Naghol Land Diving – Pentecost, Vanuatu
I have just reached the Naghol land diving festival on the island of Pentecost, Vanuatu. Ever since seeing it on TV as a child, along with the Small Nambas in Malekula, it has put Vanuatu on my bucket list.
We stand out in the middle of the jungle, up the end of sort-of road.
The air is filled with chants, whistles and the sound of the stamping of feet. Thirty people perform a traditional dance up on the hill. In front of them stands a 30m tall wooden structure, built from logs and vines.
It is like an ancient scaffold, only it looks much more dangerous.
At the top of that structure, a man stands with his hand together up looking at the sky, possibly asking for the luck to survive what is about to happen next. His feet are tied to vines. They are supposed to soften the blow when he hits the ground below.
Amongst the chanting, he jumps outwards, and within a second, he hits the ground. You can hear the vines tension and his contact with the ground from over 50 meters away.
This is the Naghol land diving festival. It is the craziest traditional event I have ever witnessed. Definitely, the craziest thing to do in my Vanuatu travel guide.
Welcome to Pentecost Island, Vanuatu.
The story behind Naghol Land Diving
Naghol land diving festival is regarded as the birthplace of modern day bungee jumping. The adrenaline sport that you often associate with Queenstown, New Zealand.
Naghol land diving follows on from a story where a woman cheated on her husband. He chased her up a coconut palm tree. At the top, she jumped off, and he followed. The wife tied vines to her legs and survived, while the husband did not and died.
Locals are adamant that this story is true, and that Naghol land diving has carried on since this event.
The land diving also marks the start of the Yam harvest season. The better the jump, the better the yams.
The land diving events are not performed for tourists. The event would occur even if not tourist were to show up. If there is word of a tourist group turning up, the event start time will be delayed until the group has arrived.
How high is the Naghol Land Dive?
The Naghol Land Diving Tower is typically 30 meters high from the uppermost diving platform. There are a number of platforms on the way up, starting at about 10 meters.
Younger children jump from the lower platform. Those who have jumped in previous ceremonies may jump from a higher platform. The final jump is from the top platform at about 30 meters. The completion of this jump marks the end of the ceremony.
How to get to Naghol (and Pentecost)
Flights: Air Vanuatu runs three flights a week from Port Vila to Lonorore, and four flights a week from Espiritu Santo. Bel Airways does not stop at Pentecost.
There are additional flights to Sara airport in the north, though the journey down to a Naghol land diving site would be at least half a day by road, and possibly more expensive than the flight itself.
Speedboat: If coming from a neighboring island it is possible to charter a speedboat (locally called banana boat). A charter fare from Olal (north Ambrym) is 15,000 vatu, while a charter fare from Craig’s Cove (east Abmrym) is 30,000 to 35,000 vatu.
You can reduce the charter boat fare by hopping on a ferry speedboat from Craig’s Cove to Olal first for 1,000 vatu. These only run when flights arrive and depart Craig’s Cove airport.
Cargo Boat: There are cargo boats running between Ambrym and Pentecost. Tickets are 2000 vatu per person and the journey is supposed to take about 8hrs. Read more about my trip on a cargo boat from Santo to Malekula here.
Car: From Lonorore airport it is a half hour drive to the closest Naghol land diving site. A charter vehicle will cost 6000 vatu for the day. You can split this with all passengers on the vehicle.
The best way to arrange transport is via Noda Guesthouse in Waterfall Village, about 30 minutes north of Lonorore airport.
How much does Naghol cost?
Entry to Naghol land diving attracts a 10,000 vatu entry fee. I have heard that some locations charge more, up to 12,000 vatu but have not seen this first hand. Either way, that is 5 times the cost of my 8hrs cargo boat from Santo to Malekula!
It is good that the money raised is used to develop facilities in the village such as school and medical centers. If you travel around Vanuatu’s outer islands long enough, you will understand this is actually much-needed funding.
Sure, the entry fee to Naghol land diving is expensive, but it is a once in a lifetime experience!
When is Naghol Land Diving?
The Naghol festival runs every Saturday between April and June. Come outside of these months and you won’t find much action happening.
The land diving commences at about 10am and runs for one to two hours. If there is word of a group of tourists coming, they may delay the start of the land diving for you.
If you are planning to fly out of Pentecost the same day as Naghol, it is best to book the Saturday 4pm flight with Air Vanuatu. Remember, flights in Vanuatu arrive and depart up to 2 hours early, but there is still plenty of time to catch this one if you attend the Naghol Land Diving site near to Lonorore.
Accommodation on Pentecost Island
I only stayed on Pentecost Island for one night, as it was the tail end of a huge trip, and the days were running out. I stayed at Noda Guesthouse in Waterfall Village. The owners Cylus and Vinet are very helpful and can arrange all the transfers and entry fees for you.
Noda Guesthouse is about 3,500 vatu per night. You’ll easily save money on transfers to Naghol by sharing the ride with other travelers staying at Noda.
Where to next in Vanuatu?
- Meet cannibal tribes in Malekula
- Swim in the incredible Blue Lagoons in Santo
- Hike two active volcanoes in Ambrym
- Head off the beaten track to Uripiv Island