London - Werner Herzog’s dramatic new documentary on volcanoes, Into The Inferno, travels to six different mountains of magma with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer to capture their eruptions and lava flows as well as the communities that live around them. But visiting a volcano doesn’t have to be all poisonous gases and life-threatening adventures. Here we look at how to visit volcanoes up close, from flying over craters to climbing inside dormant caves and boarding down their edges.
A view from above
Hawaii is home to three active volcanoes, one of which – Kilauea – has been erupting continuously since 1983. You can see this volcano and Maunaloa, which has been inactive since 1984, at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii Island, where it’s possible to walk through a 500-year-old lava cave and drive down to the Kalpana viewing area to see Kilauea sending lava down into the sea.
Those who want a closer look can take a boat to sail close to the action or take a helicopter ride and fly straight over it. Lava boat tours with Hawaii Volcano Expeditions start at $189.99 (about R2 500) and helicopter tours start at $282.
Discover new depths
Iceland is known for its high concentration of active volcanoes, thanks to its position over the mid-Atlantic Ridge, but it does also have a dormant one you can visit and climb inside. Thrihnukagigur, which translates as “Three Peaks Crater”, hasn’t erupted for 4 000 years, which means you can get right down into the depths of the crater to explore its innards. After a hike to the top of Thrihnukagigur, a six-minute open elevator ride takes you 120 metres down into the crater to have half an hour walking around the ground of the volcano. Day trips last five to six hours with Inside The Volcano, and cost 42 000 Icelandic krona (about R5 000) per person during its open season, which runs from May 15 to October 15.
Surf on rocks
Thrill-seekers can travel to the active volcano of Cerro Negro in Nicaragua – not simply to climb up it but “surf” down it, too. Those who are game can strap a wooden board to their back and take the hour-ish hike up the 728m volcano. From there it is simply a case of donning a pair of goggles, leather gloves, a protective jumpsuit, and leaping onto a board to surf back down the volcano on its loose black rocks. The volcano is a 50-minute drive from the city of Leon and surfing down it costs $28 per person based on groups of at least three with Volcanoboard.com.
Go with the flow
Sicily’s Mount Etna has been erupting in one form or another for thousands of years, with recordings of it dating back to 395 BCE. It is the highest and most active volcano in Europe, but that doesn’t stop the flow of visitors to the Parco dell’Etna, the national park providing access to the volcano – unless it has been closed due to some dangerous volcanic activity. Barring this change in conditions there are a number of tours available up the volcano. Etna Experience offers a range of excursions, starting at €139 (about R2 000) per adult.
Below the surface
It’s also possible to visit a volcano without a trek, and one of the places you can do it is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano, know as White Island (or Whakaari). Most of it sits beneath the sea, meaning that once you take a boat from North Island you can walk straight onto the crater complex and explore the sulphur-rich scenery, complete with pits of bubbling mud and a lake of steaming acid. White Island Tours arranges six-hour guided trips to the volcano starting from NZ$219 (about R2 000).