Bumping into Crater Man on a trip up a Volcano
While travelling on Samoa's less populated island Savai’i I headed deep into the interior to visit the Mount Matavanu Crater. Not only can you look deep into the impressive crater whose eruption reshaped the islands east coast, but you will be able to meet Crater Man, the guardian of this volcanic wonderland.
Mt Matavanu was the source of Samoa’s biggest volcanic eruption in recent history. On August 3rd 1905, molten lava poured out of the mountain forming a cone before flowing down a dry river valley to the coast destroying everything in its path.
It continued erupting for another six years, producing so much lava that its depth by the coast is over 120 metres deep in places. The Auckland News in 1901 described the volcano as having the “...(largest) crater on the face of the earth, the famous Vesuvius being a mere spoonful as compared with this monster.”
Mt Matavunu Crater during its eruption in 2008 and how it looks today
After a long and rough track up from the village of Paia, which requires a 4WD vehicle, I came face to face with Crater Man at his small home and gate. He became the guardian of the crater in 2000, living here, maintaining the tracks and collecting the 20 Tala entrance fee.
I had a quick chat with Crater Man, his real name is Se’u Utumapu.
Is he lonely up here living by himself on a volcanic crater?
“No not so much. I have Crater Dog and I go down to the village once a week for some supplies. There is a lot to eat around here, papaya, taro, pineapples, banana and more, so I need for very little.
And then I have my visitors. I know have had people from 140 countries climb up to the crater with me. Only recently I had a visitor from an island near Iceland (The Faroe Islands) and also Afghanistan.
I am happy to stay on the crater. I may not travel the world, but it comes to me!”
|The advert created by New Zealand Tourists to find Crater Man a wife|
Some New Zealand tourists tried to find new company for Crater Man with a humorous ad placed on facebook, which has pride of place in his fale.
Did it lead to any enquires?
Laughing he replied; “No, no, not as yet. But maybe one day!”
Crater Man guided us up to the actual crater, past signs he has made to remember some of the many foreign visitors who have made the climb. Beautiful flowers and orchids, with over fifty different varieties, lined the path as we headed upwards, with Crater Dog leading the way.
Vegetation has colonised every inch of the crater, making it a sea of green, with some trees growing so large that they reach the top of the crater from its floor.
There are no current signs of volcanic activity but geologists believe there is a 150 year cycle between eruptions here, which means it could well be due for another one around mid-century. But volcanoes tend not to follow set timetables, so it could always occur sooner or later.
In the meantime, Crater Man looks after the site and provides a big welcome to the many visitors who make the journey up to Matavanu.
Far Flung Tips
How to get to Matavanu Crater
Turn off North Coast road at Samauga and head south to the small village at Paia. Road is then signposted to the crater. You can walk from here, if you are fit and start early. If you want to drive a 4WD vehicle is required for the 8km journey up to Crater Man’s fale and gate, which can be arranged in the village (Depending on vehicle availability and the laid back Samoan way of life).
From here on it is an even bumpier 2 km ride or walk to a small clearing where you head upwards on a small path for 400 metres to the crater's edge.
Warning: Take great care around the rim of the crater. There are no barriers and there is a steep vertical drop. Crater Man has been down to the bottom but it was a tremendous effort involving many ropes and tree limbs and took over eight hours. He is not in a rush to do it again.
|Looking back down the road to the crater|