You may have seen the startling footage of daredevil kayakers paddling right up close to a spewing Hawaiian volcano. That act was perhaps overdoing audacity a tad – an oar actually caught fire.
Volcanoes that aren’t right in the act of erupting, however, make great places to explore – their volatile theatrics remind us that our planet is a dynamic environment whose root processes are beyond human control.
So lace up your hiking boots and join us on a tour of five breathtaking volcano tours and hikes.
Iceland is synonymous with erupting volcanoes. In April 2010, an Icelandic volcano with an unpronounceable name burst so spectacularly that it disrupted flight traffic. Normally, the main volcanic attraction is the stunning Mt. Hekla.
According to Arctic Adventures, the hike up the 5,000 ft. volcano takes up to four hours. The journey is only moderately difficult, but the experience should still give you a kick because Hekla is Iceland’s second most active volcano, after the mostly submerged Grimsvotn.
The last time it blew was only this century, in February 2000. In March this year, Hekla got frisky, showing some signs of volatility. For hundreds of years, Hekla was said to be the threshold to hell, so nobody dared climb it. Then, the intrepid Icelandic biologist Eggert Olafsson summited it in the summer of 1750.
Superstition duly waned and now, it is open season on Hekla. From the top, you can see sights like Europe’s biggest glacier, Vatnajökull. To get to the volcano, from the village of Leirubakki you take a 4WD. Wrap up because Iceland lives up to its name.
The windchill factor can be -4 degrees, according to Wideview, which describes Hekla as “Iceland’s most powerful and terrifying volcano.”
Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island is accessible to volcano hikes – a touch too accessible, you might say. But Kilauea, where the kayakers brushed with fire, makes up for the accessibility with sheer danger. Few volcanoes anywhere are more volatile.
In fact, according to Kilauea Volcano Tour, Kilauea is the most active volcano on earth.
“During daylight, the robust plume of volcanic gas is a constant and dramatic reminder of the molten rock churning in a lava lake beneath the crater floor,” the local National Park website says.
Head to the heart of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and you have a very good chance of witnessing robust plumes or even some serious fireworks.
The park in itself should keep you interested because it is listed as a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere preserve.
Better yet, the volcano touted as the heartbeat of the landscape boasts 150 miles of volcano hiking trails and daily ranger-led programs. NPS offers updates on spurts of lava. The fee to see Kilauea in action is $5.00 per person.
There should be a word for people who enjoy moseying around smoking volcanoes – “volcophile”– say, or perhaps pyromaniac would do. Either way, if you just want to be among an abundance of volcanoes, equal with Iceland, Bali is the place to be – the reason that the paradise island is awash with flowers is the soil’s volcano-fed richness.
The question is where in Bali can we find the best volcano hikes? One standout, Mount Batur, soars 5,600 ft. The last time it officially erupted was back in 2000, but ballistic Batur is a moody beast that never entirely stops bubbling. On your volcano tour, you may notice that monkeys maraud the crater and that the rim overlooks a gorgeous lake.
Go at sunrise to escape the sun’s heat. And be ready for anything because Batur is officially classed active. So it could do a Pompeii at any moment. Get there by taxi or just hire a car.
As with most volcanoes, you do not need much special gear. You just need sturdy shoes, a sense of adventure and some agility for the slope. Most travelers go for all-in volcano tours.
No global volcano tour would be complete without a nod to Vesuvius. This is the volcano that stands at the site of the most notorious eruption in history, Pompeii. Incredibly, although Vesuvius properly unleashed hell back in 79 A.D., it is still active. Talk about staying power. It is still seen as one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the planet and not just because of its bad temper.
No less than 3 million risk takers live around its base. Imagine waking every morning to see the lava scars still etched into Vesuvius’ sides. Plenty of other people are ready to gamble. The area, which has UNESCO World Heritage Site status, is one of Italy’s most popular tourist draws, luring about 2.5 million visitors every year.
The ashes of victims from the 79 A.D. explosion are still frozen in place, providing eerie images of life 2000 years ago, and the reactions of the townsfolk to the foreboding blast. Oddly, despite its immense popularity, Vesuvius has not been that badly exploited. The entry fee is fairly low, according to Wikitravel, which bizarrely warns of inappropriate souvenirs.
Mount Erebus, Antartica
Standing in the frigid airs of Antartica, Mount Erebus is the world’s most southerly active volcano. The 12,450 ft phenomenon has been continuously active since 1972.
It was discovered and seen erupting in 1841 by polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross who named it and its sister, Mount Terror, after his ships, Erebus and Terror – so predictable and yet so inspiring.
Mt. Erebus is a hard one to hike. But devout adventurers do. Look no further than explorer Douglas Moeson, who went up on a day off in 1991, sidestepping crevasses. Yes, sidestepping volcanic crevasses.
Oh and Mt. Erebus comes complete with an active boiling lava lake ranked one of the world’s five most incredible by the green news site Environmental Graffiti, which notes the “fire and ice” paradox.
There is no set way to tackle the extreme south marvel. No official volcano tour or volcano hike. No entry fee. A “Yeti robot” might come in handy.