Monday, 21 November 2011

Tourists invited to see erupting Congo volcano

Expand Lava shoots from Mount Nyamulagira in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. The park is offering tourists overnight treks to view the spectacular eruption. Photo / APA national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, best known for its endangered mountain gorillas, is now inviting tourists to go on overnight treks to see a volcano spurting fountains of lava some 300 metres into the air. Mount Nyamulagira began erupting on November 6 and could continue to do so for days, or even months. "Last night's was the most spectacular yet," spokeswoman LuAnne Chad said from Virunga National Park on Monday.
Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano attracted tourists earlier this year when a fissure had lava spurting 20 metres high. In comparison, volcanologist Dario Tedesco estimated that the lava on Mount Nyamulagira in Congo is spewing up to 300 metres high. Park wardens have named the latest Nyamulagira eruption "Kimanura," after the name of the area along the volcano's flank, spokeswoman Chad said. Rivers of incandescent lava are flowing slowly north into an uninhabited part of the park, but that the lava flows pose no danger to the park's critically endangered mountain gorillas, a statement from the park said. Virunga Park is home to 200 of the world's 790 mountain gorillas, as well as lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, okapi, forest elephants and buffalo. The park has set up a tented camp nearly 1.5 kilometres south of the eruption where tourists can spend the night.

For US$300 (NZ$389), the park provides transportation for the hour-long drive from the eastern capital of Goma and wardens to guide visitors on the three- to four-hour hike to the camp.

Virunga is located in eastern Congo, where numerous militia and rebel groups continue to terrorise the population nearly a decade after the country's civil war ended. Some 360 park rangers protect the park and its wildlife from poachers, rebel groups, illegal miners and land invasions. Rangers worked through the civil war in eastern Congo's five parks, with more than 150 killed in the last 10 years, according to the statement.
The 7800 square-kilometre Virunga National Park is a World Heritage site containing seven of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga mountain range that sprawls across the borders of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Only two are active - Nyamulagira and, closer to Goma, Mount Nyiragongo. Nyiragongo erupted destructively in 2002, destroying most of Goma city including 14,000 homes and forcing 350,000 residents to flee.

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