There is not much more impressive than Mother Nature doing her thing. Natural wonders, be it simply the expanse of the ocean, the power of a waterfall, or the beauty of a sunset, make us sit back and appreciate the world around us, making us feel small and insignificant, but not in a bad way.
Instead, when we see nature being nature, completely ignoring us humans, our hearts swell and jaws drop, and we come back home to our day-to-day life so much richer.
When it comes to understanding and seeing what lies beneath the thin crust of the earth, that powerful feeling is even stronger. Experiencing the earth’s crust breaking open, volcanoes erupting, and the earth moving, is something quite special.
Around the world, there are sights that will take your breath away (at times quite literally, considering what lies underneath can be quite smelly!), and while these adventures can be a little scary at times, they will certainly raise your adrenaline levels and make your heart skip a beat, giving you a new appreciation of the very special planet we live on.
Here is a range of volcano experiences that will quicken your pulse.
Editor’s Note: While not all of these experiences are in volcanoes, per se, they are all in magnificent regions shaped by volcanic activity.
1. Walk Through Lava Tubes
Undara Volcanic National Park, some 3-hour’s drive inland from Cairns, boasts the world’s largest and best-preserved lava tube system, with a geological history dating back to Australia’s most recent volcanic explosion more than 190,000 years ago. An estimated 56 cubic miles of 2192-degree Fahrenheit hot lava flowed from the main crater spreading across the landscape.
Eventually, the lava flow stopped, and tunnels were left with ceilings up to 50 feet high. You can walk down into them. Some are filled with water, some have bats, and all will impress you with their magnitude and history.
The only way to see the lava tubes is with a trained guide on a tour. There are several tours available, such as the two-hour Archway Explorer, which takes in three sections of lava tube, including the largest piece, the so-called archway. Others are longer, some more challenging, and the Wildlife at Sunset tour includes bubbly, a cheese platter, a stunning sunset, and a million bats, give or take a few.
Pro Tip: It’s too far from the coast for a day trip, but there is basic overnight accommodation either on a campsite or in lovely, restored railway carriages.
2. Visit A Bubbling Champagne Pool
North Island, New Zealand
The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland lies on the North Island of New Zealand and is a veritable volcanic theme park, with champagne pools sparkling and popping away; startling green lakes; a hole in the ground in the walls of which birds nest and hatch their young without having to sit on their eggs; and bubbling, burping mud pools. It’s a true wonderland that is both weird and wonderful – and somewhat “aromatic,” if not downright stinky. Of course, it’s full of natural attractions that prove that New Zealand is sitting right on the Pacific Rim of Fire.
And don’t worry, after a couple of days, you get used to the smell. Or that’s what the locals claim, anyway.
Pro Tip: Just down the road you’ll find the small town of Rotorua by a pretty lake, the coastline of which is brimming with spas taking advantage of the naturally heated springs and grounds.
3. Diving Among Bubbles
White Island, New Zealand
While you are in New Zealand, don’t miss the Bay of Plenty with the North Island’s most active and only active marine volcano, White Island. The island-volcano has been emitting a puff of smoke pretty much nonstop since Captain Cook spotted the island in 1769. An ill-fated sulfur mine was once on the island but was abandoned in 1914 after volcanic activity killed all 10 workers based on the island. Today it is one of the most accessible marine volcanoes in the world and attracts tours from nearby Whakatane. The underwater world here is magical, with lava arches and gas bubbles, and thriving marine life, making it a perfect dive spot.
Pro Tip: When in Whakatane, take advantage of all the other tours available, which include opportunities for dolphin and whale spotting.
4. Walk Around A Crater
Easter Island, Chile
Easter Island, or Rapa Nui to give it its indigenous name, is an island like no other. Located some 2,175 miles from Chile, Easter Island is one of the most remote spots on this planet. It is also one with a history that is still keeping historians puzzled today. Apart from the roughly 1,000 moai, the large stone heads dotted across the island, it also has a long-extinct volcanic crater at the southern end of the island. The Rano Kau crater is an imposing sight. The crater itself is filled with water, full of plants and wildlife, and has its own microclimate. When I was there, there was one small cloud hanging just above the crater producing rain, whereas the rest of the island was sun-bathed under the blue skies. You can hike around the crater but need to be aware that this is rough terrain and a secluded place, so please advise the visitors center on the summit of your intentions, and, even better, hire a local guide.
Pro Tip: You can also visit the ceremonial village of Orongo Tangata Manu, which lies along the crater, on a guided tour.
5. See A Volcano In Action
Big Island, Hawaii
One of the most active and most accessible volcanoes in the world is Kilauea in Hawaii’s Volcano National Park, which is situated on the Big Island. A shield volcano as compared to a stratovolcano, that is, a relatively level volcano that emits thick, slow-flowing lava rather than the violent eruptions from a steep cone, Kilauea offers numerous ways of getting up close and personal with glowing hot lava, from hikes taking you really close to helicopter flights with great views and not-so-hot feet.
Pro Tip: This volcano, when active, is even more spectacular at night, when the bright orange lava glows against the dark sky. There are tours that can take you to the best vantage points safely.
6. Dive Between Tectonic Plates
Iceland sits right on the spot where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, or, in fact, drift apart by around one inch each year. This not only results in a plethora of seismic activity, including hundreds of earthquakes every week, and regular volcanic eruptions, such as the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull back in 2010, which brought the world’s airports to a standstill.
It also allows you to experience something you won’t get to encounter anywhere else on the planet: the chance to snorkel or dive in Silfra, the fissure between the two tectonic plates. With the water being runoff from glaciers and filtered through the porous igneous rock, making it crystal clear, the underwater visibility is more than 300 feet. But it is cold, so you will need to dive in a dry suit, which you will become accustomed to during a professionally led dive tour.
Pro Tip: Luckily, Iceland has not only freezing waters but also hot springs, so book yourself in for a warm soak after your adventure.
7. Mount Etna
Europe’s largest active volcano sits on the island of Sicily off the coast of southern Italy. And apart from being the tallest volcano in Europe, and one of the most active in the world, it is also one that is a huge draw for visitors, and the facilities catering for people wanting to go and see it up close are superb. From an observation station halfway up the slope to buses and a funicular taking you to 8,200 feet of the total 11,000 feet, plus half-day and full-day excursions from the cities of Catania, Taormina, and Messina, there really is no excuse not to see this impressive volcano.
Pro Tip: If you want to hike up, no problem, but bear in mind that the temperatures in spring and fall might be better suited than the summer heat.
8. Mount Yasur
Tanna Island, Vanuatu
Vanuatu is not a country many people have heard of, but it is worth a trip, even if it is “just” for the volcano and the fact that this is where bungee-jumping originated (think a wooden tower and a sisal rope attached to the ankle…). The South Pacific island nation, comprising more than 80 islands, lies between New Caledonia and Fiji, some 2,200 miles east of Australia, and, like New Zealand, sits firmly, or maybe not quite so firmly, on the Pacific Rim of Fire.
Mount Yasur is found on Tannu Island and provides visitors with regular firework displays. What makes this highly active volcano more attractive than others is its yet unspoiled and not overrun location. While one of the most active volcanoes in the world, you will only find truly intrepid travelers and volcanologists climbing its slopes.
Pro Tip: Vanuatu has lots to offer, so why not consider island-hopping, sampling more than one place? Pencil in a day at the volcano, of course.