Clouds of volcanic mud envelop the automotive as we judder down the monitor by means of the Malpaís – the badlands. Contorted lava fields and cinder cones encompass us in a fierce show. This was as soon as believed to be the top of the Earth. Earlier than Columbus voyaged to America, El Hierro – the smallest and least-visited of the Canary Islands – was the westernmost fringe of the recognized world.
canaries
It lies 190 miles off the coast of north Africa, with nothing however ocean to the west till Florida, some 3,000 miles away. The sense of isolation continues to be palpable. There are few seashores, no resort inns, and getting right here requires a flight or 2½-hour ferry journey from Tenerife – however the few that make an effort are amply rewarded. It appeared like the proper vacation spot for an off-the-beaten-track climbing journey with the children.
My seven-year-old daughter and I are becoming a member of associates on a guided three-day group journey, exploring the island on foot and by automotive from our base at Balneario Pozo de la Salud, a small spa lodge on a bay on the west coast. We begin our tour on the Faro de Punta Orchilla, a lighthouse on the south-western tip of the island and thought to be the prime meridian for early map makers, till Greenwich gained out. The seven of us are the one ones right here. In February, it’s sizzling and eerily quiet. “On the market,” our information, Paolo, says, gazing over the ocean, “folks as soon as thought there was nothing however sea monsters.”

Zero in … the Orchilla lighthouse was as soon as the prime meridian. {Photograph}: Alamy
Again within the automotive, we wind up alongside switchback roads. At over 100 metres, “heroic vineyards”, so-called for the power and agility wanted to reap the grapes, cling to the mountainside. Small villages are strung with vibrant bunting – it’s carnival season, and shortly every village might be holding a celebration.
We arrive at El Sabinar – a wild juniper forest formed by centuries of fierce north-easterly winds. Bent double or twisting horizontally alongside the bottom, these timber have been sculpted into extraordinary shapes. “The wind is an artist,” Paolo smiles. “It shapes our land, the character round us, and defines the best way we stay.”
El Hierro is an elemental place. Stark and rugged, its darkish cliffs soar some 1,000 metres from the ocean. Though it enjoys a sub-tropical local weather, there is usually a 10-degree distinction in temperature from sea stage to mountaintops. The terrain and ecosystems rework all of the sudden, too. One minute we’re exploring dense, mossy woods and the following we’re scrambling up scree slopes to a crater’s edge; meadows give solution to pine forests ravaged by fireplace however nonetheless thriving; lava fields ripple out from plantations of banana, avocado and pineapple. With such wealthy variety, it’s little surprise Unesco designated the island a biosphere reserve and geopark in 2015.

Twisted sister … Kari’s daughter and associates look at one among El Sabinar’s timber. {Photograph}: Kari Herbert
We cease for a swim on the village of La Restinga, which made headlines in 2011 when a submarine volcano erupted simply 2km offshore. Magma bubbles have been seen from the water’s edge and all 600 villagers have been evacuated. Regardless of this, the protected waters listed here are known as Mar de las Calmas – Sea of Calm – and are the most effective diving spots on this planet, with spectacular sub-acquatic wildlife. However even in excessive season Restinga is quiet. We see simply three divers and a row of aged gents sipping wine.
El Hierro’s story is one among resilience. On the chapel of Our Woman of the Kings, we hear tales of miracles labored by the island’s patron saint – primarily bringing rain. Close by, we discover caves as soon as inhabited by Bimbaches, the primary inhabitants of the island, that are nonetheless utilized by modern-day shepherds. We pause to feed bananas to tiny lizards earlier than heading to the Lagartario eco-museum to satisfy El Hierro’s well-known large lizards, considered extinct till they have been rediscovered in 1974.

Our Woman of the Kings (Santuario de Nuestra Senora de Los Reyes). {Photograph}: Frank Lukasseck/Getty Photographs
Our lodge was constructed for these coming to take the therapeutic waters of a spring found within the 18th century, and its clifftop location is difficult to beat: the soundtrack is of Atlantic breakers crashing under. After days out exploring, we dine right here on tasty, easy fare similar to grilled fish with the Canaries’ trademark papas arrugadas, small salt-crusted potatoes with inexperienced and crimson mojo dipping sauces. A standout dessert is El Hierro smoked cheese baked in palm syrup.
With Paolo’s encouragement, the children (aged between seven and 10) stroll for round 4 miles every day with out criticism, dreaming up tales about lava giants or chasing pixies within the cloud forest. They seek for King Neptune in sea stacks and duendes – mischievous spirits – in a rock face, and play the place witches as soon as danced by moonlight. The story says that the witches hoped to find of their trances what had occurred to their menfolk who had sailed to Venezuela and Cuba looking for a better life.
At the moment, life on the finish of the world shouldn’t be so onerous. The island has no crime and the tempo is gradual. The individuals are hospitable and pleased with their connection to nature. On our means again to the port we move the towering wind generators of the island’s revolutionary new vitality and desalination plant.

The Pozo de la Salud lodge is in a dramatic cliff-top location. {Photograph}: Kari Herbert
Wind and sea are shaping the island’s future too: El Hierro is ready to turn into one of many world’s first sustainable islands – wind and solar already provide 60% of the island’s vitality. In a few years it hopes to be totally vitality self-sufficient. It’s a rare growth, provided that simply 50 years in the past few houses right here had electrical energy in any respect.
“We by no means complain concerning the wind,” Paolo says. “It offers us life.” The huge propellers flip slowly, catching the quickening commerce winds, those Columbus tackled as he sailed into the unknown. Had he picked up provides at El Hierro as a substitute of neighbouring La Gomera, maybe the course of historical past would have been totally different. I now know from expertise that leaving this magical place could be very, very onerous.
• The journey was supplied by A lot Higher Adventures, whose new three-day guided tour of El Hierro is out there from January to April and prices £478pp, together with lodging, meals and native transport. Some departures are particularly family-friendly and particular person journeys will be organized