A gently sloping shield volcano, Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii has been erupting continuously since 1983. A solid tourism infrastructure and heavenly climate make Volcano National Park a popular destination. “But,” warns Hawaiian native guide Warren Costa who conducts by-appointment-only tours of many little known areas, “it’s a six mile round trip to the hot lava and many people come back without really seeing anything.” The trick is to know what to know what to look for. “I watch for the way the air distorts but a lot of the times you can hear lava before you see it. Imagine taking a handful of little pieces of glass and dropping them a few at a time onto a concrete floor.” He shows clients Pele’s tears and Pele’s hair, two unique geological formations. He also ventures a thousand feet into a rarely visited section of Nahuku Lava Tube to see lava stalactites. “On our Puna Coastal Adventure Tour we also visit some caves for a steam bath and thermally heated pools you can soak in.”
For more information: Native Guide Hawai‘i
Fought over by the French and British (who eventually prevailed), this off the radar volcano is about to be hot again. On a six hour round trip hike to the crater, 70-year- old native guide Oliver (no last name necessary – St Kitts is that small) can take guests through giant bamboo rain forests and treats the tropical glades like a grocery, picking wild fruits and berries for your gastronomic glee. The goal is to swim in the crater lake in the caldera among the steaming fumaroles. On the volcano’s western flank a precipitous drive brings you to an isolated fort known as Brimstone Hill, erected in 1690. It won’t stay isolated for long. A new luxury accommodation development called Ocean’s Edge is set to bring big names in luxury hotel brands to the island.
For more information: St Kitts
The largest mountain in Africa, Mt Kilimanjaro is not active, but hot magma lies just 1300 feet below the crater summit. Lindsay Duxbury, an expedition leader with Geographical Expeditions, conducts hiking tours up the lesser known Barranco-Barafu Route. It’s a path less traveled and takes a week instead of the usual five days. The solitude of jungle hiking with just colubus monkeys for company makes it worth the extra miles. “Around 90 percent of our hikers make it to the summit,” says Duxbury, compared to 50 percent for walkers hiking along the more traditional trails. The main problem is altitude sickness. “On day five, once you hit 14,000 feet everyone’s feeling pretty ordinary and it’s difficult to hike long distances. The final day we camp just two hours from the summit so it’s a much easier ascent. Other groups camp lower down and have to leave at midnight to make it by dawn. The cloud comes in pretty quickly too so if you’re slow to get to the summit, you miss the view completely.”
For more information: Geographic Expeditions
The eruption of Vesuvius on August 24th, 79 AD demolished the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum but it’s enriched the lives of thousands of archeologists and tourists who visit the site each year. “It’s very well touristed,” says Ilsa Higgins, a tour manager with Smithsonian Journeys, who will be conducting a specialty tour of Pompeii this summer. “But it’s not a theme park - it’s very well done and it’s so much more than geology”. Firstly she suggests a visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. “That’s where some of the best frescoes are, including those with some famously lascivious scenes. Smithsonian Journeys’ high guide-to-guest ratio is the key to understanding the site in context. “There were only ten of us on the trip and we had three guides: an art historian who taught at the John Cabot Museum in Rome and two Neopolitan art historians with Ph.D.s from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples," Higgins added. They gave us exclusive access to parts of Pompei that regular visitors don’t go.”
For more information: Smithsonian Journeys
This chain of volcanic peaks along the east coast of Katamai National Park and Lake Clark National Park are just four of Alaska’s 80 potentially active volcanoes. Homer Air Service, a flight-seeing company base in Homer, Alaska, conducts a Ring of Fire Tour which takes in these four dramatic peaks in the course of a day’s tour. From the air you’ll see the Augustine Volcano which has recently come back to life, the turquoise crater lake in Douglas Volcano, steaming vents of Illiamna and bear, deer and all manner of wildlife. Land on a glacier at the foot of Mt Douglas for lunch in the Alaskan Wilderness. When you’re in the air it’s not time to breathe a sigh of relief. In 1989 Redoubt Volcano erupted spewing volcanic ash 8.7 miles into the air and catching aircraft in its plume. Alaska was also site of one of the largest eruptions in the 20th century. The Novarupta Volcano erupted in 1912 with no human casualties -- had it erupted in Manhattan, however, there would have had zero survivors and the blast would have been heard as far away as Chicago.
For more information: Homer Air
This giant volcano is anything but dormant. The caldera cradles a lake of boiling lava. In 2002 a gas eruption killed 42 people and left 120,000 homeless. Dr. Tom Pfeiffer takes ten-day expeditions to Zaire culminating in a three-day odyssey to the crater rim. “We camp on the rim and for three days and nights and we just look at the volcano. It is really captivating,” says Dr. Pfeiffer. “The volcano boiling, the hissing and splashing of the lava sounds like a washing machine. There are also loud explosions when the stromboli are ejected, then the hissing of escaping gas, then the blocks falling on the ground like strong hail.” With all that activity he can’t guarantee his clients a good night’s sleep, but that’s not what they’re after. “We try to give people the same experience that the [volcano] scientists get,” he says.
For more information: Volcano Discovery
It may not have the classic shape of its conical cousins, but the park’s status as the largest super-caldera on earth makes it a must-see volcanic landscape. “Most of the 900,000 people who visit the park don’t even leave the road,” says National Park guide Lee Ramella. There’s snow mobiling, kayaking and even llama tracking to be enjoyed. “Old faithful isn’t the only geyser. Steamboat erupts higher - to around 300 feet but it’s not very frequent”. Even so, Yellowstone has half the geysers on earth and many unique geological formations including valleys of volcanic hoodoos (eroded towers of rock). “The spring water is full of fluoride which is great in small doses but drink it all the time like the animals do and it makes their teeth brittle. Some of these deer don’t live long. There’s also some mighty strange organisms living in hot spring water. Scientists have used them to map the human genome and make stonewash jeans”, he says.
For more information: Yellow Stone National Park
No mountain in this range has erupted for the past 10,000 years but that doesn’t stop it from being an active geothermal attraction par excellence. The largest ski resort in Japan, this colossal mountain range has seventy lifts servicing 750 acres of pristine hiking and skiing trails. It’s set among Johshinetsu Kogen National Park, so it pays to watch for fox and bear from the chairlift. Skiing and hiking are relatively new activities. Warriors first began visiting the nearby town of Shibu nearly 400 years ago to recover from their injuries in one of the many geothermal bathhouses called onsen, located in what is today the main street. The narrow lanes are abuzz with kimono-clad locals in wooden sandals shuffling from onsen to onsen seeking the best mineral water elixir to ease less onerous afflictions.
For more information: Shiga Kogen
A lush rainforest and a near permanent lake of boiling lava makes this volcano a hotspot for volcanologists and botanists alike. Adventure travel operator John Seach prefers to keep the exact destination of his volcano tours flexible so he can take his clients to the hottest hotspots in a given region. “We go to whereever the eruption is happening at the time,” he says. “We’ll camp or stay in traditional bungalows in villages – whatever it takes. Once we climbed up one side of Ambrym Volcano and went down the other and found ourselves in a village called Endu, which had a population of about 200 people. They’d never even seen a tourist group. We might be treated to lunch cooked in the hot volcanic ground – things like eggs, sweet potato, taro, yams, chicken,” says Seach. For him it’s all part of the adventure.
For more information: Volcanoes of Vanuatu
This dormant volcano is so symmetrical in shape, it was convincingly used as a stand-in for Mount Fuji in The Last Samurai. Adventure sport and volcanoes are a match made in heaven. On the slopes of the near perfect cone of Mt Taranaki the Waingongoro River winds its way through bush and farmland before reaching the ocean at Ohawe Beach. Whereas most whitewater enthusiasts might chose to raft this river, dam dropping devotees go it alone grasping small paddle boards in place of a raft. Rafts have knowledgeable guides who steer the boat, but dam droppers are free to make their own watery mistakes. They plummet over rapids, weirs and dams with a pace unabated.
For more information: Dam Drop