Volcanos: what to see and where (Image Editor)

11 explosive volcanic experiences

1st September 2004

11 of the world's most eruptive volcanic experiences, to get you hot under the collar

Paul Bloomfield

1. Best for dawn views: Bromo, Indonesia

Opinions are split as to which is the definitive view: the one from Bromo’s rim at dawn, with the Javanese landscape spread at your feet; or the one from nearby Penanjakan, where Bromo lines up with its more-active brother, Semeru, spluttering and grumbling behind it. Whichever view you go for, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park won’t disappoint. The long-dead Tengger caldera is 10km wide with walls up to 700m high. Within these confines sit a number of perfect volcanic cones of which Bromo is the most impressive, its corrugated greenery sticking up like a chameleon’s eye from the Sea of Sand.

Do it: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is (controversially) still advising against all non-essential travel to Indonesia. Rumour has it this might have changed by the time you read this.

Or try... Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

2. Best for education: Mount St Helens, USA

 

Want to see what an eruption with the power of 21,000 atomic bombs can do? The 1980 rumblings of Mount St Helens left the glacier-clad peak 400m shorter, with a 1.6km-wide crater on its northern side. Today, it is designated a National Volcanic Monument, and is the best place to learn about volcanoes and see first-hand how a landscape recovers from such devastation. Pop into the visitor centre, walk along a 2.5km lava tube or explore one of the interpretive paths that cover the scoured landscape.

Do it: It’s the States, so you need a hire car. There’s good camping at Seaquest State Park.

Or try... La Palma, Canary Islands

3. Best for peak-bagging: Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

 

It’s the biggest free-standing mountain in the world, and one of Africa’s most recognisable icons. These days Kili’s a busy place: chances are your next-door neighbour’s uncle has climbed it, but at 5,895m it is still the challenge of a lifetime.

Do it: You can’t climb Kili independently, but lots of UK travel operators run treks there, or you can book locally in Moshi or Arusha.

Or try... Cotopaxi, Ecuador

4. Best for social types: Mount Fuji, Japan

Yes, there is a souvenir shop at the top, even though – at 3,776m – this is the highest mountain in Japan. And yes, it does get ridiculously busy – about 180,000 people cram themselves onto the cold summit during the July-August climbing season. But that’s why every visitor to Japan should climb Mount Fuji: it’s a rite of passage for the Japanese, making it a rare chance for gaijin (foreigners) to do something with them on an equal, if chilly, footing.

Do it: At least three buses a day run direct from Tokyo’s Shinjuku bus terminal to Kawaguchi-ko 5th Station on Mount Fuji during the climbing season.

Or try... Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, USA

5. Best for jungle trekking: Réunion, Indian Ocean

 

Even if you know where it is (and most people don’t), Réunion will still delight you. It sits in the Indian Ocean 800km to the east of Madagascar, but it’s administratively part of France.

It’s also a world-class trekking destination. The round, 55km-wide island is the tip of an ancient submerged volcano, and its centre rears up to over 3,000m, so you can walk up through the climate zones – palm beaches, tropical fruit jungles, rainforest, alpine meadows and moon-like lava fields. Best of all, though, there are nearly 1,000km of mapped footpaths, with a network of mountain huts at convenient breaks and, of course, plenty of fantastic French food and wine to enjoy.

Do it: Maisons de la Montagne in St-Denis and Cilaos can give you route information, book mountain huts and arrange tours.

But beware: the huts need to be booked well in advance.

Or try... Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

6. Best for sunset: Santorini, Greece

 

Popular it may be, but there’s no denying that Santorini – or Thira, as the Greeks call it – is one of the world’s most dramatic geological sights. Today the Cyclades island is touristy, but about 3,650 years ago it was the site of the biggest explosion in recorded history. The volcano literally emptied itself into the atmosphere in a gargantuan blast, leaving its hollow centre to collapse into the Med. What was a large, round island became a star-and-sickle-shaped caldera rim. The best way to appreciate the scale of the place is to arrive by ferry. As the boat enters the caldera you are dwarfed by cliffs of black, red-brown and grey pumice.

Try to get away from the tourist hordes, find yourself a quiet spot among the blue and white buildings of Fira, the capital, and watch as the sun sets over the caldera and the sea sparkles below – you’ll feel the earth move.

Do it: Regular ferries link Santorini with Piraeas (near Athens), Iaklio on Crete, and the other Cyclades Islands. The island also has an airport, with regular links to Athens (www.olympicairlines.com).

Or try... Vesuvius, Italy

7. Best for sulphurous stink: Mount Etna, Italy

 

This 3,323m monster is not what you expect from Europe. It’s too wild, too elemental. Up at the top you can watch one of nature’s most spectacular shows: rivers of orange sludge ooze almost continuously from fissures beneath the main craters. Just remember to wear thick-soled shoes – even the solid ground can get pretty hot.

Do it: One early morning bus per day runs from Catania up to Rifugio Sapienza. From there you can either walk up (four hours) or, between April and October, take a guided minibus.

Or try... nearby Stromboli

8. Best for constant rumblings: Pacaya, Guatemala

 

Guatemala is rife with volcanoes but for the ultimate lava experience head for lively Volcan Pacaya, near Guatemala City. The climb is tough – you’ll spend the last hour of your ascent going two steps up, one step down on jet-black pumice – and at the top you can feel the heat through the soles of your shoes. Fissures glow orange and, if the wind suddenly changes direction, you’ll find yourself coughing through thick, yellow, sulphurous smoke.

Do it: Gran Jaguar Travel Agency in Antigua de Guatemala runs good-value trips.

Or try... Arenal, Costa Rica

9. Best for divers: White Island, New Zealand

 

Diving a live volcano might not seem like a good idea but in the home of the bungee jump, common sense has never stopped anyone having fun. NZ’s most active volcano is 50km off the coast of North Island, and offers unique diving opportunities. Underwater cracks turn the ocean into a giant Jacuzzi where kingfish, stingray and blue mao mao swim between the bubbles.

Do it: Dive White, based in Whakatane, organises trips.

Or try... Sangihe Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia

10. Best for hot springs: Kamchatka, Russia

 

Best known for appearing in the board game Risk, Kamchatka is a 1,000km-long peninsula dripping down from the eastern end of Russia. Like Iceland, it is often called the ‘land of fire and ice’ and, as in Iceland, the earth’s crust is wafer-thin here. Getting around isn’t easy – distances are big, and infrastructure nonexistent – but hire a helicopter to take you to the Valley of the Geysers and you’ll see one of the weirdest places on the planet. Giant mushrooms grow next to steaming lakes, and geysers belch at the wandering bears. Watch where you tread – in some places an insubstantial crust disguises pools of boiling mud.

Do it: Independent travel in Kamchatka is very difficult. EWP is a trekking company that specialises in this area. Its Kronotsky Reserve trek visits the Valley of the Geysers (www.ewpnet.com).

Or try... Geysir, Iceland

11. Best for the brave: Montserrat, Caribbean

You’ve got to be a keen vulcanologist to visit Montserrat – the volcano is still far too unpredictable to be a tourist attraction. The bottom two-thirds of the island have been uninhabited since the 1997 eruption, when most of the island’s 11,000 African-Irish inhabitants fled; a further eruption in 2003 covered the island in volcanic debris.

Do it: The runway is covered in lava, so get the ferry from nearby Antigua (www.visitmontserrat.com).

Or try...Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

And three of the world's most...

1. Active: Kilauea, the Big Island, Hawaii

The Pu'u O'o crater has been erupting continuously for 20 years.

2. Devastating: Krakatoa, Indonesia

The eruption of 27 August 1883 killed almost 40,000 people.

3. Wierdest lava: Ol Doinyo Lengai, Tanzania

See spatter cones, lava flows, lava lakes and low lava fountains.

 



 

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