Krakatoa: a savage volcano that doubles as an island paradise

Because what part of ‘violent, destructive volcano’ doesn’t say ‘holiday’?

Almost 150 years ago, Krakatoa caused a cataclysmic eruption that was felt around the world. It altered climate and weather patterns for five years, sent tsunamis and ash clouds hurtling toward the mainland- which killed 40,000 people – and blew itself to pieces in the process.

These days, what’s left of Krakatoa (still classed very much as active, no less) remains unassumingly lying in the Sunda Strait biding its time before it unleashes chaos on the world again. What was once a large island consisting of three volcanic cones, is now a spattering of four smaller islands that represent the once magnificent mountain. The youngest of the group, Anak Krakatau, or “Child of Krakatoa” pierced the surface of the ocean in 1927 as a result of multiple underwater eruptions. The island, which grows on average 2cm a day, is the sole volcanic remnant of the legacy Krakatoa bestowed upon the world, and today, this is where the magic happens.

A short trip from Cinta, on West Java, the Krakatoa islands are embedded in a cerulean sea full of tropical fish, stunning coral reefs and volcanic relics. Various travel companies offer packages to the island, either one or two day trips and everything is seamlessly organised; all you have to do is be there in spirit. A private driver will pick you up from Jakarta (at 4.30am ish), drive you to Cinta and from there it’s one stop to one of the last wonders of the world yet to host a theme park, or throngs of touts trying to sell you volcano key rings. An untouched, un-touted paradise.

Despite being the height of the rainy season, when my two friends and I ventured into Krakatoa territory, the seas were calm and the skies were clear (pray for calm seas, because rough seas are just about the worst thing that could befall you on this crossing, especially if your posterior is sensitive or injured for any reason – more on that below). Three weeks in Jakarta’s rat race had driven us into the ground, and it was either take a trip away or take up hard drugs.You’ll take a slow drive-by the steaming mound of ash and, probably be less than impressed.

By no means is it a towering Mordor-like figure looming over the countryside as you probably pictured, actually it’s far from it. All that’s left of Anak Krakatau (the child of Krakatoa), is barely a mound in the middle of a central city park. Sizeable or not, this tiny excuse for a volcano remains vengeful it would seem; the amount of steam coming off that thing is enough for anyone to keep their distance, just in case.

Upon arriving on Japang Island and plunging into the genial seas, you’ll wonder why there aren’t several other boats full of tourists either side of you. For a tropical paradise, it’s largely deserted – aside from one or two locals attempting to catch dinner.

The snorkelling around these islands is surreal; just like someone flicked the channel on life and you’ve dived right into the Discovery Channel. For the hours upon hours you’ll spend in the water, Little Mermaid fantasies are constant and increasingly hard to let go of.

The Krakatoa islands are surrounded by a gorgeous coral reef teeming with marine life, full of the freakiest, most diverse array of fish I’d ever seen. Given, at the time this may have been the first time I’d gone snorkelling amongst a coral reef and tropical fish, but even in hindsight – I’m comfortable in making that call.

Next stop: Anak Krakatau, the offspring of history itself (for good reason too, because about 45 minutes later you’ll probably start realising how burnt the snorkelling left you). And much akin to New Zealand’s Rotorua, or an egg sandwich, its smell preceded it.

The sulphurous, smoking island greeted us with gas seething from its every pore, an idle warning of eruptions to come. Traipsing all over it almost seems sacrilegious, though the views from the top are worth every ungodly step.

Returning to the sloping beaches on the side of the smoking mound, you’ll be met with an ample feast courtesy of your Indonesian guides. Sitting under the palm trees, and staring out over the ocean with the day’s catch in front of you is so much more meaningful when you’re on the shores of a volcano that could rouse from its slumber and kill you, and everyone around you, whenever it wanted to.

After a night under the stars ( in a tent, rather), the next day, you’ll spend more time at the beach – taking in more incredible marine life, and further ingraining that sunburn that was just a red-tinge the day before. Only when you’re on the fast boat back to shore, and the seas are menacingly rough – will you realise just how burnt your entire back, legs and ass are. Every huge wave, every leap out of your seat and subsequent slam back down, will have you closer to tears. Halfway in, you’ll seriously contemplate calling a helicopter to winch you out. The. Most. Painful. Experience. Of. My. Life.

Forget staycations and a day at the spa: Krakatoa is Botox for the soul. While, sure, the volcano is classed as active – but with cautionary measures, it’s fairly easy to avoid a cataclysmic eruption. After all, the last one was 135 years ago. How often can they be?

One thing to remember is that the Krakatoa islands are largely uninhabited and wild; a sanctuary to fully appreciate the wonders of Indonesian nature. So if you’re looking for flashy restaurants and a Hilton hotel to put your feet up at, you’re scouting the wrong destination. There are no settlements or permanent inhabitants on these islands, the only thing you will find is a few makeshift shelters some fishermen have left behind from the night before. However if you travel to the nearby Sabesi Island, there is a simple hotel owned by the Indonesian Tourism Board which offers room for reasonable prices.

It’s a far cry from luxury, but for people who don’t want to be fighting others for a spot on the lounger all holiday, Krakatoa is heaven. Just remember to pack some really good SPF.

Krakatoa could go either of a few ways in the future: the retreat will take off as a tourism hotspot and will be subject to tacky gift shops and needy peddlers, or it will blast its way back onto the pages of current history books by blowing its top once again. Or it will remain lying in the strait, forgotten.

Adventure, adrenaline, thrill-seeking, danger, perilous mountains that spit fire; it’s all the same, right?

GET THERE:

We used Roman from Krakatau Tours, who can be found here. However, when we last checked his account was suspended – so that’s blatantly of no help to anyone. We also heard good things about Krakatau Tour, and actually originally planned to go with Oystein Lund Anderson, who offered us the trip for $700 USD for three people.

Price: My memory fails me here. I remember being rather taken aback at the price, but it was probably because I had spent $5 in the last three weeks. From memory, the trip should cost you about $200.

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2 Comments on “Krakatoa: a savage volcano that doubles as an island paradise”

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