Hiking your way to the top of a volcano serves a reminder that the earth is as alive from the inside as it is out; that it’s not just rock, sand, grass and water, and that its spewing lava and boiling core demands the utmost respect. Walking on a volcano instills an overwhelming feeling of awe and a sudden realisation that your presence on this landscape is insignificant at best. Conditions here, on the gateways to a bubbling middle earth, are at their most raw, demanding and challenging.
But it’s not all Kilimanjaro and Vesuvius, Mauna Loa and Fuji – there’s a whole world of beautiful treks and challenging climbs just waiting to be explored. So, adventurer, what are you waiting for?
Mount Taal, Philippines
If you’re an adrenaline seeking individual, don’t be disheartened by Mount Taal’s status as ‘the world’s smallest active volcano’ – a day trip from the Filipino capital to this geological wonder really is something else. The volcano itself is a volcano within a lake within a volcano (it’s a mouthful, we know) and is the result of 500,000 years of sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire. A trip to this incredible feat of nature includes winding mountain roads, bobbing boat trips across azure waters, horseback riding and the occasional hike. What better way to enjoy the natural world after your flight to Manila has landed?
Jump into a 4WD in Iceland’s picturesque Reykjavik and head 150 kilometres to the island’s most famous and active volcano – Hekla. The name itself means ‘hood’ as the summit is usually covered in a thick fog cloud. Until 1750, the 1,491 metre volcano was feared to be ‘the gates of hell’ and was avoided by locals and foreign explorers for hundreds of years. Now, all it takes is some motivation, a good pair of walking boots and an expert guide to get you to the top. Remember to stick to the well-beaten tracks when hiking here, Hekla is prone to erupting without much warning.
At 5,897 metres above sea level, Cotopaxi stands tall at 2 metres higher than the world’s tallest freestanding mountain, Kilimanjaro, and 1,087 metres higher than Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc. An unforgettable Ecuador hiking experience, the climb to the summit of the country’s second highest mountain isn’t for the faint hearted – taking it slow, letting yourself acclimatise to the dizzying altitude and keeping a stash of cashew nuts in your pocket to keep your sugar levels up are all recommended when climbing so high. Cotopaxi is also the world’s third highest active volcano, and activity can be spotted once you get to the top and find yourself precariously tiptoeing over the blackened rock of the northern crater.
Tongariro, New Zealand
Famous not only for its magnificent presence in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Tongariro Crossing is also known as the world’s best day walk – as long as you can avoid the ant-like crowds trudging two-by-two along the paths. It’s easy to see why up to 700 backpackers, Tolkien enthusiasts and ramblers ascend the 13km trek across Mordor – with active volcanoes, lava flows and sparkling lakes to see along the way, who wouldn’t want to follow in the path of Hobbits? To avoid the crowds and to return home with photos uninterrupted by teenage gap year students, head out either before the sun rises or after 10am (the unofficial starting time for this trek is at 8am). If, however, you can bear to be woken at 2am and sleepily pull on your walking boots and zip yourself into your jacket, opt for a guided night trek. The timing may be painful, but settling down on the rim of Red Crater to watch your own private sunrise is a priceless experience.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is located entirely within Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Established in 1887, the park encompasses an area of 795 square kilometers and is known for its dramatic volcanic landscapes, including active volcanoes like Mount Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu.