Hiking an extinct volcano on Nguna Island

January 12, 2024
February 13, 2023

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Table of Contents

About Nguna Island

If you’re staying on Efate, such as in Port Vila, there are some islands that can be visited as a day trip. Nguna Island should definitely be on your list when visiting Efate. It’s famous for its two extinct volcanoes. The highest one is Mount Taputoara at 593 metres. It can be hiked up to view its crater and breathtaking views of the surrounding area. There are some limited accommodation options if you prefer to stay on the island for longer.

Travel tip: Before you head to Nguna Island, make sure you have enough cash with you for the boat transfer, entrance fee and guide (optional). There are no banks or ATMs on the island!

Getting to Nguna Island

As we were staying in nearby Emua Village, we could walk down the road to Emua Wharf from the roadside market in about five minutes. You could also travel to Emua Wharf via the main ring road around Efate by car or bus from Port Vila. It takes about 45 minutes.

You can book a guided tour to see the extinct volcano on Nguna here. The tour includes transfer from your accommodation to Nguna Island and someone to guide you up the extinct volcano. This is certainly a safer way to travel to and see the volcano than doing it by yourself. However, doing it on your own is certainly possible with some planning and following our advice below!

Once you’re at Emua Wharf, speak to someone in the waiting area or down at the wharf. Explain that you need to go to Nguna Island. Someone with a boat will likely offer to take you across Undine Bay as a ‘charter’. This means they will go across to the island just for you, and it will cost about 1,500 VT per person. If this is within your budget and you’re conscious of the time, this is definitely the best way to get across.

Alternatively, if there’s someone from Nguna already going across (with other passengers and/or goods), you will be able to jump in and pay a lower rate. We found someone carrying some food items and another passenger across who was happy to receive 500 VT per person one way. We also asked for his phone number so we could call him later and check when he was coming back.

It takes about 15 minutes to travel across to Nguna from Emua Wharf by boat. It was a very pleasant journey across. The area is surrounded by several other islands and the water was a stunning shade of blue in the early morning sun.

Travel tips:

  • There are few or perhaps no local boat owners on Sundays and public holidays. As a result, you likely have to pay the ‘charter’ rate to anyone you do find there willing take you across to Nguna Island.
  • There are more boat owners in the morning than the afternoon, starting from around 7am. Ni-Vanuatu often wake up at 4-5am in the morning, so tend to start travelling early.
  • You may want to organise a boat owner to take you to nearby Pele Island as well as Nguna Island. Read about our experience on Pele Island.
A composite image of two photos in Vanuatu - one of a man in a boat at Emua Wharf in Efate and the other of two men in a boat crossing to Nguna Island

Walking to the base of Mount Taputoara

As we were attempting to climb Mount Taputoara ourselves, we hadn’t organised anyone to guide us once we arrived on Nguna Island. We asked a local for confirmation of which direction to walk to the volcano. But there’s only one road that goes up the mountain to the volcano. So essentially after you get off the boat from Umua Wharf, just start heading up the wide dirt road that you can see in front of you.

There was a local boy who asked us if we needed a guide to the volcano as we started to walk up the road. We had another couple of offers along the way as well. Out of curiosity, we asked one how much it would cost and was told it would be 1,500 VT per person. This is definitely a great option if you would feel more comfortable with someone guiding the way for you and you haven't pre-booked a tour.

A dirt wide leading up to Mount Taputoara on Nguna Island
A composite image of Jon and Janna walking up a dirt road on Nguna Island, Vanuatu

After a short walk, the wide dirt road turns into a concreted single road for a while. We then came across a family of four with the parents sitting in the middle of the road. The parents stood up and handed coconuts to their two young children to drink. We said our hellos and with the humidity starting to take its toll on us, asked whether they happened to have any more coconuts with them that they could share.

The mother and father asked us to wait and disappeared into the jungle on the side of the road. They returned with a couple of young coconuts for us after just a few minutes of looking. At least we knew that we wouldn’t die of thirst if we ran out of water! They proceeded to sit down on the road again and started working their machetes on the coconuts. First they removed the outer layer of the coconuts. Then they started to hack in measured swings to remove a section at the top of the inner hulls of the coconuts.

Janna had a quick go at this point, but she decided to hand it back when one of her swings pierced the hull and some of the juice squirted out. The couple finished off the job by cutting out a small drinking hole at the top of each one before handing them to us.

We were incredibly grateful and couldn’t believe our luck. It was exactly what we needed as the heat and humidity were stronger than what we’d anticipated so early in the morning. We were very happy to pay them for the coconuts even though they had refused the money initially.

Ni-Vanuatu man and woman sitting down cutting into coconuts

The concrete petered out and we were back onto a dirt road again. We entered the first village that the road travels through the middle of. We waved and said hello to the local villagers who were walking around or sitting by the road. We also checked with someone that we were heading in the right direction to the volcano. He confirmed that we need to go through a couple more villages before the turn-off to the volcano on the left.

We continued our trek along the road. There were welcome shaded areas along the way that we took advantage of for water breaks. We cannot emphasise this enough - make sure you bring enough water for this walk! The humidity in particular really takes it out of you and having enough water is critical to avoid dehydration and potential heat stroke along the way. If you have a filtered water bottle (we recommend LiveStraw), you could ask a local for some of the water in their rain tank.

We encountered a few people walking between the villages. There was also the occasional ute that drove past us with locals jammed into the back. We were tempted to ask for a lift a couple of times, but continued to hike up the road instead.

Eventually we passed through a few villages and hadn’t seen any turn-off to climb the volcano. Remembering the previous directions we received, we started to worry that we’d missed it. We asked the next local we encountered who confirmed we were walking the right way. Some time later we checked again as we had to ascend quite a steep section to the next village. We were again assured to keep going straight.

Entering the next village, we could see a mountain still some distance ahead of us but it didn’t look like the volcano we were trying to reach. We asked someone else and this time she explained that we’d gone too far! We had to turn around and go back a couple of villages to the turn-off.

Already exhausted at this point, we started to think that a guide may have been a good idea after all… But really we realised that sometimes people in Vanuatu say ‘yes’ out of politeness and they don’t really understand what we’re saying in English. It’s therefore better to ask open-ended questions (e.g., ‘Can you please tell me the way to climb the volcano?’), not yes/no questions (e.g., ‘Is this the way to climb the volcano?’).

We retraced our steps to find the turn-off for the volcano. There were no signs or obvious markers to indicate which path is the one to take. We started asking some people in a nearby village again and found someone who confirmed the entrance. The house in the image below is located in the village just before the entrance. It is located on your left when walking up the mountain. But if you see this landscape in the image below, you’ve gone too far and need to turn around!

You need to pay 1,500 VT per person to the landowners. If you ask someone in the village, they should be able to pay them for you and confirm the entrance to climb the volcano, which is essentially a single track through the jungle.

A dirt road with a mountain in the background on Nguna Island

Hiking up Mount Taputoara

We started walking up the path. It is fairly steep at times. It is a completely natural hike through jungle terrain - all dirt with some rocky parts and one section with a fallen tree. You should have proper hiking shoes to tackle this walk. If it’s raining, it will be very slippery and may be difficult to continue in places. We were told we were the first foreigners to climb the volcano since Covid, so the track was likely less maintained than it usually is.

Eventually you’ll leave the jungle behind you and come out to a section with tall grass on either side of the path. Don’t forget to look behind you regularly to see the amazing ocean views! Keep going up, past a random palm tree, until you come to the rim of the crater. You’ll see a table and chairs where you can rest and admire the scenery. It’s the perfect place to have lunch or at least refuel with some water and snacks after your hike.

An aerial view of two people walking through long grass on Nguna Island, Vanuatu

The crater itself is full of palm trees and grassy areas. The path continues to the left and you can continue hiking around the rim of the crater to a higher elevation. You can also see more of the islands on the other side when you walk up this way for a while, so it’s definitely worth walking a bit more until you’ve reached your limit.

The 360-degree views from the top of the volcano are breathtaking. You can start to get a sense of the geography of Vanuatu and the impact that the volcanoes have had on it. The deep green of the jungle islands dotting the azure waters of the Pacific form an amazing tableau.

Jon and Janna looking back down the track to Mount Taputoara on Nguna Island, Vanuatu
A view of surrounding islands while walking up the path around Mount Taputoara on Nguna Island, Vanuatu

It took us about an hour to hike from the entrance of the volcano base to the rim of the crater. That was going at a moderate pace. That was after we had walked for about 90 minutes from the beach to the base of the volcano (not including the additional time where we walked past the entrance and had to double back). So in total, it takes about two and a half hours to walk from the beach up the mountain to the top of the volcano.

Arranging for transportation to the base of the volcano would have definitely made it an easier hike for us. But we wanted the challenge and had a great feeling of satisfaction when we made it to the top. Take into account your own situation when deciding how you want to tackle the hike up the volcano on Nguna Island.

Jon and Janna walking down the path of Mount Taputoara on Nguna Island, Vanuatu

Leaving Nguna Island

We soaked in the breathtaking views and captured some amazing photos and videos. We then made our way back down the volcano via the same path we had taken up it. It was a quicker trek down, taking around 30 minutes. It was definitely easier going down than up!

It was time to tackle the main road back down the mountain. We took a measured pace back through the villages we’d gone through previously. There were some small stores along the way with some limited goods if you need a snack.

We walked past a roadside stand with a sign advertising pineapples for sale. We stopped and asked someone in the village if they knew who was selling them as the stand wasn’t occupied. We’d asked the right person, as she explained her family had put up the stand but had already finished selling them for the day.

She was happy to find another pineapple for us and even cut it up on a plate for us to eat. It was absolutely delicious and another very welcome addition to the hike! We had a friendly chat about the fruit she grows in her garden and how they usually sell it. We also discovered her sister was living in Emua Village, and was actually our neighbour as we were staying right next to her at the time. Throughout your travels in Vanuatu, you’re likely to meet relatives of people you’ve meet or will meet!

Voyage Green tip: Keep your eyes open for the opportunity to buy from roadside stands. You’ll be supporting local communities, enjoying healthy organic fruit or vegetables and saving money along the way. You may even get the chance to learn more about how local people are living.

Going downhill for most of the way was easier and a bit quicker. We were happy to reach the beach and it was very tempting to jump into the ocean to cool down. If you have the energy, we’ve also been told it’s possible to find some good coral reefs for snorkelling on Nguna Island.

We’d been given the phone number of the boat owner who had taken us to Nguna, so we called him to find out where he was. He was actually getting ready to come over again, so we didn’t have to wait long for our return ride. It again cost us only 500 VT per person to get back to Emua Wharf.

Travel tip: When you need to return somewhere with the same boat owner (or taxi driver), make sure you take their phone number so you can arrange the return trip more easily.  

Final thoughts about Nguna Island

This was the first decent hike we completed in Vanuatu. The humidity was something we probably underestimated. We’d tried to leave early to avoid the worst of it, but waiting for a local boat and walking too far past the volcano entrance cost us some time. In hindsight, we’d definitely attempt this hike earlier in the morning and make sure we know where we’re going!

We were also fortunate to have locals who provided us with fresh coconut juice and pineapple. Although we had just enough water in the end, without them it probably wouldn’t have been enough. Definitely err on the side of too much than not enough water. And we’d recommend bringing some nuts and dried fruit or other snack to keep your energy level up.

Overall, we’d definitely recommend this hike as a challenging but rewarding adventure when staying on Efate.

Book your tour to Nguna island now

Other things to do near Nguna Island

If you haven't already, check out our article on the beach paradise awaiting for you at nearby Pele Island.

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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