One of Mother Nature’s greatest displays would have to be an erupting volcano. As hot lava, rock and ash spew violently from these rumbling mountains, we are reminded of her immense power – a natural occurrence which has the magnificent ability to simultaneously create and destroy. Yet, as curious humans with absolutely no control over these ferocious beasts, we are continually drawn to them. And while you wouldn’t want to be climbing a volcanic mountain when she blows, nothing screams adventure more than tackling a volcano that lies dormant. Papua New Guinea (PNG) is home to the greatest number of active volcanoes in the South West Pacific, stretching in an arc from the north coast through to Bougainville Island in the east. For the ultimate adrenalin junkie, you cannot go past a trip to Mt Tavurvur in Rabaul. Technically speaking, Tavurvur is not actually a volcano but rather a cone formed by vents of the Rabaul Volcano. Rabaul volcano is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire which accounts for two-thirds of the earth’s 1300 visible volcanoes. Rabaul harbour and town is made up of a complex of various volcanoes, some of which are thousands of years old. The 8 x14km Rabaul caldera was formed some 1600 years ago with a tremendous explosion that created the Gazelle Peninsula. When the sea broke through the crater wall it created one of the world’s deepest and most sheltered harbours that played a significant role in WWII.
With the most recent volcanic eruption occurring in late 2014, you will be hard pressed to find a tour group that will take you up the mountain, due to the very real risk involved. It is possible to book a day tour around the base of Mt Tavurvur and her neighbour Mt Vulcan on the opposite side of the harbour mouth. Tour groups strongly advise that you book a knowledgeable local guide and pack plenty of sun lotion and water as well as good walking shoes and a camera to capture any unexpected clouds of ash. While the mountain is completely unpredictable, it is estimated that the next big eruption will be in the 2050s. For a shorter climb, hikers can attempt Rabaul Nakaia. From the base of the volcano you can expect to be walking for around 30 minutes. Once at the summit, be mindful of your step as the caldera is very narrow and it is not uncommon to feel dizzy and lose balance. 64km north of Madang is Karkar Island. An oval shaped, fertile island, just 25km long and 19km wide, it contains some of the world’s most productive copra plantations. It is also home to two summit calderas. The 3.2 km diameter of the main caldera is almost perfectly circular and has vertical walls of 300 metres high. Karkar is a stratovolcano, a conical shape, delineated by a steep profile and regular, violent eruptions. Despite erupting as recently as February 2013, and previously in 1974 and1979, thrill seekers are still able to climb to the crater and Lonely Planet lists tackling this beast as the number one thing to do on the island. At 1,831 metres, the walk will set you back a good 12 hours and it is imperative that you seek permission first from the locals as the crater holds religious significance. There are two routes to climbing this volcano and a local guide is recommended for both routes. If it is magnificent views you are after, start from Kevasob village. If it is simply the thrill of the volcano that has brought you to Karkar, then begin at Mom village, which is an easier route. Either way, be sure to pack plenty of water and sun lotion as the heat bouncing off the bare basalt packs a punch.
Also in Madang Province, just 13km off the northern coast of New Guinea near Bogia town is one of PNG’s most active volcanoes, Manam volcano. Manam Island is the submerged top of a large stratovolcano. 10 km in diameter, it has two active summit craters, an old caldera crater which is only visible from an elevation of 900 metres and 5 small flank craters near the Islands shoreline on the Northern, Southern and Western sides. While the upper slopes are vegetated, the lower slopes remain barren due to frequent eruptions. Four large valleys, known as ‘avalanche valleys’ emerge from the summit area down to the lower slopes where pyroclastic flows are funnelled inside one or more of these valleys, hence their name. Manam erupted in 2006 and while it is not possible to climb, it is possible to visit this still smouldering volcano and Anua Negu Lodge are able to arrange a speedboat for those wanting to get a closer look. If you are heading to the jewel of the South Seas, namely Bougainville, and are up for a challenge, then volcano hiking is a must. Due to Bougainville lying on the Pacific Ring of Fire, it is home to six active volcanoes, three of which can be reached by foot by the tenacious trekker. If you allow yourself a week and are fit and determined, hiking Mt Balbi, Mt Bagana and Billy Mitchell is well worth it. Mt Balbi is a stratovolcano with a summit elevation of 2,715 metres and is also the highest point on Bougainville Island. Up to a point of about 1,300 metres, the volcano is covered in trees and one of its six craters has a crater lake, making for a special photo opportunity. Mt Bagana is one of PNG’s and indeed the world’s most active volcanoes. It is a large lava cone volcano and was formed as recently as 300 years ago. Billy Mitchell is a pyroclastic shield volcano with a steep sided caldera containing a lake. The lake is surrounded by thick jungle and the lower slopes of the volcano are covered in tropical rainforest. While tackling this trio of volcanoes is not for the faint-hearted, it is certainly achievable and a once in a lifetime opportunity.
A trip to some of PNG’s famous volcanoes is highly recommended, especially if you are after an adventure that will set your heart racing (from a combination of adrenaline and physical exertion). Of course, if you are simply after an amazing photo opportunity and would prefer to save your hiking boots for another day, then that can be arranged too, with the option to view volcanoes from afar. With an abundance of volcanoes, both active and extinct, PNG is the perfect volcanic hotspot for your next adventure holiday.
Gudmundur (Gummi) Fridriksson, is the CEO of Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Ltd, overseeing the development of Paga Hill Estate, a world-class, master planned estate located in the heart of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Gudmundur first arrived in Papua New Guinea over 20 years ago and is passionate about sharing PNG’s natural beauty and diverse cultures with the world. Find out more about Gudmundur Fridriksson on his website: http://www.gudmundurfridriksson.com and about the Paga Hill Estate development at http://www.pagahillestate.com