About Mt Hope Waterfall
The Mount Hope Waterfall seemed to us to be the less strenuous alternative land excursion to the “must-do” Millennium Cave Tour on Espiritu Santo Island. Not only did this tour cost less and took only half the day, but it was somewhat similar to the river floating part of the Millennium Cave 4-in-1 all-day tour. The key difference with this waterfall versus the waterfalls we had encountered in Millennium Cave was that we were able to climb up the Mount Hope Waterfall in much the same way as say the Dunns River Falls in Jamaica though we only went with one other couple so the experience was far more intimate and less “cheezy”.
The waterfall itself was on the Mt Hope River, which slid in sheets of water before cascading down a wider limestone slope that was flat enough to enable climbing. I don’t know how tall it was but since it didn’t take too long to climb it, I’d imagine it was more on the order of 30-50ft tall or so (maybe 15m tops). Ultimately, the waterfall spilled into the Sarakata River, which was the very river we had floated on to reach the base of the falls in the first place. It also happened to be the same river that would eventually join up with the canyoning and swimming section of the Millennium Cave tour we had done two days prior.
Our tour began with the usual pick-up from our accommodation. Since the tour was administered by Oyster Island Resort, we were actually picked up and guided by ni-Van locals employed by the resort. After a short stint on the well-paved road north from Luganville to around the Oyster Island turnoff, the 4wd vehicle then veered inland onto a very rutted and bumpy road leading us into the Mount Hope property. We were told by more than one source (one of our guides as well as an Aussie employee on Oyster Island Resort) that the Mt Hope cattle farm was recently bought by actress Cate Blanchett. And indeed, the plantation was quite huge as we noticed large tracts of bushland was cleared for cattle grazing leaving a few trees scattered throughout the massive pasture.
Anyways, once we got past a pair of gates (one of them was on a bridge over the Sarakata River), the driver stopped the 4wd at the top of some hill, and that was when we got our life jackets, put on our reef shoes, and left behind things we didn’t want to get drenched by the water (including my DSLR camera even though we did borrow someone’s dry bag). At that point, we walked back down the hill towards the bridge where we got briefed by one of the guides, then we descended beneath the bridge to get into the Sarakata River itself. One guy in our group was an adventurous and daring dude, and he actually followed a different guide to a plunge spot where he jumped some 10m or so into the river.
At this point, we were pretty much floating in the river though some sections had a little bit of a current. In the sections with the current, we learned that the best way to let the current pull us without hurting ourselves was to go feet first and keep our feet and our bums as high on the surface of the river as possible. This was because there were some shallow rocks beneath us. There were probably some 3 or 4 sections like that with the last one pulling us right beneath the Mt Hope Waterfall.
There were very limited spots to stop and take photos even with a dry bag (as it was non-trivial to take photos while floating), but the photo you see at the top of this page was perhaps the most obvious spot to look at the Mt Hope Waterfall while standing on rocks (thereby allowing for photos). Our guides were positioned at the base of the falls to pull us from right beneath the falls as they didn’t want anyone floating past the falls and towards a 30ft dropoff further downstream.
Then, we climbed up to the middle of the Mt Hope Falls and chilled out for a bit as the Mt Hope River was sliding all around us. There was one spot of the falls where it was possible to go behind and into a tiny “cave”. Our guide John even joked that you could smoke a cigarette in there. Anyways, when that bit of chilling out was done, we finished the climb to the top of the falls where the waterfall flattened out even more to the point where the Mt Hope River slid in wide sheets of water. We had to be careful about sitting or laying down in this part of the river because apparently there were tiny worms that could cling onto our skin (though they weren’t leeches).
Finally, we got out of the water, reapplied bug spray, then did a short 15- to 20-minute jungle walk before reaching the 4wd road in an open area. We then followed the 4wd back up a hill where our 4wd vehicle had been parked. And after a short grapefruit break in which we recovered our belongings and sat in the vehicle, we were then transported back to our accommodations to end the tour. Overall, this tour would typically take 4-5 hours (including the 50-minute transport in each direction), but it took us a little while longer because our guides accommodated our tour mates who wanted to go back to Luganville to try some local food.
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 Mt Hope Waterfall excursion would be by tour. We had this arranged through our accommodation, and once we were picked up, they pretty much did the rest in terms of getting us there.
Julie and I each paid about 5000 vatu (roughly $50 USD per person as of November 2014), and the entire tour (including transport) took roughly 4-5 hours.
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