Millennium Cave Waterfalls

Vunaspef Village / Luganville, Sanma Province, Vanuatu

About Millennium Cave Waterfalls


Hiking Distance: tour; 5-6km hiking; also canyoning and river floating
Suggested Time: 8 hours

Date first visited: 2014-11-23
Date last visited: 2014-11-23

Waterfall Latitude: -15.43581
Waterfall Longitude: 167.07321

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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.

Millenium_Cave_056_jx_11232014 - The 'Hidden World Waterfall' - one of the Millenium Cave Waterfalls seen on the tour
The ‘Hidden World Waterfall’ – one of the Millenium Cave Waterfalls seen on the tour

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

Millenium_Cave_010_jx_11232014 - Looking out from inside the Millennium Cave, where you can see that ladders were part of the 'trail' we had to go on
Looking out from inside the Millennium Cave, where you can see that ladders were part of the ‘trail’ we had to go on

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.

Millenium_Cave_032_jx_11232014 - The Millennium Cave Tour was a truly amphibious adventure that involved swimming as well as hiking
The Millennium Cave Tour was a truly amphibious adventure that involved swimming as well as hiking

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.

So that meant that having a waterproof enclosure for your camera or phone, or better yet a GoPro might be the way to go to document your experience.

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.

Millenium_Cave_066_jx_11232014 - In addition to swimming, we also needed to do some degree of rough hiking on the Millennium Cave Tour like this nearly vertical climb up a cascade
In addition to swimming, we also needed to do some degree of rough hiking on the Millennium Cave Tour like this nearly vertical climb up a cascade

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.

Millenium_Cave_018_jx_11232014 - Wading through the Millennium Cave on the amphibious part of the tour, which would be a very dangerous place to be in bad weather
Wading through the Millennium Cave on the amphibious part of the tour, which would be a very dangerous place to be in bad weather

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.

Millenium_Cave_001_11222014 - A basic map of our entire Millennium Cave Tour at the 'office' in Luganville
A basic map of our entire Millennium Cave Tour at the ‘office’ in Luganville

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.

Millenium_Cave_007_11222014 - Traditional homes at Nambel Village just prior to our hike to Vunaspef Village
Traditional homes at Nambel Village just prior to our hike to Vunaspef Village

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.

Millenium_Cave_014_11222014 - Crossing a bamboo bridge (kind of Naked and Afraid style) during the walk from Vunaspef Village to the Millennium Cave
Crossing a bamboo bridge (kind of Naked and Afraid style) during the walk from Vunaspef Village to the Millennium Cave

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.

Millenium_Cave_037_11222014 - An overlook of the jungle seen from Stop 1 of the 3.3km trek on the Millennium Cave Tour
An overlook of the jungle seen from Stop 1 of the 3.3km trek on the Millennium Cave Tour

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

Millenium_Cave_056_11222014 - Context of the steep descent leading to the upper entrance of the Millennium Cave, which was that hole down below
Context of the steep descent leading to the upper entrance of the Millennium Cave, which was that hole down below

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.

Millenium_Cave_083_11222014 - Approaching the upper entrance to the Millennium Cave
Approaching the upper entrance to the Millennium 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.

Millenium_Cave_106_11222014 - A hidden waterfall inside the Millennium Cave, which was lit up by our headlamps
A hidden waterfall inside the Millennium Cave, which was lit up by our headlamps

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.

Millenium_Cave_154_11222014 - Once we made it out the other end of the Millennium Cave Tour, we got to cool off and have lunch in front of this swimming hole and cascade
Once we made it out the other end of the Millennium Cave Tour, we got to cool off and have lunch in front of this swimming hole and cascade

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”.

Millenium_Cave_025_jx_11232014 - Canyoning the Sarakata River as we waded through this natural bridge
Canyoning the Sarakata River as we waded through this natural bridge

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.

Millenium_Cave_031_jx_11232014 - A scary-looking canyoning part of the Millennium Cave Tour, where we had to negotiate dropoffs and slippery boulders with footholds to get past this section
A scary-looking canyoning part of the Millennium Cave Tour, where we had to negotiate dropoffs and slippery boulders with footholds to get past this section

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.

Millenium_Cave_042_jx_11232014 - Julie being led by our guide towards an attractive waterfall deep in the gorge carved out by the Sarakata River
Julie being led by our guide towards an attractive waterfall deep in the gorge carved out by 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.

Millenium_Cave_062_jx_11232014 - Looking back at the Sarakata River as we were about to embark on a climb to get out of the gorge and back to the Vunaspef Village
Looking back at the Sarakata River as we were about to embark on a climb to get out of the gorge and back to the Vunaspef Village

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.

Millenium_Cave_077_jx_11232014 - Julie going up this ladder towards the end of our climb out of the Sarakata River Gorge
Julie going up this ladder towards the end of our climb out of the Sarakata River Gorge

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.

Millenium_Cave_080_jx_11232014 - Returning through the fields towards the Vunaspef Village to conclude the active part of the Millennium Cave Tour
Returning through the fields towards the Vunaspef Village to conclude the active part of the Millennium Cave Tour

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.

Authorities

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.

Millenium_Cave_003_11222014 - Looking ahead at the trail we were about to walk to get from Nambel Village to the Vunaspef Village to kick off the active part of our Millennium Cave Tour
Millenium_Cave_005_11222014 - The dirt lot or clearing at Nambel Village before we made our way to Vunaspef Village. Nambel Village was at the end of a bumpy drive
Millenium_Cave_009_11222014 - Looking across Nambel Village, which had a very large clearing
Millenium_Cave_011_11222014 - Hiking through Nambel Village en route to Vunaspef Village
Millenium_Cave_012_11222014 - The hike between the villages (Nambel and Vunaspef) was pretty tame as we mostly followed this 4wd road
Millenium_Cave_015_11222014 - Continuing our bush walk to get from Nambel Village to Vunaspef Village
Millenium_Cave_017_11222014 - Starting to see houses from the Vunaspef Village as we were approaching it
Millenium_Cave_020_11222014 - Approaching Vunaspef Village (20 minutes hike from Nambel Village)
Millenium_Cave_023_11222014 - Entering the shelter in Vunaspef Village, where we got briefed again while being fitted for life jackets
Millenium_Cave_024_11222014 - Another sign reinforcing our four-in-one Millennium Cave Tour that we were about to embark on starting from the Vunaspef Village
Millenium_Cave_027_11222014 - Other buildings comprising Vunaspef Village
Millenium_Cave_028_11222014 - Hiking beyond Vunaspef Village and towards the jungle
Millenium_Cave_029_11222014 - Our guides identified this plant for its stinging leaves though truthfully, it's visually hard to tell one leaf from the next
Millenium_Cave_030_11222014 - Jungle trekking for about 3.3km from Vunaspef Village to the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_041_11222014 - Passing by a shelter during our trek to get from Vunaspef Village to the Millennium Cave in the early part of our Millennium Cave Tour
Millenium_Cave_042_11222014 - The vines said to be used for the land diving Nagol ceremony on Pentecost Island, when they're elastic enough between April to June
Millenium_Cave_045_11222014 - This was the red clay that was used to paint our faces at the second stop just before descending to the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_050_11222014 - Making the descent along a ledge before the steep descent down to Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_051_11222014 - Context of the thick jungle as we were making our descent to the upper entrance of the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_054_11222014 - The group continuing the descent down to the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_062_11222014 - It was so steep that Julie and I had to descend backwards on the way to the upper entrance of the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_067_11222014 - The group about to enter the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_069_11222014 - Context of the upper entrance of the Millennium Cave before we were about to go in
Millenium_Cave_075_11222014 - Julie about to enter the cavernous entrance of the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_089_11222014 - Looking up towards the pothole opening on the ceiling of the upper entrance to the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_091_11222014 - About to enter the darkness of the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_092_11222014 - This photo perhaps better conveys the scale of the cave entrance and pothole at the ceiling of the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_101_11222014 - Looking back at the ladder we had to descend to get inside the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_103_11222014 - Looking back towards the cave entrance for the Millennium Cave as we went deeper into the darkness
Millenium_Cave_108_11222014 - Looking up at a hidden waterfall inside the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_112_11222014 - Looking ahead towards daylight at the mouth of the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_125_11222014 - Getting closer to the mouth of the Millennium Cave, where we finally saw daylight again after about 30 minutes of darkness
Millenium_Cave_127_11222014 - Looking back at the mouth of the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_137_11222014 - The group taking a lunch break near the mouth of the Millennium Cave
Millenium_Cave_162_11222014 - This pair of short cascades and swimming hole was our lunch spot before continuing onto the canyoning part of the Millennium Cave Tour
Millenium_Cave_023_jx_11232014 - Canyoning the Sarakata River
Millenium_Cave_035_jx_11232014 - Then, we floated through scenic narrow gorges of the Sarakata River
Millenium_Cave_049_jx_11232014 - Julie and our guide Serge getting wet beneath the 'Hidden World Waterfall', which was perhaps the best of the Millennium Cave Waterfalls
Millenium_Cave_060_jx_11232014 - Floating away from the scenic 'Hidden World Waterfall'
Millenium_Cave_072_jx_11232014 - Serge climbing up besides another part of the cascade on the way back up to Vunaspef Village
Millenium_Cave_076_jx_11232014 - A rope helped with this particularly vertical part of the climb back up to Vunaspef Village
Millenium_Cave_078_jx_11232014 - Looking across the thick jungle after having successfully climbed out of the Sarakata River gorge at the end of our Millennium Cave Tour
Millenium_Cave_168_11222014 - Returning to Nambel Village and our awaiting transport back to our respective accommodations to end our epic day at the Millennium Cave Tour

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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.

To give you some additional context, Luganville was the main town of Espiritu Santo Island. It took a one-hour flight from Port Vila (on the main island of Efate) to get here.

Looking around at the head of the Millennium Cave showing a small cascade as well as the impressive cave itself with many bats or swallows flying about the potholed arch opening at its roof


Inside the head of the Millennium Cave before we proceeded further into the darkness hiking within the Bamboo River


At the other end of the Millennium Cave where we enjoyed a picnic lunch and swim at this small pair of cascades


Looking up and around one of the waterfalls we encountered while floating on the Sarakata River as part of the Millennium Cave excursion


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Tagged with: vunaspef, luganville, espiritu santo, sanma, vanuatu, millenium cave, hidden world, waterfall, nambel



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About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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