Bubbling mud pools, steaming geysers and jewel-coloured hot water lakes – a visit to the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is like stepping into a magical fantasy land. I was lucky enough to grow up with this geothermal treasure on my doorstep, and this was where I had my very first family holiday, so it was amazing to take my own children here on our last trip home.
New Zealand is dotted with volcanoes and is part of the famous ‘Ring of Fire’ a constant hotbed of tectonic and volcanic activity that arcs around the Asia Pacific. As such, the centre of the north island is basically one big bubbling, boiling geothermal reserve, powered by the fiery molten cores of its volcanoes.
Pompeii was once a thriving community of around 15,000 men, women and children, until the history-making day in 79AD, when nearby Mt Vesuvius erupted, spewing super-heated suffocating gases into the air, followed by a pyroclastic flow – a river of red-hot ash, pumice and volcanic stones. Thousands of people are believed to have been killed while trying to escape the eruption, and Pompeii itself was totally entombed until being rediscovered in 1748.
In the centuries since the city has been excavated to reveal a perfectly preserved slice of Roman life. Today, you can tour the ruins, marvelling at both the ingenuity of their ancient engineering and power of Mother Nature. Weather permitting, you can also take a bus partway up Mt Vesuvius itself, and walk the remaining 200 feet to the crater that caused so much destruction, so many years ago.
This Nordic nation is most famous not for ice (as one might assume), but for its stunning volcanic terrain, including hot springs, bubbly lava fields and black sand beaches created when basalt (volcanic rock) lava became rapidly cooled by the ocean waters.
Then there is the world-famous Blue Lagoon, where heated waters from the nearby geothermal power plant are pumped into naturally carved lava field basins for visitors to enjoy. The waters are rich in silicon, a mineral that’s thought to have healing properties and gives the lagoon its famous blue hue.
Mt Etna is Europe’s tallest volcano, and one of the world’s most active. Despite its cranky disposition, Etna is one of Sicily’s most popular natural attractions and tourists flock to view its fiery lava flows, which can be safely viewed from distance.
The slopes are also popular for walking in the summer and skiing in the winter, and its volcanic soil makes it exceptionally fertile, and perfect for growing apples, chestnuts and hazelnuts. The mineral-rich earth also washes down to the lower levels, where orchards of lemons and oranges thrive.
Easter Island was created by volcanic activity, and three main extinct craters make up its terrain. But this island – first settled by the Rapa Nui Polynesian tribe but now part of Chilé – is most famous for the huge stone figures, called Moai, that dominate its landscape. Made from compressed volcanic ash, these huge monoliths were hand-carved using chisels fashioned from sharp-edged chunks of basalt (a form of volcanic rock).
This island may be one of the most remote in the world, but there is plenty to keep you busy – from snorkelling, kayaking and diving, to exploring the windswept grasslands by bicycle and horseback. Don’t miss a visit to the Rano Raraku volcano, the quarry where all the Easter Island statues were carved before being laboriously transported to their final resting places, to marvel at the skill, workmanship and sheer determination that went into every one.
But you don’t have to travel halfway around the world to experience a holiday of volcanic proportions, as Holiday Gems specialise in breaks closer to home (check out the Tenerife holidays from HG).
UNESCO heritage site, Teide National Park, is centred around a cluster of volcanos, including the world’s third biggest, Mt Teide. Admire the gnarled, alien landscape which has been formed by centuries of volcanic activity. Appearing barren at first glance, the mineral-rich soil of the park actually provides life to a diverse range of plant and animal life can only be found in Tenerife. Also, it’s geological similarity to Mars means equipment is often tested here before going on expeditions to the Red Planet. How cool is that?
You can walk along trails, or catch a cable car that takes you to within 200metres of the crater. You can join a tour that watches the sun set behind the island’s second-highest mount, Pico Viejo. If you want something more adventurous, climb to the peak of Mt Teide and stay overnight in the Altaviste Refuge – Spain’s highest accommodation – and spend the evening stargazing at the crystal clear night skies, before making the trek back down the next morning.
OTHER VOLCANIC ATTRACTIONS:
• images: ‘Blue Lagoon, Iceland Feb 08‘ ‘Moai on Easter Island‘ ‘Effusive Activity at Mt Etna Volcano‘ ‘Mt Teide in Tenerife‘ ‘Pompeii – an ancient Roman city that was ruined from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Italy, Pompeii‘ courtesy of Shutterstock.