With more than 120 active volcanoes, Indonesia is a hive of seismic activity. An archipelago dotted across an area the width of the United States, every vista is backed by the profile of a nearby volcano. Audley Travel specialist Mat Hall shares his memories of hiking some of these volcanoes and experiencing the volcanic geology first-hand.
After first visiting Indonesia, I compared my photos to a friend’s pictures, taken a few years before. They both showed the same landscapes, but their features differed dramatically. For me, this really piqued my fascination with a country that is continuously being altered by volcanic activity.
Why go volcano hiking in Indonesia?
It’s possible to see volcanic peaks all over Indonesia. Rather than simply enjoying the scenery, I’d argue that you can’t fully appreciate them without setting foot on one. Standing on volcanic lava rocks, surrounded by scattered ash, you can sometimes feel the movement of the earth below. Up close, the rumbling of a volcano sounds like a million old cars trying to start up at once.
Each volcano has its own unique geological features, so I’d suggest combining a few. For example, there’s a stark contrast in topography between the sprawling volcanic complex at Ijen and the perfect cone of Krakatoa. The calderas (volcanic craters caused by a collapsing magna chamber) can vary in size from a few metres, to hundreds of miles.
The smoking crater of Mount Bromo
Waking up at 3am, my guide picked me up in a 4×4 and drove me into Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park on the island of Java. En route we passed a checkpoint informing us there was no volcanic activity occurring. We were safe to continue. Driving up to a viewpoint, we find a position and wait for the sun rise over the four volcanic peaks of the park. Semeru, the highest peak, erupts every ten minutes, almost to the clock, with a puff of smoke.
From here, I began the one hour hike up to the rim of Bromo. The volcano itself lies in a vast sandy plain known as the sea of sands. Walking along this dusty grey moonscape, the side of the volcano looms up ahead, with steps cut into the side of the rock. On reaching the rim, I could see right down onto the smoking plateau of white ash. The smoke continuously billows from its depths and some of the rumbles were so loud they startled fellow visitors.
Nearby is a simple Hindu temple. It’s easy to miss – built out of volcanic rock, it blends into the landscape beyond. The volcano is worshipped by local Hindus who celebrate Yadnya Kasada each year in June. Pilgrims line the edge of the crater, throwing offerings into its depths to appease the god of the mountain.
Visit the highest acidic lake in the world at Mount Ijen
Perched right on the eastern point of Java, on a clear day you can see Bali from Mount Ijen’s peak. Part of an extensive volcanic landscape, Mount Ijen is the active volcano within the Ijen caldera, the largest on Java.
It was another early start. I woke at 5am and my guide drove me to ‘base camp’, nestled at the base of the volcano. Climbing at full moon, the path was so well lit I didn’t turn my torch on. I’d suggest planning a trip around the full moon if you have the flexibility: hiking by the cool light of the moon is quite surreal.
After an hour’s climb, you’ll come to a group of enterprising locals who have set up a camp offering tea, coffee and biscuits. You can refuel here before heading on to the rim. A final push to the top takes another hour before you’re on a narrow ridge overlooking the tumult below.
On my visit, smoke covered the caldera completely, making for a very spooky atmosphere. If you’re lucky, the smoke will clear and you’ll be able to see the turquoise lake filling the crater. Its unreal shade is caused by its acidity levels. The extreme acidity, sometimes with a pH as low as 0.5, is caused by hydrothermal waters rising from the magma chambers below.
The most unique feature is the lake-side solfatara. This is a geological phenomenon where sulphurous gasses emerge from vents in the caldera and, on meeting oxygen, burn with a neon blue light.
I thought my wake-up call was early, but my guide explained that sulphur miners arrive at 2am to begin work. Descending steep paths right down into the volcano, they hew chunks of sulphur before carrying it away in baskets on their shoulders. It’s dangerous work. Many miners carry more than their own bodyweight in sulphur on the return leg.
Hiking back down the volcano in daylight, I surveyed the surrounding landscape. It was covered in a lush blanket of trees and shrubs. Mineral-rich volcanic ash breaks down into the soil creating some of the most fertile land on earth.
Enjoy a volcano-cooked dinner at Mount Batur
On the island of Bali, Mount Batur juts above a landscape pockmarked with craters from countless previous eruptions. It currently sits between two merged calderas containing a crescent-shaped lake. From the viewpoint you can see numerous small villages and roads weaving their way around the lake, drawn by the populous fish and clean water.
Bali attracts more visitors than any other Indonesian island, so Batur can get quite busy. My guide suggested we visit at sunset rather than sunrise. The volcano also steams more in the evening, adding to the ambience. The climb is more gentle than other peaks, taking about two hours to reach the summit along well marked paths. From the top you can see the lake and villages stretching across the caldera – a real contrast to more desolate volcanoes.
Whilst waiting for the sun to set, my guide prepared a meal. Gathering handfuls of grass, he placed them into a nearby vent, creating a traditional oven. Gingerly putting my hand in, I could feel the heat from the earth below. A couple of eggs were popped in and, in minutes, we were enjoying hard boiled eggs with our pre-cooked rice and noodles. For dessert we enjoyed cooked bananas served with chocolate.
Sleep at the foot of an active volcano on Krakatoa
In my opinion, Krakatoa is the most unique volcano you can visit. On the hour and a half boat journey from Java’s mainland, my guide explained the history of the volcano. Once a large island, in 1883 a massive eruption split the island of Krakatoa into four small islands. The noise of the eruption is considered the loudest sound recorded in human history, and the pressure waves were recorded on barometers all over the world.
We were in fact visiting Anak Krakatoa, the ‘little child’ of the original Krakatoa volcano. As we rounded Rakata, another island fragment of the original volcano, Anak Krakatoa came into view. For me, it’s the very image of a stereotypical volcano – a neat cone shape jutting straight up from the sea.
Pulling up onto the beach, my guide began setting up camp. The island is completely undeveloped so we were staying in tents on the coast. Most of the island is covered in barren black volcanic rock but on the east side of the island, a small forest has managed to grow.
Hiking up the side of the volcano, we followed a safe, set route. Aside from a few scraggly trees at the base, we walked through a desolate wasteland. Volcanic rock changes shade with age, scarring the sides of the volcano with lines, marking each eruption. About halfway up, we stopped. We’d reached a viewpoint, the highest we could safely go. Any further, my guide tells me, and my shoes would melt.
We stopped with the smoking peak in the distance, steam coming off the ground a little way in front. For me, the view is one of the best I’ve seen – a completely undisturbed panorama of Anak Krakatoa’s sister fragments dotted in the ocean, with no signs of life.
A worthwhile addition to hiking the volcano, the nearby island of Rakata shelters some dazzling coral. Taking a short boat ride from Anak Krakatoa, we pulled up to the coast of Rakata, which is edged with steep maroon lava walls. Above the water, the lava rock is barren – below the surface, the contrast is stunning. Lava is particularly nutritious for coral, encouraging the vibrant array of coral hiding underwater. Turtles glide over the coral whilst neon stripped angel fish dart in-between.
Add a visit to Singapore
It’s possible to fly straight into Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, but I’d suggest flying into Singapore. The array of flight options make it more convenient for most, but it also makes a wonderful introduction to southeast Asia. A modern, English-speaking city with a slick transport system, it’s an easy place to explore. If this makes it sound a little sterile – it isn’t.
It’s a city I’m particularly fond of. Singapore may be a modern metropolis, but its skyscrapers are intertwined with temples and colonial architecture. Visit the pastel rows of restored colonial mansions, wander the botanical gardens or sample some of the local dishes in food halls nicknamed ‘hawker markets’.
Visit one of Indonesia’s beaches
I’d recommend finishing a volcano hiking trip to Indonesia with a few nights on the beach. The beach of Sanur, in the south of Bali, is sheltered by a reef, creating a calm cove. This feeds into the area’s general ambience, with relaxed beach bars and some serene sunsets. The food stands out for me, with freshly caught fish sold on tiny stalls dotted along the coast.
If you’re looking for a longer beach stay, I’d suggest islands hopping to Lombok, to the east of Bali, with quieter beaches and some luxe hotels.
When is the best time of year for hiking volcanoes?
For the best experience, late April through to October works well as the skies will be clear and there’s little rain. The months of July and August can be quite busy, especially at weekends when locals take day trips out to the volcanoes.
What do you need to bring?
When visiting a volcano for sunrise, it can be chilly first thing in the morning, with temperatures dipping to 5C (41F). I’d recommend a warm jacket and lots of layers – it gets warmer quite quickly once the sun is up. A scarf or balaclava is also handy to protect your face from ash in the air if it’s windy.
Lava rock is very smooth so can be a little slippery. I would suggest walking shoes with a good grip, and climbing poles to help with steep, uphill sections.
Of course, having your camera close to hand is vital as you’ll have the opportunity to capture some incredible images.
Mat Hall is a Travel Specialist for Audley Travel. Audley trips don’t come off the shelf – they’re tailor-made down to the finest detail. When planning a trip with us, you will speak to a destination specialist who has either lived or travelled extensively within the country or region that you are visiting. They will create a bespoke trip based on your tastes, interests and budget and with an absolute commitment to providing quality travel experiences.
This article was brought to you in partnership with Audley Travel
Read More articles from Audley Travel
At the RHS Hampton Court Flower show this week, destinations from Charleston to Galicia, Normandy to Peru, came alive in the gardens from around the world. Each was inspired by the plants and landscapes that make these little corners of a country unique and special. The show is on for a few more days, so do go along to see these and many other beautiful gardens to find some inspiration for your next holiday.
As I was visiting on the 4th July, celebrations were in full swing at the three USA gardens from Oregon, Charleston and Austin.
Landscapes of Austin
At the Austin garden, the strumming of singer songwriter Carson McHone took me straight back to our holiday in Texas a few years ago, remembering all the street performers playing in the bars and by the food trailers in Austin. The stone walling, beaten earth paths and and rusting metal bowl filled with water were just as I remembered, even in the smart hotel where we stayed on our trip to Texas.
I loved the soft swathes of grass that looked as if they were rustling in the breeze, mixed with the dusty reds and yellows of Echinacea and other wild flowers. The spiky Agave were there too, to remind us that Texas is tequila country and they mix a mean margarita in Austin.
Mountains and Vineyards of Oregon
In the Oregon garden it was all about the mountain landscape with rocky outcrops and mountain streams backed by pine forests (or as much of a forest as you can realistically transport and plant at a garden show). There were a few vines too to show that they are a wine growing region and at the front a naturalistic planting of daisies and grasses looking as if they might be growing in the border of some farmer’s field. To represent the many cycling routes around the state, the edge of the borders were decorated with bicycle wheels.
Hidden gardens of Charleston
Quite different to the naturalistic feel of the other USA gardens was the Charleston garden, which exhuded elegance and old world charm. Box hedges surrounded the manicured lawn with wrought iron benches to linger a while. The pink and white planting gave a romantic feel mixed with a few more tropical shrubs. It was just the sort of place you’d like to take iced tea with your grandmother and hear her reminisce about her days as a southern belle.
The Inca Garden with inspiration from Machu Picchu
The Inca civilisation of Peru that created awe-inspiring structures like Machu Picchu was the inspiration for a tropical garden sponsored by British Airways and Journey Latin America. From the outside we were met by a wall of native foliage with banana plants and sculptural leaves, but as we walked further into the garden, the carefully crafted dry stone terraces like those at Machu Picchu were revealed.
Water trickled down from the grassy terraces into pools that could be used for irrigation, with gardens of maize, potato and quinoa standing in well kept rows. The planting was spiky and exotic with variegated red and green planting mixed in with the yellow and orange astromeria. Perhaps if the explorer Hiram Bingham had been able to step back in time, this is what he would have seen of Machu Picchu when the Incas were at their full power, rather than the deserted remains of a lost civilisation that we think of today.
The Normandy 1066 Medieval Garden
To celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the ‘Le Clos d’Hastings’ garden took on a medieval theme that reflected the garden plants and countryside from both sides of the channel in Normandy and the area around Hastings. The garden was divided diagonally into two parts with a woven hazel fence, the ends of the branches sprouting in places.
On one side of the fence was a field of crops waiting to be harvested; flax and wheat speckled with red popies and daisies. On the other side of the fence were garden plants in shades of white and purple, a rich mixture evoking the Bayeux tapestry. At the back of the plot, a green hedge was planted with saplings to represent the farming landscape of Normandy while at the front a couple of Norman soldiers were standing guard, quite happy to pose for photos!
From Galicia in Northern Spain – the Route of the Camelia garden
One of my favourites among the world gardens was the Route of the Camellia garden, sponsored by Turismo de Galicia. I visited northern Spain a few years ago on a family summer holiday and well remember the mixture of brilliant sunshine and showers that we had – there’s a good reason why it’s called ‘Green Spain’!
The garden celebrates the pilgrim’s route of Santiago de Compostela, which I’d love to hike some day, with the pilgrim’s symbol of scallop shells scattered on the path. Overhanging the romantic shrine to the Virgin Mary was a Camellia tree, frequently found in this part of Spain. Since the camellia flowers in the spring, designer Rose McMonigall had used pink coloured shells to represent the camelia petals that might drop onto the pilgrim’s path.
RHS Garden Holidays
If you’re a garden enthusiast, take a look at the RHS Garden Holidays, which are organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, offering tours of the world’s great gardens, accompanied by horticultural experts.
RHS Hampton Court Flower Show
The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show takes place 5-10 July 2016 – visit the RHS website for more information on this and all the other RHS flower shows.
Thanks to RHS Hampton Court Flower Show who provided me with free entry to the show.
At Ottley’s Plantation Inn, I felt I was stepping back in time, into a luxurious Caribbean lifestyle. The last remaining plantation inn on St Kitts, the hotel is a haven to relax in the elegance of the Great House, surrounded by beautifully kept gardens, flower filled borders and avenues of royal palms. The hotel is close to the rainforest that clothes the slopes of Mount Liamuiga, where you can take nature walks, with open views towards the ocean. Read on for more about this special hotel.
The history of Ottley’s Plantation Inn
The hotel is named after the first owners, the Ottley family who arrived from Yorkshire in the 18th century to establish a sugar plantation. Over the years the house and estate has passed through many different hands and was a private home when the parents of the present owners took it over in 1988 to reopen as an inn. The original building was enlarged by adding a second storey while maintaining the traditional style, to create the pretty yellow-painted Great House with white verandahs that you find today. Backed by forest trees and the extinct volcano beyond, with beautifully kept lawns stretching out towards the sea, Ottleys looks as if it might have been a wealthy plantation owner’s home for ever.
Traditional Caribbean hospitality
These days guests can share in a little piece of plantation history. With only 24 rooms spread between the Great House and stone cottages in the grounds, it feels as if you might be staying at the home of a rather grand friend. The hotel is very much a family affair, run on a day to day basis by sisters Nancy and Karen, together with Nancy’s husband Marty and their father who although retired still lives on the estate. In the evenings, the family mingle with guests, adding to the feeling of traditional hospitality, and Marty gives regular nature walks around the grounds explaining about the different trees and flowering plants.
My Classic Caribbean bedroom
My gorgeous bedroom was in one of the stone cottages in the grounds, with cream tiled floor and walls, contrasting with the dark mahogany plantation shutters and furniture. Throwing open the shutters and looking out towards the ocean, I felt like a heroine in Gone With The Wind, who might any moment be dressing for dinner to catch the eye of a favourite beau. Dark wood and rattan chairs, pretty floral quilts, porcelain lamps and traditional woven mats completed the romantic old-style Caribbean atmosphere.
The spacious cream bathroom had a large mirror and stone-effect double sinks with gold taps. There was a large jacuzzi bath as well as a shower and I enjoyed the little personal touches like a vase of flowers from the garden, as if the mistress of the house had cut a few of her favourite flowers for me specially.
Just outside the cottage was a private area to sit and doze in the shade or read, with a plunge pool to take a refreshing dip.
Ottley’s Plantation Inn is on the Atlantic coast of St Kitts, set on the lower slopes of Mount Liamuiga, a little above the road that encircles the island. As you turn off the main road and up the long, tree-lined drive, it feels as if you are entering a private hideaway, where the sea breeze ruffles the tops of the palms. From the verandah of the Great House or the window of my bungalow I could just see the Atlantic ocean across the beautifully manicured gardens filled with fragrant frangipani and bougainvillea. Although the hotel transports you to an elegant world of the old Caribbean, it’s only a 10-15 minute drive from the island’s capital of Basseterre and the airport.
I ventured into the Great House where the luxurious plantation style continued in the guest sitting room with traditional dark wood furniture, comfortable flowery sofas and the paintings of local artists on the walls. At the back of the room was a bar, for evening drinks and a small library and reading area.
The Royal Palm Restaurant
Dinner is taken in the Royal Palm Restaurant which is open to the garden on one side, within the walls of the plantation’s old boiling house. With elegant wrought iron furniture, pink table cloths and arrangements of flowers from the garden, the restaurant offers a fusion menu that draws on the best of Mediterranean inspiration combined with Caribbean flavours. With the fairy lights and candles on the table, the restaurant takes on a very romantic feel as darkness falls and you are surrounded by the chirping of the tree frogs in the garden. As the food is excellent and there are no other restaurants close by, many guests book a package that includes dinner for their stay.
On the other side of the black volcanic stone wall is the spring fed swimming pool looking out over the garden at one end and adjoining the bar, where they make an excellent rum punch.
After my restful night’s stay I enjoyed a hearty breakfast of Caribbean style eggs and fresh orange juice from the breakfast menu. Breakfast is served in another informal dining room within the boiling house, with open sides overlooking the garden.
The Mango Orchard Spa
Nancy showed me around the Mango Orchard Spa, in a pretty wooden cabin under the trees, overlooking the wooded nature walk, where the vervet monkeys play in the branches. You can book a very special facial treatment or soothing massage here surrounded by sounds of the rainforest.
A beautiful Caribbean wedding setting
The idyllic location, traditional character and beautifully kept gardens make Ottley’s a popular setting for Caribbean weddings which can be held in different parts of the grounds, in either the woodland area or on the rolling lawns. The circular base of the old sugar mill near the Great House is often used as a stage for the wedding ceremony, surrounded by the dappled green of the forest with pink flower petals scattered over the old brick floor.
Who is Ottley’s Plantation Inn best suited for?
We think you will love Ottley’s Plantation Inn if you are looking for the old-world charm of the historic plantation inn and a place to relax and unwind. The hotel is best suited to couples looking for tranquility or a romantic break and travellers aged 40+ will feel at home.
Good to know
Getting around the island’s beaches and sights by taxi can be expensive, although the hotel runs a daily shuttle into Basseterre and the main beaches such as Cockleshell and Frigates Bay. However if you are interested in a more active holiday of watersports, sightseeing and eating in different restaurants you could combine a few days relaxing at Ottleys with a stay at one of the other hotels that are closer to the beach or town.
To Book Ottley’s Plantation Inn
Book your stay at Ottley’s Plantation Inn on their website at Ottleys.com and follow them on Facebook. To compare prices and book for hotels on St Kitts use my Hotels Combined Booking comparison page.
Visitor Information for St Kitts
To plan your visit to St Kitts check out the tourism board website at www.stkittstourism.kn or follow their social media channels: Twitter @StKittsTourism | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | Pinterest |
British Airways flies to St Kitts from London Gatwick twice a week on Saturdays and Wednesdays with the flight going on to nearby Antigua. There are regular ferries every day to Nevis, with a journey time of 45 minutes from Basseterre, making it easy to plan a combined stay on both islands.
To start and end your holiday on St Kitts in style, the YU Lounge offers a private terminal at the airport. A private car will meet you from the plane and whisk you to the luxurious lounge where snacks and drinks are available. While you are waiting your luggage will be picked up and you’ll be cleared through security by the YU Lounge staff.
Thanks to Ottley’s Plantation Inn who hosted Heather’s 1 night hotel stay and to the St Kitts tourism board who provided Heather’s visit to St Kitts.