Rugged mountains, West Santo, Vanuatu
We stop here, South Santo, Vanuatu
Small hurricane, West Santo, Vanuatu
Creek at Anguru
A few days after the hurricane, West Santo, Vanuatu
Garden girl, Kerepua, West Santo, Vanuatu
Mountains at dawn, Kerepua, West Santo, Vanuatu
Tiro coming down from Santo Pic
Dragonfly, West Santo, Vanuatu
Amongst the clouds on Mount Tabwemasana
Rus, Kerepua
Water bottle, Kerepua, West Santo, Vanuatu
Walking Santo

Pic Santo
It's a long walk to the Pic Santo summit, but the trail is not steep until the final ascent.

Santo Pic view, Vanuatu

The starting point is Ipayato, a Francophone village on south Santo. There are no tourist facilities here, you just turn up and ask to speak to Chief Jacob. He can arrange guides, porters and, if required, overnight accommodation. Usually you will go with two locals, one guide and one companion/helper. Guides cost 1500 Vatu per day. Exchange Rates. You pay more if asking them to carry lots of gear. There are no landowner fees as far as we know. Ipayato villagers prefer to start walking early in the week, on a Monday or Tuesday so that they might return by Sunday. There are a couple of basic stores in the village where you can do some last minute shopping and then off you go.

To get to the summit, you must walk, walk and walk. Frequent rests and stopping to take photos wastes time. Pace yourself, arrive at camp early and there will be plenty of free time to explore the bush.

The following time estimates are for steady walking and minimum rests (about 5 minutes every hour).

Day 1: 15 km and 4 hours walk to reach the hill forest. Starts in coconut plantations and then passes over a hill, where there is spring water, and up again before entering the forest. Leaving Ipayato mid-morning, you'll probably feel like stopping at Laivuro (elevation 513m, 4 hours), a good campsite with water 15 minutes downhill.

Day 2: 6.5 hours to the summit. Mataisulepoi (900 m elevation), a watersource and optional campsite, is 3.5 hours uphill from Laivuro (and could be reached from Ipayato in a day). The summit campsite at Kilivon (elevation 1600 m) is a further 3 hours steep climb. There is a creek about 15 minutes west of Kilivon and a viewpoint 5 minutes further west.

Day 3: Take your time descending and stop for the night somewhere like Laivuro (5.5 hours).

Day 4: Return to Ipayato (4 hours).

The top campsite at 1600 m is cold on a clear night (extrapolated mean minimum 11 degrees C in August). A warm top and a light sleeping bag or blanket are recommend. Bring your own tent. Rain is to be expected on Pic Santo and there are leeches at the mid-elevations, although they are few and not aggressive blood suckers. Dry season walking, June to September, is best. Camp fires are possible at lower elevations (Laivuro and Mataisulepoi). There are drinking water sources at the cam sites and you do not really need to carry water.

If you can find a knowledgeable guide, walking all of the way across Santo is possible. Three tracks meet at Pic Santo: one from Ipayato, one from west Santo and another from Big Bay.

Birdwatchers need to go to the summit proper to find the Santo Starling Aplornis santovestris, where they are rather common. Around 18 bird species can be seen on the summit. Most birdwatchers only get to about 1000 m elevation because they are too slow and don't have enough days.

Browse higher resolution pictures on our Vanuatu Protected Areas Showcase.

Mount Tabwemasana
The people of Kerepua used to live high in the mountains at Nokovula village before they moved down to the coast in the 1970s. Today only some clearings in the bush remain and rarely do people go up there, only when assisting scientists and guiding tourists.

For seasoned bush walkers, Tabwemasana is a straight-forward climb of moderate difficulty. Trekking is best during the dry season, July to September. The wet season, January to April, might be impossible because the river floods after heavy rains.

Kerepua village started a tourism project in 2006 and one year later they completed a bungalow. Guides are 1500 Vatu per day and there is a kastom fee of 1000 Vatu payable to the landowner, Ulboe ("Ull-boy"). Exchange Rates.

The following time estimates are for steady walking and minimum rests (about 5 minutes every hour).

Day 1: Full day 7 hours walk to the old village. Follow the river, crossing it several times (2.5 hours). Climb a steep, dry and slippery slope to an optional campsite (900 m elevation) by a small creek (2 hours). Continue through "white grass" and renter the forest, climb a second, steep and wet slope, pass over the mounatin spine and down to the top campsite (2.5 hours, 1100 m elevation). There is a creek 10 minutes walk south of the top campsite.

Day 2: Half-day 4.5 hours return climb of Tabwemasana. Go past Nokovula and climb up to a gully, where there is drinking water (1 hour, elevation 1400 m). Climb up the gully and then along the ridge to the summit (1.5 hours elevation 1800 m). Return to the top camp (2 hours down).

Day 3: Return to Kerepua village (6 hours).

Here's a topographic map of Kerepua and mount Tabwemasana (830 kb, 1700 x 1600 pixels).

There are regular drinking water sources. You do not really need to carry water. Both campsites have good camping and it's possible to make a fire in the dry season. Nights aren't very cold and a light sleeping bag or blanket should provide sufficient warmth. Bring your own tent. There is often mist and light rain at Nokovula.

For birdwatchers, at least 30 species can be seen at Nokovula.

Browse higher resolution pictures on our Vanuatu Protected Areas Showcase.

West coast
Walking the coastline of West Santo is mostly along the beach and and you can continue all the way around to Big Bay. You will pass a village at least every two or three hours. Keep you shoes on when crossing rivers: the last thing you want is a foot injury. You may occasionally need a guide, to find your way around the rocky headlands. There are shortcuts across the mountains from Elia to Big Bay bush, from Wunavae to Pialalup and from Penoru to Piamasina.

Heading east from Elia, it's 3 hours walk to the summit (1100 m elevation), another 5 hours down to Narata, a bush village in Big Bay, and then 2 hours more to White Grass on the Big Bay Highway (a dirt track with infrequent transport). There are trucks on weekday mornings to Luganville. For this walk, you can find local guides at Elia.

The track between Wunavae and Pialalup can be walked in a day. It takes about 4 hours from Wunavae up to the summit (1200 m elevation), 3 hours across a river valley (down to 700 m and up again to 900 m elevation) and a further 3 hours down to Pialalup. There's a sandy campsite in the river valley. You can find local guides at either Wunavae or Pialalup.

Piamasina to Penoru is a long walk. It is 6 hours walk from Piamasina to a rest area or rough campsite in wet cloud forest (1200 m elevation). This place is called Puriaepa. From here, it is a brisk 6 hour walk to the west coast, passing over the summit at 1400 m and gradually descending through dry forest.

There are speedboats along the west coast down to Tasiriki. Inside Big Bay, boats go to and from Matantas. There's an airport at Lajmoli but there have been no flights since a plane crash in 2008.

There is limited commercial accommodation along the west coast. Tasiriki has a guesthouse, Kerepua has a bungalow and Lajmoli has a guesthouse. Elsewhere you might be offered accommodation in a community house or privately. Finding your way around west Santo is most easy if you speak Bislama well. This is not tourism.

Middle bush
Starting from south Santo, it's possible to walk through the bush across to Big Bay and there are kastom villages in the interior. You will need experienced guides because there are tracks crossing everywhere, some going north, some going east and even a few crossing over the mountains to the west coast. Walking conditions are wet and challenging.

There are many villages on south Santo where one can start a trek. You start by meeting the local chief, requesting permission and a guide. This is not tourism. Starting your trek from Butmas (middle Santo) or Big Bay are other options.

Mayumi of Wrecks to Rainforest in Luganville organises jungle treks to the interior villages.

Last updated: October 2011 by Stephen.

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