I first read about the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during a trip to Rwanda three years ago. It aroused my interest as it features the world’s largest lava lake. Lava lakes are massive bodies of lava that can be wholly molten, partially molten, or even solidified. Lava lakes are a very rare phenomenon. Only a few volcanoes have hosted persistent or near-persistent lava lakes during recent decades.

However, when my wife and I were visiting Rwanda we did not have enough time to venture across the border to Nyiragongo, but I persistently kept the volcano in my mind.

 

I returned to Kampala, Uganda and was hosted by friends Domi and Mick who let me stay stay in their amazing place equipped with a swimming pool and adorned with a beautiful tropical garden. They told me about their time in the DRC two years ago when they climbed the Nyiragongo volcano. I was impressed by their amazing pictures and videos of bubbling lava and glowing clouds and decided to immediately organize a trip to Nyiragongo.

The view from lake Kivu to Nyiragongo volcano and the city of Goma on the right

I took a flight to Kigali from Entebbe via Nairobi. From Kigali, I took a bus to Gisenyi, on the border with DRC. Getting an individual tourist visa to DRC can be burdensome, I left the formalities to the Virunga National Park (which organizes the trek to the volcano), and got mine within a day.

Entebbe (Uganda) to Kigali (Rwanda) via Nairobi (Kenya) (makes not much sense, but that’s modern economics)

 

The border crossing between Gisenyi in Rwanda and Goma in the DRC was hassle free.

 

Signpost with a color system showing the current status of the volcano are present everywhere in Goma

Strolling around in Goma I came across the Goma Volcano Observatory where a very friendly employee named Jeanpy introduced me to the various seismic measurements done at the observatory. Their objective is to predict future major eruptions and minimize the threat posed to the city of Goma and its inhabitants. The last eruption in 2002 was predicted a couple of days in advance and consequently more than 400,000 people were evacuated from the danger zone.

 

This football field is composed of solidified lava from the last eruption in 2002

 

At least a street artist has not given up the hope for a peaceful life in DRC

 

A Chukudu is used for transporting freight and is “endemic“ to east of DRC, where it was developed in the 1970’s

Domi and Mick linked me up with their friends in Goma where I stayed while in the DRC. The nicely build house situated at the shore of lake Kivu and surrounded by lush green gardens is dubbed Le Chateau for a reason 🙂.  I definitely didn’t expect to spend my time in Goma in such a nice and peaceful place. Shout out to my hosts, Soop Mai, Mathieu, Baastian, Herman and Max. They introduced me to the expat life of Goma by taking me to parties where I met their friends and got some insight about the situation in the DRC.

Le Chateau seen from the lake

 

Who wouldn’t like to stay here?

 

 

Thanks to the presence of MONUSCO, the UN mission in DRC, Goma is quite safe. However the power of MONUSCO and the Congolese army diminishes outside the city. Rebels and gangs control much of the rural areas of the eastern DRC and it is not recommended to travel around on your own. Staying a couple of days in Goma before my trek to Nyiragongo wasn’t bad. Apart from strolling in Goma and hanging around in the garden of Le Chateau, I cycled to Lac Vert which is 10 km east of Goma, and paddled with Mathieu’s inflatable kayak on Lake Kivu.

Lac Vert (green lake) is more brown than green, contrary to what its name suggests

 

 

 

People mine the volcanic soil of the crater of Lac Vert to use it as fertilizer

A heavy thunderstorm broke over Goma the night before the trek. The thunder rolled overhead with such a fury, almost threatening to split the heavens. I was assured by my hosts the next morning that it was just an ordinary tropical thunderstorm. I wondered how I would cope through such a storm at 3470 m high above in the tiny huts on the crater rim. The next morning however, the weather was clear and calm after several cloudy and hazy days with barely any sunshine.

A nice view to the small Tchegera island

 

 

We set off at 9:30 am on the trail heading to the volcano after some instructions from one of the rangers. The current security situation in the Southern Virunga National Park around Nyiragongo was said to be stable allowing us to hike in a calm atmosphere surrounded by armed rangers in the front and the back. On the way up we came across three ranger outposts equipped with machine guns. Upto 30 rangers secure the trail up to the volcano, a tough job as there is no shelter and heavy rain falls almost every day. We were supposed to be a group of four this day, but another group of 12 from Czech Republic who had missed their ferry across Lake Kivu from Bukavo to Goma two days ago, joined us.

 

Hiking up on the lava flow from 2002 eruption. The rock was very sharp and left deep scratches on my boots

 

 

 

The hike goes through a rain forest and continues upwards through the sparsely overgrown lava from the last eruption in 2002, culminating on to the rim of the crater where hardly any vegetation is present. We were very lucky as we had almost no rain during the five hour hike. Everyone else who I talked to that had done the trek before told me their experience of consistent heavy rain, even during dry season.

Luckily, we got some rain only after we reached the only shelter on the trek and located 300 m below the crater rim

 

But the weather cleared up soon afterwards

When we reached the crater rim, I was mesmerized by the view. Inside was a huge crater with a diameter of 1.2 km, hissing, simmering red hot lava and billowing smoke. As the sun went down, the scenery got even more spectacular. I spent almost all night at the rim watching the roaring waves of lava and the glowing smoke merging into the clouds illuminated by the moon. However, getting a closer look on the lava lake is rather difficult due to the instability of the rock that surrounds the crater.  A rope, climbing equipment and a lot of courage is needed to get to the lower terrace inside the crater.

Above the lava lake

 

This is what I call a good view

 

Sitting next to the hut where I spent the night

 

In the background there is a smaller crater that got filled with lava during the last eruption in 2002

 

 

The scene got more spectacular at night

 

 

 

The devil lies in the details 🙂

 

Moonshine over Goma

 

 

 

There is nothing like a sunrise on the crater rim of an active volcano

 

 

Read more about Thomas, his travels and adventures at his website photoneer.de check out his videos on Vimeo and follow him @thephotoneer on Instagram.

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3 Comments

  1. July 22, 2018 at 10:00 pm — Reply

    Absolutely amazing Thomas. What eye-popping photos here and some fab story telling too. Brilliant. I give you props for hiking up the most active volcano on earth. Meaning you could be going down quickly LOL. Thanks for sharing.

    Ryan

  2. Manesha
    July 27, 2018 at 8:58 pm — Reply

    This is really impressive. A trip to DRC is super overdue I just can’t seem to find company to travel with and I’m not big on solo travel or with a bunch of strangers ….. I’ll add this to my list when I do get to DRC

  3. September 27, 2018 at 8:44 am — Reply

    Amazing photos.Thanks for sharing.

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