5 Lava lakes to set your world alight

Adventure Destinations | | August 9, 2010 at 4:15 am


Lava lakes are nature’s way of putting on a light and sound show for you. Just make sure you don’t get too close to the show because it is still lava we’re talking about at the end of the day. Lava lakes that have been around for some time are a rarity since they need active volcanoes to supply them a steady stream of lava. As such, only 5 of them exist anywhere in the world and they can form in vents or craters or any broad vessel for the lava. Visiting an active lava lake gives visiting a hot and happening place an all new meaning as evidenced by these sites.

Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of Congo

This volcano located in the Congo is arguably the single most violent lava lake in the world, fuelled as it is by the constant eruptions of Nyiragongo Volcano. This has been caused by cracks forming in the Earth’s crust at places where the African tectonic planes are falling apart. Dubbed a stratovolcano, or a composite volcano composed of many layers, Nyiragongo is a monster of a mountain with its main crater dropping to a depth of 250 metres while the mouth of the volcano is always agape and 2 kilometres wide. On the 17th January 2002, after major seismic and fumarolic activity, a major eruption caused widespread panic as fluid lava said to be traveling at speeds of up to 100 kilometres per hour found its way to cities and settlements even 20 km away, disrupting human life. Nyiragongo has some of the most fluid lava found anywhere in the world, and scientists are studying the magma core in order to understand the hazards of the region.


Erta Ale, Ethiopia

Scientists have pegged Erta Ale as being active since 1906 which quite easily earns it the unofficial award of longest active lava lake. More than a century on, it’s still going strong and shows no signs of abating and if you were to approach it at night the bright orange glow of the lava reaching skywards will arouse the shutterbug inside you. Some locals refer to the lake as a doorway to hell given the formidable sight it poses. Adventure enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies are known to camp out at the base of the volcano and the nutcase among them camp at the summit of the volcano, right next to the molten lava bubbling next door. Surely its an unforgettable experience but what if some vengeful god decides to remind them of their mortality and make the lake bubble over by night? But said merciless deity has a sense of humor and has instead planted people locally to do the dirty work. Since the lake lies in the Afar region, the local warrior tribes make their presence felt and, which is worse, have an aversion to foreigners. Enjoy your stay if you do go there for it might be a brief one.

Erta Ale

Kilauea, Hawaii

Lava lakes are a transient sight, and the presence of one at the Halemaumau vent at Kilauea is an interesting development. In many ways it is a return to halcyon days for Kilauea since it was feted in generations gone by for the awesome sight of the sloshing lava lake in the Halemaumau crater. And then in 1924 it vanished seemingly forever in the aftermath of an eruption. In fact, this lake was so celebrated that poem’s were written in its honor, including one by Lord Alfred Tennyson in 1892 entitled ‘Kapiolani’, an excerpt of which is below.

“Long as the lava-light

Glares from the lava-take,

Dazing the starlight;

Long as the silvery vapor in daylight,

Over the mountain

Floats, will the glory of Kapiolani be mingled with either on Hawa-i-ee.”

Eighty years passes since it was last seen and it will be interesting to see how long it lasts this time. It is the youngest of all the lakes but the volcano itself is the world’s most active volcano and home to the goddess Pele. Long may she continue spewing her venom on hapless humans.

Mount Erebus, Antarctica

Erebus is known among scientists for its convecting anorthoclase phonolite lava lake, which is a fancy way of saying it’s scary as hell. The volcano is 3,794 metres tall and erupted last in 2008 but is still going strong and scaring the living daylights out of everyone. It is a delicious twist of fate that of the few places on earth housing volcanic lava lakes one is to be found in Antarctica and Mount Erebus is the southernmost of all the known sites. It is one of the peaks that are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, an awesome cluster of volcanoes totaling more than 160 in number. If you want more proof about how scary it is, its etymology is derived from the Greek god Erebus whose name when translated means “blackness”. Apparently being kick-ass runs in the family as he is the son of Kaos (yes, that’s phonetically similar to Chaos) and means “gaping void”. So much for icy extremes being an escape from searing heat; that’s one myth that we’ve helped debunk for you.

Mount Erebus

Villarrica, Chile

Chile is a fine place to pick for a holiday, but there’s nothing lava-ly about the lava lakes at Villarica in Chile compared to it peers (so to speak). This is the smallest of the five sites with a length of 250 m and a depth of 100 m and has probably shrunk a bit in the wake of recent volcanic activity in the last few years. The volcano is normally covered by snow and is one of Chile’s most active ones, and treks to the top are arduous and a test of your physicality but reaching the top makes it all worth it. Of course, there is the lava itself bubbling over very nicely like a sea of angry deep tangerine but staying at the summit for too long is out of the question due to the noxious Sulphur fumes although you will almost certainly wish you could (and maybe you will) just to take in the view of five or six other volcanoes visible from the peak. Mind the fact that it gets quite Chile at the peak, this is after all a 2743 m high peak. Sorry, we couldn’t resist the pun. Perhaps you’ll be stronger and be able to resist the lure of staying at the top for too long for reasons mentioned earlier.


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