Krakatoa!

Many Australians have an Indonesian stamp in their passport from a visit to Bali. Our first trip to Indonesia was to meet up with friends not to party in Bali, but to climb the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa (Krakatau).

We arrived in Jakarta late on Friday night and ignored the touts to wait in line for a Blue Bird taxi to our hotel. We didn’t even see the hotel in daylight as we were up early the next morning to pile half-asleep into the waiting car at five am for the three hour drive west to Carita Beach. An hour or so into the journey we all started to wake up and found ourselves winding our way through verdant green rural Java. Farmers in conical woven hats drove buffalo through rice paddies. Roadside stalls were hung with bananas, plantain and long green pods I couldn’t identify. Passing through the villages we found ourselves in a sea of scooters all overloaded with people or cargo or both. Passengers seemed unconcerned to be helmetless, balancing on the back of scooters in crazy traffic. Women in colourful headscarves smiled and chatted to each other, holding on to child passengers as they jerked forward, the drivers battling for every inch of space.

Krakatoa

Finally we arrived at Carita Beach where we boarded a speedboat for the hour and a half ride to Krakatoa. After about an hour Krakatoa came into view, dark and ominous as it lazily puffed out sulphurous smoke. Technically this island is called Child of Krakatoa (Anak Krakatau) and only emerged in 1927 from the caldera left by the earth-shattering 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. This blew the island apart and set off tsunamis that killed over 36,000 people and shock waves that were recorded around the globe. The explosion was audible 4800km away in Alice Springs and Mauritius. While that is unlikely to be repeated, Anak Krakatau is still an active volcano most recently dumping ash on Sumatra and spilling lava into the sea in September 2012, less than a year earlier than our visit.

As we sailed around the island, we passed bare cliffs plunging into the ocean, then the occasional splash of green become scattered trees. We pulled into a black sand beach with picnic tables shaded by coconut palms. We set off into a belt of rainforest, brushing past ferns and spotting mushrooms and fungi growing on fallen logs.

Black sand beach

Fungi (also known as ‘snake bread’)

The trees thinned out as we climbed uphill into a hot, bleak and dusty moonscape. The surface is constantly changing and our guides choose the best route around the freshly hurled boulders. We could see the craters where the boulders had landed and bounced, leaving a trail of shattered rock before coming to a rest as precarious stacks of boulder fragments. There was a surprising amount of colour, the black sandy surface and shattered rocks in every shade from honeycomb yellow, through burnt orange to russet red, even glittering silver rocks like lumps of steel wool. We climbed as high as the heat and sulphurous smoke would allow and took in the views of Krakatoa and the surrounding islands.

Trail of destruction

Balancing precariously

Steel wool rock

View from the top

Back at the black beach we sat down to nasi goreng at the picnic tables before wading back out to the boat. We headed to a nearby spot for a swim and a snorkel, surrounded by brightly coloured tropical fish attracted by the breadcrumbs the crew scattered on the water. All too soon it was time to head back to Carita Beach.  On the way back some of us saw flying fish, but they seemed to be hiding from one member of our party, never appearing where he was looking and always back in the water by the time he turned his head to see.

Our chariot awaits

It’s possible to do Krakatoa as a day trip starting and ending in Jakarta or Carita Beach or to camp overnight on one of the islands (see also krakatau tours). We opted to spend the night at Carita Beach, relaxing with beers on the balcony as we watched the sun set over the ocean, having dinner at a local restaurant and playing cards in the air-conditioning. In the morning there was just time for breakfast and a walk on Carita Beach before piling back into the car for the three hour trip to the airport. Roadtripping and volcano climbing with mates made for a great weekend in Indonesia.

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