did, the wind was very strong and we battled to maintain our balance at times.

We arrived at the first and the smallest of the craters. At first visibility was very poor as the clouds were hanging low over the mountain. Eventually it cleared a little so we could see this one and move onto the next ones. All these craters were now extinct, most recently around 2010. The landscape within and around the craters reminded us of Mars.

We attempted to walk around the rim of one crater to reach the only active one remaining. However, the wind was so strong we had to lean forward and were almost blown off our feet. We therefore declined the offer! We did enjoy the views of Mount Garet and Lake Letus from our vantage point. We could also see the next lot of islands in the Banks when the clouds cleared for a period.

A composite image of Jon and Janna celebrating and their guide walking on top of Mount Garet on Gaua Island, Vanuatu
A small extinct crater on Mount Garet on Gaua Island, Vanuatu
Victor walking around the craters of Mount Garet on Gaua Island, Vanuatu

One thing this experience reinforced for us is that the locals in Vanuatu are very eager to please you and do what you want to do. This includes doing things that may not be a good idea or even safe to do. So always take the time to consider your surroundings and listen to your own intuition because ultimately you will need to take ownership of your actions.

As we started our hike back down, the weather started to improve and the rain started to ease off for a while. But then we noticed a fair amount of smoke billowing out of the volcano. We decided it was best to hurry up! The track was very wet and muddy at this point and we had to hold onto tree branches on the way down. We literally slid down in some places rather than walked down as it was safer this way. It took us about 40 minutes to make the journey back down to where we left the canoe.

Our guide climbing down the slope of Mount Garet on Gaua Island, Vanuatu
A composite image of Jon and Janna and two other men from the hike with smoke behind them walking down the slope of Mount Garet on Gaua Island, Vanuatu

We jumped back into the canoe and started our way back across the lake. The wind changed again and there was a strong current pushing us sideways. Victor and his son became tired battling against the current, so we took up the oars towards the end as we had been pushed down the shore and had to travel back up to Victor’s Camp.

If the weather had been better, we could have travelled by canoe to the western side of Lake Letas. There are hot springs located there that you can soak your weary body in after finishing your hike. Instead, after we got back to Victor’s Camp, we soaked ourselves and our muddy clothes and boots in the lake.  

It was late in the day and the weather was turning again, so we decided to rest at Victor’s Camp overnight. It costs 3,500 VT per person to stay in a bungalow, with breakfast included. (You can also camp there if you have your own tent for 1,500 VT per person.)

It’s also possible to canoe to the mouth of the river and then hike down to Siri Waterfall. It takes about one hour in the canoe and then another hour to hike down. It’s also possible to hike further down for another half hour or so to swim in the river.

Unfortunately we didn’t have good weather, so had to delay our visit to Siri Waterfall to another visit. Getting to Siri Waterfall from the village takes a lot longer. You can either hike, organise a car or take a boat to get you about half way there. You’ll then need to hike for about three hours to reach Siri Waterfall.

Below is the full price list for all of the activities and services provided by Victor. You can contact him via email on or phone on +678 5622288. Note it may take him some time to respond, so it’s best to contact him early in advance of your trip.

  • Guide per day - 2,000 VT pp
  • Porter per day - 1,500 VT pp
  • Canoe to east side of volcano or waterfall - 1,500 VT pp
  • Canoe to west side of volcano - 2,000 VT pp
  • Lake and volcano entrance fee - 2,500 VT pp
  • Conservation area entrance fee - 500 VT pp
  • Waterfall entrance fee - 1,000 VT pp
  • Sleeping in bungalow (at Victor's Camp) - 3,500 VT pp (with breakfast)
  • With own tent (at Victor's Camp) - 1,500 VT pp (with breakfast)
  • Meal - 500 VT pp
  • Water music - 6,000 VT up to 5 people; 10,000 VT for 6 people and then 2,000 VT each extra person

Travel itinerary for Vanuatu

Read this article to discover our recommended 14-day travel itinerary of Vanuatu. (With 21-day and 7-day options also included!)

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