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Krakatoa

  
  - darkometer rating:  6 -
   
Site (in Indonesia) of what was probably the most infamous volcanic eruption in history: in 1883 the old Krakatoa volcano exploded, creating destruction not just locally (especially through tsunamis) but had knock-on effects worldwide through the vast amounts of ash released into the atmosphere. The cataclysm has been the subject of many an adventure story and disaster movie. 
  
But what is there today? Of the old Krakatoa volcano only overgrown remnants are left that look just like ordinary tropical islands. But in their midst Krakatoa has arisen again, in the form of a new volcanic cone that was aptly named Anak Krakatau ('child of Krakatoa'). And it seems to take after its ancestor. It is a highly active cone that keeps growing and regularly erupts. At times when it is not too active it can be visited and even climbed. It can be an adventurous trip but is certainly a highlight for anybody with an interest in volcanoes.
  

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

      
More background info: Krakatoa, the “mother of a volcano”? Possibly. Krakatoa is as legendary a volcano as it gets. Perhaps together with Vesuvius (see Pompeii) it's the most famous volcano in the world and of all time. But it is, or rather was, also a “mother” in a more literal sense. When the old volcano blew itself to smithereens in 1883 it initially left only a few craggy bits of rock still poking out of the water, but in 1927 a new volcano began rising from the sea. 
  
But let's begin at the beginning. The old Krakatoa volcano had been dormant for almost 200 years before it suddenly woke up in 1883 (though before that there had been fairly regular eruptive events ca. every 100-200 years, so it was kind of due). From May it was spouting ash, from mid June eruptions started and pumice rained down on the waters around the volcano. But the really big bang only came in August. 
  
On 27 August, in a series of four massive explosions the volcano practically obliterated itself. Only remnants of the island it was on remained. The explosions were so loud that they were heard thousands of miles away. It is alleged that it may have been the loudest sound ever recorded. 
  
The eruptions caused fiery pyroclastic flows, some of which apparently must have moved over water – a phenomenon only much later filmed for the first time in Montserrat. And the collapse of the volcano also triggered tsunamis. It was especially these tsunamis that caused the enormous death toll of over 36,000, mostly along the north Java and south Sumatra coast. Many bodies or skeletons were found floating in the ocean for quite some time after the eruption. 
  
The Krakatoa eruption of 1883 is classed as a category 6 (colossal) event on the Volcanic Explosivity Index and is thus one of the largest three or four eruptions in recorded history (though prehistoric ones exceeded even these) – see also under Indonesia
  
But not only did the volcano wreak havoc in the region, it had global effects too. The enormous amounts of ash blown into the atmosphere during the eruptions affected the weather and climate worldwide for years. Globally temperatures dropped by 1-2 degrees centigrade. The sulphate-rich particles in the atmosphere also created strange light effects, with blood-red sunsets a regular occurrence. It's been alleged that the spookily deep red background on Edvard Munch's famous picture “The Scream” may have been inspired by such a phenomenon (cf. Oslo). 
   
At Krakatoa, activity seemed to be over for years, until in the late 1920s it woke up again with submarine eruptions and new volcanic islands temporarily piercing through to above sea level. Most were eroded away by the waves quickly, but by 1930  a new stable volcanic cone had established itself. It has been growing ever since. 
  
Given that it arose from where the old Krakatoa island's centre would have been, this new volcano was christened Anak Krakatau, which means 'child of Krakatoa'. It's an unruly child and throws tantrums with incessant regularity. Long-lasting phases of picturesque Strombolian eruptions have been observed and the ejection of ash clouds is a common sight here too. The latest major eruption before my visit in August 2014 had happened less than two years previously with large new lava flows reaching the sea. (My guide had insisted that the new lava was from September the year before, but in my subsequent research I could find no mention of lava ejections since the series of eruptions in 2012. You choose for yourself who you want to believe …)
  
Given the general level of activity at Krakatoa, visiting the cone does come with a certain degree of risk. I've heard stories from one Indonesian tour operator about being caught out by a sudden eruption on Anak Krakatau that sent lava bombs flying at them so they had to run for their lives. 
  
Normally, though, when activity is properly monitored, visitors are not allowed anywhere near the volcano during heightened activity phases. Such rules have to be observed, of course. But even if you can't actually set foot on the islands due to volcanic activity you may be lucky enough to witness the show of nightly Strombolian ejections or at least see Krakatoa's orange glow from the coast of the mainland. 
  
When I was there, the volcano was almost quiet. The crater was venting steam and gases, and fresh sulphur deposits were visible at the top, but otherwise it was calm. Still, climbing all the way to the top was not allowed, you can only go up to about a third of the cone's total height of currently just under 900m.    
  
  
What there is to see: In the main, it's the volcanic cone of Anak Krakatau that naturally is the star here – and you can climb it at least part of the way up to the crater rim unless too much activity precludes this. 
  
First of all, though, you have to get to the Krakatoa group of islands – and that requires a boat ride. The one I had was a relatively small speedboat, but at least a fairly modern one with a reinforced plastic hull. So far so good.
  
The boat had two outboard motors … one of which failed to work pretty much as soon as we had left the harbour. They got it to work again soon after but it briefly died another time on the return journey. If that was a bit worrying, more so still was the fact that there were only three life vests lying around in the tiny cabin … and there were six of us on board! And what I could not make out at all was any kind of radio communication gear or modern navigational aids. Oh well, it was still a lot better than what I encountered on my way to Komodo
  
At least the boat was indeed speedy – and luckily the waters were really calm that day, so no hacking through waves or navigational issues. We just headed towards Krakatoa in a straight line without incident. En route we saw flying fish suddenly jumping out of the water and staying airborne for an astonishing period of time. I had never seen this before so I was quite awestruck by the sight. 
   
It took us about an hour and a half before the islands of Krakatoa started taking shape on the horizon through the haze. Soon after we were rounding the island of Rakata with its characteristically steep cliff. It's the largest chunk left from the old Krakatoa – now completely overgrown and green – and the steep cliff is the result of a huge landslide that occurred during the 1883 eruption in its cataclysmic final stages. 
  
And behind Rakata there it was: the volcanic cone of Anak Krakatau. Almost a picture-book shape of a cone rising out of the water with just a little bit of flat land at the foot of the mountain. As we got closer you could make out a strip of green forest on the eastern side of the island's coastline. The rest was a barren reddish brown and ashen grey. 
  
We first circled the entire island once, going round its western side, from where you got a good view of the more recent lava flows into the sea – and of the gas and steam fumes billowing from the crater.
  
Back on the eastern side of Anak Krakatau's island, we used a sheltered cove by the small strip of coastal forest for landing. Apart from a small hut on stilts there are no permanent structures on the island. However, a few information panels have been erected for visitors. These provide some background information about the volcanic history of the place (especially the 1883 event, naturally) as well as on the development of the flora and fauna up to now.
  
Then it was time for the highlight of the trip: the hike up the volcano's flanks. After just a short walk through the forest we came out at the edge of the vegetation and proceeded along it just beneath the lifeless slopes of ash and scree with only a few dead tree stumps poking out. We passed several places were lava bombs had hit the ground – some yellow from sulphur. One was particularly large, about the size of a small car. You get an impression of how violent the crater can be at times. We also passed a plot with a few solar panels, aerials and cables – obviously some sort of monitoring station. 
  
Proceeding further up in a diagonal line in a southerly direction we eventually reached the latest lava flow: a mass of deep reddish-brown crumbly blocks of cinder – impossible to walk on, too sharp are the edges of the cinder blocks ... and they can be as hard as glass. 
  
Beyond the reddish newer lava flow an older, now greyer lava flow was clearly visible. On this a few specks of green indicated that the earliest feeble colonization by plants had already begun. 
  
We paused at this spot for a while to take in the good views over the lava flows, the forest below and of course the sea, with the sheer cliff-face of Rakata island just opposite. 
  
After a short break we continued a bit further up the volcano's cone, but only as far as the rim of the outer caldera. Getting any closer to the action at the top of the current lava dome was too dangerous at the time (toxic gases, unstable ground, etc.). A bit further along the rim we then started our descent back down to the green coastal strip.   
  
The hike is not too steep or strenuous – but you do have to take sufficient drinking water! Down by the beach or on the boat you may think it's pleasantly fresh, but once you're out in the parched volcanic landscape and climbing uphill in the blazing sun you will need to rehydrate a lot!
  
The ground you walk on is basically volcanic ash, i.e. ground-up cinder, so your boots or shoes will dig up a lot of the stuff. Ours had about a handful of black ash in them each when we finally took them off down by the beach. 
  
Following a little snack in the form of a simple packed lunch that was included in the tour, there was a bit of extra time for a walk along the black beach. It led round the small headland poking out to the east and then south-west in the direction of where the newest lava flow would block the way. So we sauntered back and got ready for getting back on the boat. This then took off to Rakata for a spot of snorkelling – see under non-dark combinations.
  
That's basically it. The speedboat finally took us back to the Anyer coast again without incident. The seas remained fairly calm, so the voyage back was uneventful. 
  
On balance, it was certainly great to have been to a place of such immense legacy and with such a menacing aura. But as a volcano tour as such this is probably not in the top category, at least not at times of so little activity. Indonesia has much bigger and much more dramatic volcanoes (Bromo is the main showcase example, but my favourite one was Ijen!). Still, from a historical, specifically dark-tourism perspective, a trip to Krakatoa is a highlight on any trip to Indonesia.
  
  
Location: in a small cluster of islands in the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java, Indonesia, so just west of Java – and not at all “east of” as the old film title erroneously had it! More precisely: it's 30 miles (45 km) from the Anyer coast of Java in the east and 25 miles (40 km ) to the nearest bit of Sumatran coast (to the north), and about 100 miles (160 km) from Jakarta (to the north-east) as the crow flies. 
  
Google maps locator: [-6.103, 105.423]
  
  
Access and costs: remote and only accessible by chartered boat, hence not cheap. 
  
Details: When I visited Krakatoa it was in the form of a prearranged tour by chartered speedboat with a guide from the local outfit Krakatau Volcano Tour Indonesia. It was worked into a larger pre-planned itinerary (see under Indonesia for details and agency contacts), hence I cannot say what the exact proportion of the overall price this tour was. But going by guidebooks and what I could find on the Internet, you have to look at something like 1.800.000 IDR minimum for chartering a small boat (up to six passengers) on the spot; or well over 3.000.000 IDR for something better, bigger and faster. 
  
You could quite possibly get much cheaper offers with small fishing boats – but be warned of the dangers! Such boats may not be adequately seaworthy, and also not fast enough to make the journey there and back in a reasonable amount of time. There are stories of boats getting lost at high sea in bad weather … or even worse. It may not be quite as dicey as in the treacherous waters of Komodo, but still, investing in a boat with a decent safety standard is highly advisable here too. Indonesia has a well deserved bad reputation when it comes to dodgy boats and accidents. So do not skimp on safety!
    
Before you can take the boat trip you first have to get near to where the boats depart from. And that is usually from somewhere around Carita/Anyer on the west coast of Java (e.g. Marina Lippo). As it happens this is also an area that is immensely popular with people from Jakarta who come for the weekend or spend short beach holidays here. Hence there are plenty of options for accommodation. However, standards vary quite a bit. But even less than excellent places will do for the purpose of having a base from which to embark on a Krakatoa adventure. I was put up in a family-style “beach club” type of resort that had a Hawaiian-theme – which was a bit bizarre (e.g. having piped hula music playing everywhere), but it was OK. I didn't spot any other foreigners at the resort (in fact, the only other Westerners I saw at all on this part of my trip was a Dutch couple on Anak Krakatau who had come on a different boat; so it is clearly nowhere near as popular a destination as, say Bromo – see Indonesia). 
  
The resort had a halfway decent restaurant so for simplicity's sake we just ate there. But there is no shortage of eating options at warungs all along this coast, with seafood featuring prominently. 
  
In theory it is of course also possible to get to Krakatoa from Sumatra – in fact the voyage could be somewhat shorter from there, if coming from the north. But the only options I have been able to find out about are from Bandar Lampung, which is actually further away from Krakatoa than Anyer. These trips are allegedly quite a bit cheaper – but will also take longer, and whether they are safe or not I cannot say.  Apparently some tours also offer spending a night on the island in a tent, in which case a longer voyage won't matter so much. You'd still have enough time on the island. 
  
The easiest, most convenient, but naturally also most expensive way to do it is to book a whole package with transport from Jakarta and all accommodation, boat, guides, national park fees, etc. included. There are several operators offering this. It can be confusing trying to research their various merits and to obtain price quotes over the Internet, so you may want to opt for going through an international agent/operator, like I did (see under Indonesia).
    
  
Time required: a whole day minimum for the boat ride and back and a couple of hours on Anak Krakatau itself. Add to that time for getting from your accommodation to the marina where the boats depart from, which can easily require another day at each end (e.g. to/from Jakarta), i.e. also two nights' accommodation. On some tours you can also spend the night in a tent on the island of Anak Krakatau itself. 
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: not much in the vicinity, unless you count all the heavy industry north of Anyer, which is quite a site for those with a taste in industrial wastelands. Otherwise the nearest points of interest for dark tourists who have more of a historical orientation are to be found in Jakarta
  
Thematically related sites in Indonesia, i.e. other volcanoes, are in unrivalled abundance all over Java and beyond, literally in their hundreds. Amongst the most interesting ones from a dark perspective are Ijen and Merapi, but the famous Bromo caldera should not be missed either. All of these, however, are quite a long way from Krakatoa.   
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The day tours by speedboat often include a spot of snorkelling, namely in a cove at nearby Rakata island (the largest chunk left from the old Krakatoa, that is). I hadn't been overly keen on the idea beforehand, as I am not really a beach holiday person, and I've always associated snorkelling with that type of holidaying. Nor am I fond of getting my head under water because I hate having water in my ears. But since it was offered as a freebie extra, I thought – why not give it a go … I could always abort it if I really didn't like it. So I got the gear on and went in the water. After a few minutes of getting used to breathing through a snorkel I slowly began to take to the whole thing. In fact I quickly got hooked! 
  
The water was absolutely calm and warm, so you could just float on your belly with your snorkelling mask under the surface and watch the undersea world as if on a marine world TV documentary. It really was cool seeing all those corals and colourful fish (I even spotted a puffer fish – cf. under Japan). In the end I spent over an hour in the water – too long! Even though I had smeared plenty of sun-block on my back it turned out that it was not enough. I ended up with terrible sunburn all down my back. Next time, I swore to myself, I'd wear a T-shirt in the water (and I did, though that next time was a bit of a non-starter – see under Komodo ...).   
 
Back on the mainland of Java there is all manner of hustling and bustling beach holiday activity, with water sports and all that. But all that infrastructure I saw seemed to be mainly catering for domestic tourism. 
 
Further south, however, on the south-western tip of Java, there is a particular gem of wildlife ecotourism in Indonesia: Ujung Kulon National Park, home to the last few critically endangered one-horned Javan rhinos (and many other, much more abundant species). Various ranger-guided hikes and tours are available, either from Anyer or as packages from/to Jakarta
   
   
 
  • 01 - boat to Krakatoa01 - boat to Krakatoa
  • 02 - Anak Krakatoa02 - Anak Krakatoa
  • 03 - smoldering at the top03 - smoldering at the top
  • 04 - what remained of the old Krakatoa04 - what remained of the old Krakatoa
  • 05 - other broken-tooth remains of the old volcano05 - other broken-tooth remains of the old volcano
  • 06 - circling Anak Krakatoa06 - circling Anak Krakatoa
  • 07 - fumes from the crater coming down07 - fumes from the crater coming down
  • 08 - lava flow into the sea08 - lava flow into the sea
  • 09 - first plants gaining a foothold09 - first plants gaining a foothold
  • 10 - where boats can land10 - where boats can land
  • 11 - info panel on the shore11 - info panel on the shore
  • 12 - Krakatoa today12 - Krakatoa today
  • 13 - hiking up13 - hiking up
  • 14 - sulphurous lava bombs14 - sulphurous lava bombs
  • 15 - big lava bomb15 - big lava bomb
  • 16 - activity monitoring station16 - activity monitoring station
  • 17 - end of vegetation zone17 - end of vegetation zone
  • 18 - reaching the latest lava flow18 - reaching the latest lava flow
  • 19 - looking up19 - looking up
  • 20 - you cannot walk on this20 - you cannot walk on this
  • 21 - new and older lava flows21 - new and older lava flows
  • 22 - walking on the edge22 - walking on the edge
  • 23 - sulphur deposits on the crater rim23 - sulphur deposits on the crater rim
  • 24 - black beach and red lava flow24 - black beach and red lava flow
  • 25 - leaving Anak Krakatoa25 - leaving Anak Krakatoa
  • 26 - snorkelling bay26 - snorkelling bay
  • 27 - back on the mainland27 - back on the mainland
  • 28 - sunset over Krakatoa28 - sunset over Krakatoa
 
   
  

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