Exploring Nea Kamini Santorini

We thought we'd be clever. We would avoid the toil up the cliff at Thira on Santorini or the long wait for the chairlift; in fact, we would avoid the main island altogether. We would explore the outlying volcanic island of Nea Kamini. And, if you think it sounds like 'New Chimney' -- that's more or less what it is. But a fascinating New Chimney.

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I don't think I really need to describe Santorini to anyone who knows the Greek islands. We all know about the whitewashed towns perched on top, and up the sides of the sheer cliff; indeed, if anyone asks for a 'photograph of Greece' they will, in all probability, be offered a photo of Santorini.

Don't get me wrong. Thira, the island's main town is indeed a charming place, with stunning views out to sea, and, if you stay long enough, a sunset to kill for.

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Thira's narrow streets weren't designed to accommodate an incursion from the passengers of two or three cruise liners. Neither were the chairlift or the mules, which are necessary to ascend the cliff to Thira from the Old Harbour (Skala) if you don't want to walk the tortuous path and climb all those steps.

Instead we opted to explore Nea Kamini.

Santorini and Nea Kamini

I suppose the date 1450 BC is as indelibly engraved on the mind of a native of Santorini as 1066 is to an English person. That's around when Santorini erupted, to cause the biggest bang in recorded history, and to wipe out a civilisation (although just how depends on which television archaeologist you believe).

This eruption left the world's biggest caldera, or crater, and all that remains of the walls are the main island, and that of neighbouring Thirassia. Eight more eruptions have occurred since then. The fourth, which happened around the beginning of the 18th Century, caused the island of Nea Kamini to appear. Subsequent eruptions caused the island to grow in size, and eventually engulf another nearby island.

Today, Nea Kamini is an uninhabited pile, devoid of all vegetation, and looking more like a slag-heap than anything else. But, nevertheless, it's an interesting slag-heap, as witnessed by the many notices on the quayside at the Old Harbour, below Thira, offering boat trips to 'see the volcano'.

Our ship stopped briefly to let us take a tender to Athinios, before sailing on to its anchorage off Thira. At Athinios, we transferred to a kaiki.

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That's a name which conjures up visions of a cluttered, ramshackle fishing boat, skippered by a pipe-smoking, taciturn Anthony Quinn clone. I think I've been watching too many old movies, because, although the wooden kaiki was built to the traditional pattern, I doubt if those pristine decks ever had a fish landed on them.

There are two small harbours on the island, where the kaikis tie up. These, a rack holding explanatory leaflets in most languages, aerials for monitoring the volcano and rope to ensure the visitors don't fall into the many craters are about the only man-made things you will see.

Exploring Nea Kamini

The first stop is at the oldest crater on the island, which was a separate island, Mikra Kamini, until the 1920s, when it was completely engulfed by lava from a new crater, christened 'Daphne'.

Not a place of great beauty, apart from the view across the caldera, with its imposing cliff wall, looking like a snow-capped mountain, with the whitewashed Thira perched on top of it. >

The crater Daphne also gave us a view of the neighbouring islands of Palea Kamini and Aspronissi. Palea Kamini, to our surprise, had buildings on it! Overlooking a little bay were some whitewashed blockhouses and a little church. Hot springs flow into that bay, and the minerals in them are said to have curative qualities.

But, meanwhile, the poor guide was trying to condense nearly 4000 years of history into the few minutes allowed to him. Actually, it worked out rather well. As he gave his presentation in English, the French-speakers drifted around and took photographs, and when he switched to French, we changed places.

Lesser known offbeat Nea Kamini has its own desolate charm Santorini at http://www.offbeattravel.com/nea-kamini-kameni-santorini-greece.html
And, all the time, we were glancing eastwards, towards a massive double crater called 'George', where some of the rocks gave off a slight vapour. The guide said it was steam, and quite normal, and it did that all the time. Secretly, I was rather pleased, for, so far, we had seen little evidence of present volcanic activity.

Of course, we had to walk around 'George', and, on the eastern side, we saw some fumaroles; holes giving off steam and smelling slightly of bad eggs. Evidence enough, I think, that Nea Kamini isn't extinct; it's merely dormant.

The last eruption was in 1950, and another one could happen any time. But, we were told, there was no immediate danger of that happening. It was being monitored very closely, and would give plenty of warning.

'And, if that happens' said the guide 'we have a very good tour of the vineyards on the main island we can do instead!'

If You Go

Santorini is an almost essential port of call for ships cruising the eastern Mediterranean. But, there is also plenty of scope for independent travellers.

By air:
The airport at Santorini is served by two domestic airlines, both of which operate frequent services from Athens. These are Olympic Airlines (www.olympicair.com) and Aegean Airlines (www.aegeanair.com). In the summer, several budget and charter airlines fly in from several European cities. EasyJet is just one www.easyjet.com

Ferries and accommodation:
Ferries from Athens (Piraeus) and some other islands call frequently at Santorini. Since it is a popular holiday resort, accommodation to suit any pocket can usually be found. For a really convenient 'one stop shop' to find out about ferries and accommodation anywhere in the Greek islands, I recommend www.gtp.gr for a really comprehensive listing.

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Keith Kellett
Having written as a hobby for many years while serving in the Royal Air Force, Keith saw no reason to discontinue his when he retired to a village in the south of England, near Stonehenge. With time on his hands, he produced more work, and found, to his surprise, it 'grew and grew' and was good enough to finance his other hobbies; travelling, photography and computers. He is trying hard to prevent it from becoming a full-time job.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: May 22nd, 2014
Updated: August 23, 2016

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