KRAKATOA is one of the world’s most legendary volcanoes but, surprisingly, the small group of islands it is part of today is not overrun with tourists. In fact, when I visited it with a few other people, we were the only ones there.
Located in the Sunda Strait between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra, Krakatoa was once part of a larger island, two-thirds of which were destroyed in a cataclysmic eruption in 1883.
The explosions that accompanied the eruption are considered to be the loudest sounds in modern history. The remaining one-third of the old Krakatoa is now known as Rakata Island.
After that deadly eruption, a huge caldera about 7km in diameter was formed. In 1927, in the centre of this caldera, a new volcano began to surface. It was named Anak Krakatoa(Child of Krakatoa), and is still growing by around 5m a year.
To get to the Krakatoa islands, we boarded a speedboat at Carita Beach — a town located some three hours’ journey from Jakarta.
The speedboat ride was just an hour long, breezily pleasant with only the waves of the Sunda Strait for company as the mainland faded out of sight.
It didn’t take long before we approached Krakatoa, which includes — besides Rakata and Anak Krakatoa — the islands of Verlaten and Lang.
I never imagined that there would be much marine life there, but there is!
We dropped anchor near one of the islands to snorkel with the fish and corals. Actually, it wasn’t great snorkelling as a lot of the coral was dead, but it was fun enough to jump into the cold water under sunny skies.
Refreshed, we landed on the beach for a picnic lunch under the greedy glares of monitor lizards that liked our rice and fish as much as we did.They were easily deterred by a clap or sudden movement, but not as easily scared away. They scurried off but kept creeping back, their long tongues flickering to detect the scent of food.
They didn’t stand much chance of nicking our food, though — we were so hungry, we ate at top speed.
Packing up every morsel of food to avoid encouraging these scavengers, we finally headed for Anak Krakatoa, which would be our home for the night.
Our first glimpse of this baby volcano was gasp-worthy. The island is still so new in geological terms that it is mostly made of black lava rocks and soft sand, streaked with yellow sulphur.
Despite this, some hardy plants were already taking root in the inhospitable rocks, searching for elusive nutrients in their will to survive.
Life will always find a way.
Puffs of smoke drifting languidly from the top of Anak Krakatoa left us with no doubt that this was an active volcano but we were assured that it would not erupt while we were there. Well, we hoped so!
There are only the barest of facilities on this volcanic island. There are washrooms but no showers, although a small spring on the beach provided us with fresh water to rinse off sand and seawater. A couple of simple gazebos offered a pleasant, shady place to chill with a book.
There isn’t that much to do on the island, other than go for walks.
The walk up to a plateau near the volcano’s peak was easy as it has a gradual slope. The real challenge was the soft sand and blazing heat reflecting off the rocks.
We were not allowed to climb up to the summit as it is considered too dangerous, but the views were amazing anyway. We even spotted a new volcano beginning to emerge.
We could see how huge the original Krakatoa was, and imagine the catastrophic force of its eruption.
Our descent was much more fun. We ran down the slope, which can get slippery, but the sand is so soft that falling down doesn’t hurt.
Anak Krakatoa was magnificent by night, with the moon and stars to light its hulking height. A barbecue dinner on the beach was the perfect end to our day, and despite the humidity, I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the folded-up clothes that I had used as a pillow in our tent facing the waves.
The Krakatoa islands are off the beaten track but well worth the journey.
We flew on AirAsia to Jakarta, and travelled by van to Carita Beach. From there, we boarded a speedboat that took us to Anak Krakatoa and back. We were part of a tour organised by Green John Chan, a Malaysian nature guide.
■ Travel light — you will need to wade out to Anak Krakatoa from the boat. There are no jetties.
■ Use comfortable footwear, wear light clothes and bring a hat for the walk up the volcano. It is an easy walk but it can get hot.
■ Bring everything you need for the trip — from food to water and wet wipes — as there are only very basic facilities on Anak Krakatoa. Carita Beach is a big town, and that is the place to stock up on necessities and souvenirs.
Source: SG Travellers © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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