What is the Millennium Cave tour?
The Millennium Cave takes its name from the year 2000. It was at that time that the local landowners decided to begin taking tourists to see the nearby cave. The son of the local chief and another villager first created a path through the jungle to the cave. They also added handles, ladders and ropes to make it easier to navigate through the canyons after leaving the cave. The cave itself had only been discovered by the villagers in the 1970s.
The tour takes the whole day. They will first pick you up from your accommodation in Luganville. If you’re staying outside of Luganville, you can arrange a meeting place with them in town. The road to the village is very rough and requires a 4WD. You will first be taken to the house of the chief’s son to receive a briefing of the Millennium Cave tour. You will discover that the tour involves a number of different activities and modes of transport along the way.
First you will travel along an unpaved road in poor condition for about an hour by car to get near the village. You will then hike through the jungle for one to two hours (depending on your fitness, the condition of the track and the exact route chosen) before arriving at the Millennium Cave. The cave has a river running through it and is pitch black. After exiting the cave you will stop for lunch before beginning your journey down the river. This will involve some canyoneering in places and simply floating down the river in others. Finally, you will take a shortcut back up the mountain to the village before taking the journey back to town.
Our experience on the Millennium Cave tour
We’d heard from others that they haven’t been offering the tour recently because of heavy rain that had been falling. We contacted the tour’s booking office on +678 37365 and confirmed they were running again with the fine weather the last couple of days. We arranged to be picked up in front of the main supermarket in town (LCM).
Our driver Matthew picked us up in a 4WD ute. We sat in the tray in the back on a bench seat. You will be on the tour all day and won’t be near any shops or even roadside stores to pick up anything to eat. You therefore need to make sure to bring a packed lunch. We asked Matthew to stop at a shop where we could buy something for lunch.
Voyage Green tip: Whenever you’re hiking, stay hydrated with a reusable bottle that has a strong filter. This way you minimise the use of plastic and other resources, while also saving money (it costs about 150 VT for a 1.5L bottle).
After a short ride to the outskirts of Luganville, we arrived at Sam’s house. Sam is the son of the chief of the local landowners of the Millennium Cave. He showed us the map below of what the tour would involve. He also explained how the money for the tour would be used to support the local school they set up for the children from their village. Over 100 children have been educated at the school to date. The money is also used to pay for the driver and guide on the tour, providing income for more people and further supporting the community.
The tour costs 9,500 VT per person. We also had to sign some paperwork confirming that we didn’t have any medical conditions and that we accept the risks involved. Considering all the activities involved, it’s obvious that you need to have a good level of fitness. This includes a strong sense of balance to ensure you can navigate the canyons and climb up and down the mountain via wooden ladders. Having said that, our guide later told us that the oldest person to have completed the tour was a 79-year-old from New Zealand.
After the briefing we returned to our transport. The ride to the village took us about an hour. As mentioned, this road was unpaved and as we’d travelled after heavy rain it was also full of potholes and deep puddles of water. This was the first time we’d travelled in the back of a ute on this trip and it was definitely an experience! We felt a bit sore and bruised as we were thrown around and had to hang on tightly during the trip. We should also mention that locals were also joining us in the ute and would get out along the way to the village, so you won’t have the transport to yourself.
We picked up our guide David along the side of the road as we neared the village. After exiting the ute, we had to walk for about 15 minutes before arriving at the village. As we’d come from our accommodation, we had all of our luggage with us. This was definitely a mistake and in hindsight we should have dropped it off at our next accommodation first and just taken a day bag. However, David was kind enough to carry some of the luggage for us and we stored it in a house in the village when we arrived.
David confirmed that we’d be getting wet as soon as we enter the Millennium Cave. After having lunch in a picnic area we’d then be floating down the river and doing some canyoneering. He was able to put our lunch in a backpack along with our iPhone in double zip lock bags to prevent any potential water damage. He did a great job carrying the backpack above his head when needed, but it’s better to be safe than sorry (especially after our experience on Mount Garet). We’d definitely advise against bringing too many possessions with you and for us it was easiest wearing clothes and hiking shoes that we just kept on the whole time. We left some dry clothes to get changed into once we finished the tour back at the village.
We started our hike to the Millennium Cave. The path was quite wide and easy to walk on. As there had been heavy rain for some days previously, there were spots that were muddy but overall it was actually a pleasant walk through the jungle. The vegetation became more like rainforest along the way and the canopy provided welcome shade from the sun.
We approached a fork in the path and David explained that he would be taking us via a shortcut, about twenty minutes quicker. It also meant we avoided using a wooden ladder to go down the mountain. Without using a ladder it was steep and slippery in places and was definitely the hardest part of the hike. But we made it down safely and reached the side of the river and could see the entrance to the Millennium Cave. We were surprised at how tall the entrance was and the size of the rock overhanging it.
David had picked up some clay along the way to perform a face-painting ceremony. Paying our respect to the river, cave and boulders, David marked our face with clay for each part of nature asking for successful passage through them. We made our way over some rocks into the entrance of the cave. The water from a stream was flowing over our lower legs as we entered.
As we progressed further it became pitch black. David had provided us with some waterproof torches and we used these to light our way down the river and through the cave. We had to navigate some slippery rocks in places and use our hands to balance ourselves. Just be careful - we sometimes saw birds resting on rocks as they waited for their wings to dry!
Shining the light above us we could see the cave walls reaching up in a cathedral-like formation with birds and bats flying around. They were also nesting in tiny holes in the walls, their heads stuck in first and their tiny ends sticking out at us. We turned our torches off a couple of times to experience the darkness and the sounds of the animals sharing the cave with us.
The cave went on further than we expected and it was a bit tricky to navigate at times. We were glad we made the decision to keep our hiking boots on for the whole journey. The light at the end of the cave beckoned us and we came out to an area where the stream joined up with a river. There was an area on the side of the river where we had a picnic lunch. It was a serene spot to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery around us. The exit of the Millennium Cave was opposite us with the river flowing in front of it and we could see the beginning of the canyon to the left.
This is where we made our way after lunch. We walked down the side of the river until there was a deep section where we could enter the water to float down the canyon. We’d been provided with water jackets to make the trip easier. As we floated along we could see the high water mark when there are heavy rains. We could see moss covering the sides of the canyon up to this water mark.
We enjoyed the sensation of being carried along by the water and the life jacket supporting us. Before long we came upon the first lot of rocks that required us to exit the water to traverse. These rocks were also covered in moss and there were a number of metal handles and steps engraved into the rock to help us traverse them safely.
We were rewarded with another section where we could float along the river. Laying on our backs we looked up to see the jungle groping its way along the edges of the canyon. It was incredibly peaceful and also somewhat surreal to be floating through a jungle.
This process of scrambling over rocky sections before being able to continue with serenely floating down the river was repeated a couple more times. David expertly guided us through some of the tricky sections requiring a strong sense of balance and dexterity with ropes or handles to get past. It was definitely a relief to enter the water after successfully completing each stage of the canyoneering.
Another surprise along the way was a section where the walls narrowed and the water became more shallow. Water was tumbling down the right side of the canyon to form a beautiful waterfall. We made our way underneath it and enjoyed the massaging effect of the water on our bodies.
It had been so enjoyable that there was a sense of disappointment when we reached the exit point. We said our goodbyes to the river and made our way to a series of step ladders that formed a short cut back to the village. They were so steep that there were ropes hanging down alongside the ladders to assist our climb up. There were also some sections with steps cut into the stone that were a bit slippery.
Eventually we reached the top of the mountain where the path continued along the ridge. We caught our breath and enjoyed the stunning views over the valley below. It was then a brief hike back to the village. We passed through their gardens and a coconut plantation. David explained that their village no longer processes and sells coconut oil and instead relies on kava as their main source of income (apart from the Millennium Cave).
We arrived back at the village more quickly than expected. There was a room where we could get changed into some dry clothes. The villagers had prepared some boiled taro and bananas with coffee and tea as a light refreshment. It probably would have been a good idea for us to bring some protein bars or other snacks in hindsight as we’re not big fans of boiled taro! It was then time to travel back to the main road where Matthew (our driver) met us to take us back to our accommodation in Luganville.
We would definitely recommend this tour if you’re in Luganville. Although somewhat difficult to get to the village and back again, it’s worth the time and effort. It was one of our most unique experiences while in Vanuatu. However, keep in mind that they don’t operate under the safest of conditions. We weren’t offered helmets and some of the sections in the canyons are dangerous to navigate. If you’re someone who becomes anxious as you calculate all of the ways that each step could go wrong, this probably isn’t the tour for you! But if you’re fit, enjoy a physical challenge and don’t suffer from claustrophobia or dark places, then go for it.
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!)