About Millennium Cave Waterfalls
The Millennium Cave Waterfalls were pretty much our waterfalling excuse to do what was arguably the best land excursion on the beautiful Espiritu Santo Island in Vanuatu.
In addition to going through a very large (and very dark) cave, we also did a rough canyon scramble both in the river as well as on boulders and cliffs above it, and then we floated on the river for a bit.
Throughout this full day excursion, we visited several small cascades as well as a few taller ones, including the so-called “Hidden World Waterfall” pictured above.
At least one of the waterfalls also doubled as a swimming hole to cool off and have a little fun.
As you can see from the photos on this page, the waterfalls were worth the effort.
That said, there was also so much more to our tour that weren’t related to waterfalls, which we’ll get into in the detailed tour description below.
Some Basic Logistics of the Millennium Cave Tour
The Millennium Cave Tour took at least eight hours.
It was primarily a pretty involved amphibious adventure so I’d recommend rugged shoes with traction you can use to hike, climb, wade in water, and even swim.
I tend to use Keens for such jungle hiking conditions, and they served me well on this excursion.
And since a good deal of the tour involved getting wet, I also wore swimming trunks along with a shirt that I could get wet.
As for camera equipment, the tour operators kept a dry bag that we could use.
However, one thing I learned the hard way was that once I left my DLSR camera in the dry bag in the second half of the tour, I didn’t see it again until the end of the tour.
The tour also provided lunch and refreshments, but anything else you choose to bring in a pack may also need to be put in the dry bag when it came to the really wet parts of the tour.
Finally, for reasons that will become clear in the tour description, the Millennium Cave Tour is a good weather excursion.
Basically, the lower the river levels and the lesser the rainfall, the more enjoyable the experience will be.
If it had been raining pretty signifantly, this would be a very dangerous excursion as the precarious footholds would certainly be more slippery (not good if there’s dropoff exposure).
Moreover, the risk of fatal flash floods as well as higher water levels would be too great, especially in the confines of both the cave and the gorges.
We’ve been told that they tend to cancel the tour under such circumstances.
Experiencing the Millennium Cave Tour – Pickup, Orientation, and the Vunaspef Village
Our tour began with us being picked up from the resort then headed towards the end of Luganville.
Once there, we stopped at the “office” for the locally-run Millennium Cave Tours, which was located near a bridge.
Inside that office, we had to register, pay for the tour (about 8600 vatu per person when we did it in November 2014), and get a briefing from Samuel, who was apparently the manager.
The briefing went over the logistics of our tour from where we were going and what the tour entailed.
Once that was done, we hopped back into the 4wd vehicle, and then proceeded to be driven through an old WWII airstrip, before continuing on some really rough and bumpy roads until arriving at Nambel Village.
From Nambel Village, we had to walk about 20 minutes through a lightly cleared jungle while crossing over a bridge layered with thick stems of bamboo loosely lying adjacent and on top of each other.
After this short walk, we then arrived in Vunaspef Village (I’ve also seen it spelled Funaspef) where we did the remaining preparations for the Millennium Cave Tour.
This was where we got fitted for life jackets, got another briefing from one of the local guides from the village, and have an opportunity to buy some local crafts.
This shelter seemed to be the main congregation area for the village (or at least for the tour).
Experiencing the Millennium Cave Tour – Hiking to the Vunaspef to the Millennium Cave
Beyond the Vunaspef Village we then went on a 3.3km walk that took roughly 90 minutes.
The walk was fairly gentle as the elevation changes weren’t severe and we were mostly in the shade of the jungle so sun exposure wasn’t too much of a problem.
Of course, being in a tropical climate, we were still hot and sweaty from the heat and humidity despite the shade.
Breaking up the walk, we made a few stops so the guides could point out things like stinging leaves, bananas, and even the vines that were used in Pentecost Island for the land diving ceremony called Nagol.
At the apex of this walk (about 40 minutes from Vunaspef Village), we reached a set of bamboo trees where there was an overlook of the jungle.
Then, the hike descended towards the next stop roughly 25 minutes later.
At this stop, we each put on life jackets while we had our faces painted with some kind of red clay.
Apparently, each marking represented an aspect of the next leg of our journey (i.e. the cave, the river, the canyoning, etc.).
Each guide was responsible for a pair of tourists so Julie and I were accompanied by a personal guide at this point.
It would turn out that this guide was absolutely necessary to help keep us out of trouble as the adventure was about to get real interesting.
Experiencing the Millennium Cave Tour – Passing through the Millennium Cave
The next part of the walk involved descending switchbacks where we were able to look down upon the upper entrance of the impressive Millennium Cave itself.
Some parts of the descent were so steep that we had to descend ladders backwards.
Then, as we were entering the Bamboo River (the one entering the cave), we had to really pay attention to our guide.
He helped to make sure we used the footholds carved into rocks.
He also made sure that we took advantage of the dry bag to keep our cameras or other things from getting drenched inside the cave.
It was very important that we either wore river shoes or reef shoes at this point as we’d frequently be in the water at this point.
After passing by a tiny cascade, we then found ourselves within the very tall cave entrance.
At the cavernous entrance, we noticed lots of flying things (either bats or swallows or both) were literally circling around the cave ceiling near a pothole opening letting some daylight illuminate some of the darkness.
As we went deeper into the cave, we would need to hang onto our flashlights or don headlamps as that would be the only source of light piercing through the pitch black from the absence of daylight.
And for nearly the next half-hour, we went through one of the more intense experiences we could remember as we would literally feel our way through the cave.
Meanwhile, we’d be passing under some bats and cave insects while wading amongst freshwater prawns and even passing by a waterfall coming out of a cave wall.
When we finally made it to the mouth of the cave, we then paused for a lunch break near a pair of small cascades spilling between and under giant boulders on the Sarakata River.
This spot also doubled as a swimming hole as we had a chance to cool off and play for a bit over our self-brought sack lunches.
The break was welcome, but it would turn out that the next part of the tour would be even more intense than spending a half-hour hiking in darkness through the Millennium Cave.
Before continuing, our guides encouraged me to leave the DSLR in a dry bag to go with one of the guides directly back to the village.
Although it turned out to be a pretty wise move, it turned out that there were opportunities and moments to take photos or capture videos in the next part of the tour that I’d miss out on doing.
Experiencing the Millennium Cave Tour – River Canyoning
Next, we then walked downstream along the Sarakata River before it quickly became “canyoning”.
At least the excursion wasn’t technical canyoning (or canyoneering) where fancy equipment would be needed.
Instead, it was mostly wading (and even swimming in some spots) in the river as well as hanging onto ledges and footholds with exposure to dropoffs.
Some sections of the river had a strong current near some small waterfalls so indeed there was no shortage of hazards here.
In fact, I would say this section of the tour was perhaps the most treacherous part.
We really had to pay attention to our guides as well as concentrate on where we were placing our hands and feet.
I could totally see why the minimum age for this tour was 12 years old.
There was no way we could’ve even entertained bringing our three-year-old daughter along.
After another 20-30 minutes of this canyoning part, we then got to a calm part of the Sarakata River.
This ultimately ended the canyoning part of the tour and started the next leg of the tour, which involved floating on the Sarakata River.
Experiencing the Millennium Cave Tour – Floating through the “Hidden World”
Next, we could rely on our life jackets and simply let the slow current of the river take us further downstream while we were surrounded by tall slot-canyon-like gorge walls.
This was the part of the tour that was informally referred to as the “Hidden World”, and it seemed to be an appropriate name given that it would otherwise be inaccessible.
And as we were floating through the “Hidden World”, we then saw a couple of waterfalls.
One was only a trickle as we had showed up at the very start of the Wet Season in late November.
However, shortly thereafter, we saw a very impressive “Hidden World Waterfall” (see photo at the top of this page), which was by far the best waterfall we would witness on this tour.
When the river floating part was over, we then spent the last 20-30 minutes hiking up a very steep (nearly vertical) “trail”.
On this “trail”, we literally climbed up small cascades, climbed up nearly vertical walls with footholds and rope as aids, and climbed up a tall ladder near the uppermost part of the ascent.
Then, we walked through some plantations of taro, kava roots, coconuts, and pineapples among others, before returning to the Vunaspef Village (nearly 2.5 hours since our lunch break).
That was where we recovered the items that didn’t accompany us in the canyoning and floating of the Sarakata River.
There were also really sweet fruit refreshments of pineapple, papaya (or paw paw as they call it here), and bananas with some lemonade.
After the last 20 minutes of walking back to Nambel Village, we then returned to our transport vehicle.
Then, we spent the remaining 45 minutes getting through the bumpy roads, then smooth roads back to our resorts near Luganville.
Overall, the tour took roughly 8 hours (starting from 8am and ending around 4:15pm).
I know Julie as well as some of the ladies that were on the tour with us were in the mood for a massage when the adventure was over.
The Millennium Cave Waterfalls are part of the Millennium Cave Tour, which is run from Luganville in Espiritu Santo Island, Vanuatu. It is administered by the Millennium Cave Tours. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Since we didn’t self drive Espiritu Santo Island, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to drive off the paved roads (given how rough and rugged they were), I’d say the best way to do the Millennium Cave would be by tour.
We were made aware that there were two types of Millennium Cave tours, and apparently you can tell them apart by the color of the transport vehicles being used.
The one we ended up taking was the Millennium Cave Tours run by Samuel Andikar, which was in a grey or white “bus” (more like a van).
We saw a different competing tour that other tourists have used involving a yellow van or “bus”.
We can’t say anything about the latter option since we didn’t do it.
I recalled it took about 45-60 minutes of bumpy roads to get from Luganville to Nambel Village.
It took a similar amount of time to return from the village to our accommodation in or around Luganville.
Again, I recalled we paid about 8600 VT per person (roughly $86 USD per person as of November 2014; 2000 VT is the kastom fee going to the village owning the local area), and the entire tour (including transport) took roughly 8 hours.
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