When I moved to Indonesia I was completely unaware that one of my childhood, geographical obsessions was actually located in this new country. A few months into my shiny, new Indonesian life, I was glancing at a map trying to plan all the places I had to visit when my eyes focused on the word “Krakatau.” A hundred memories rushed back into my head of hours spent reading about one of the worst volcanic eruptions of all time – and it was just an island away.
Krakatau is a volcano located just off of West Java. In 1883 it erupted and created the loudest sound ever recorded in modern history. The sound was heard up to 3,000 miles away in Perth, Australia and off the coast of Africa. The blast created a wall of hot ash that travelled across the sea and up into the sky high enough to color sunsets around the world for an entire year. The eruption caused tsunamis that tragically killed over 36,000 people, one of the worst eruptions in history.
I have always been interested in natural disasters whether it be a volcano, hurricane, earthquake etc. It’s still on my bucket list to see a tornado. When I was a kid, I had a book all about the worst natural disasters in history and that is when I first learned about Krakatau. Something about it gripped me and I remembered everything about it for all these years, except where it was located. Once I saw that it was in Indonesia and it was actually quite easy to visit, I started making plans with my friends.
We flew form Surabaya to Jakarta and were picked up by a touring company for a two day one night excursion. For three people the cost came out to 3,250,000 rupiah. We were driven to Carita Beach which is on the western most tip of Java. A walk along the beach not only reveals Krakatau and it’s “child” Anak Krakatau but also proves that this area of Java doesn’t get many western tourists. We were quite the sideshow. Our hotel was quite rough to western standards featuring paper thin walls and lacking a sink anywhere. Our night was quite rough as the walls offered no soundproofing against the loud traffic out front.
The next morning, after breakfast, we piled into a fast boat and took off towards the two volcanos. I had to keep pinching myself, still in unbelief that I was about to come face-to-face with something that held so much significance to my childhood and travel hopes of yesteryear. On top of that, we got an extra surprise. Remember how I said it was on my bucket list to see a tornado? Well, whilst on the boat, a storm began to form all around us. For some reason the small area that I boat was sailing never got any of the rain, but the storm clouds took up residence 360 degrees around us. It was like being in the eye of a hurricane. Along one side of us we actually got to see a waterspout form! I was probably much too excited as that could have potentially been a dangerous situation, but it was quite far away and I simply marveled at it. It became “natural disaster day” after all.
We first approached Anak Krakatau. Anak, or “Child” in Indonesian, was created by it’s eruption in 1928. It is still quite active today and had only erupted two weeks prior to us arriving and has erupted again since we’ve been back. It was amazing how such a violent place that erupts quite often was still the home to many plants, birds, and lizards. Nature will survive.
We took the boat in and our guide led us on a trek about halfway up the volcano. The smell of sulfur was palpable. Krisanne and I went up a bit higher and got some epic photos. The surreal-ness of the moment really sunk in as we stood atop a ridge that overlooked Krakatau. My obsession with Moana is a bit unhealthily, and all I could think of was how it felt as though we were on Te Ka, a dark, magma filled island, looking over to Krakatau’s Te Fiti, lush and green.
We had been told that no one was allowed to go onto Krakatau anymore, so I thought this would be the most epic moment of the day. I was wrong, but the views sure were spectacular. Gazing up at the volcano felt very much like looking up to Mt. Doom. Krisanne and I tried to decide who was Frodo and who was Sam.
We went back down the mountain and back to the boat where we were dropped at a snorkeling location. This was special as the magma from the volcano and heat from the lava created some interesting corals and rock formations. Visibility wasn’t great and there were few fish to ogle at, but it was definitely unique snorkeling.
Next, we were taken in closer to Krakatau itself to do some more snorkeling. This was definitely a better spot, filled with bright corals, clear water, and an array of fish. We even saw two large Parrot fish, that was a first. We snorkeled all the way to our lunch spot which, to my surprise and utter happiness, was on the beach of Krakatau itself! I’m still not sure if we were technically allowed to do that, but hey, we didn’t do anything bad!
As we swam up to the beach our guide yelled for us to be cautious as there was a large monitor lizard in the trees just up from where we would be eating. We all stopped and grabbed our cameras only to look to our left and see another monitor swimming in the water a few meters down from us. We got our nasi goreng (fried rice) and settled on the sand to watch the lizards roam the beach. To our excitement we ended up having 4-5 lizards on the beach with us, greedily watching our lunch. We were surrounded on all sides, but our guides took to shooing them away if they got to close. It really was a Jurassic Park The Lost World moment.
After lunch we climbed back onto the boat and headed back to Carita Beach and onto Jakarta where we stayed at another ridiculous hotel. Overall, our short trip to Krakatau not only was a honest to goodness dream come true for me, but it also was simply a fantastic day exploring a not highly touristy part of Indonesia. If you ever find yourself in West Java, I completely recommend visiting, and even camping on the beach if your time allows. Packed with both wildlife and history, Krakatau is a beautiful and mysterious place right out of a movie.