Peaks of the Sunda Arc: Climbing Kelimutu and Batur

As the Indonesian archipelago consists of 17,000 islands scattered along the equator, images of sun, sand, and sea immediately come to mind. However, as it sits on a tectonic fault-line known as the Ring of Fire, it is also home to at least 129 volcanoes, or 13% of all the world’s volcanoes. Some of these are active (some very much so), while others have scenic volcanic lakes or craters that spurt fire.

Some of the most spectacular ones are located around the Lesser Sunda Islands, which consists of islands like Bali and Flores. From lush jungle to arid savannah and pristine diving spots, these islands are also home to a number of scenic volcanoes.

FLORES: KELIMUTU

When the Portuguese came here in the 16th century, they named the island Flores (‘flowers’) and converted most of the population to Catholicism. As a result, most islanders today are still Catholics, and churches can be seen dotting some towns.

The island’s lush interior, smoking volcanoes, spectacular rice fields and hidden beaches have so far managed to hide from large-scale mainstream tourism. It’s still a popular island for liveaboard circuits that take visitors all the way to Bali, at the other end of the Lesser Sunda Islands.

While many use the town of Labuanbajo as a jumping-off point to nearby Komodo National Park, those who stay on the eastern end of the island can explore the magnificent Mt. Kelimutu. While not the tallest peak on the island (the honour goes to Mt. Kelibara at 1,731m), it is famous for its crater lakes.

Located in Kelimutu National Park – the smallest among the 6 national parks in the Nusa Tenggara islands – it’s accessible from a small town called Moni. Visitors come here to visit the three lakes that lie in the caldera of the volcano at 1,690m. Each of the lakes varies in colour, not only from each other but also at different times. The name Kelimutu actually means ‘boiling lake’, and the lakes are believed to be the resting place of departed souls.

Depending on when you go, the colours range from blue to green, and sometimes white, black, and even red. Scientifically, the colours of the lakes change due to several factors including the sunlight, microorganisms, reflections of the walls, as well as varying chemical compounds.

Each lake has a name; the westernmost Tiwu at Mbupu (Lake of Old People) is usually blue and lies 1.5km away from the other two. The Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Bewitched or Enchanted Lake) – which are separated by a steep crater wall about 50m-150m tall – are usually green or red respectively.

The best time to visit Kelimutu is during the dry season, which is May to September, with the ideal time being July or August (although it can get crowded). Most people like to visit it during sunrise for its dramatic atmosphere, which means getting to the main entrance by 4 am (there is a small fee to enter the park).

From the town of Moni, the easiest access is an 11km drive up – via a shared truck or motorcycle taxi (ojek) – to the main carpark, followed by a 1km walk (about 30 minutes) to the foot of the 127 steps leading to the edge of the crater. You can also walk the entire way up, which takes roughly 3 hours.

From the summit, you’ll have an incredible, panoramic view of the three coloured lakes. There are also vendors at the top-selling coffee and snacks in case you forgot to water or need to warm up.

The town of Moni has some accommodation options, which is the most convenient way to access Kelimutu. Alternatively, Maumere is a bigger town about 4 hours away, with regular flights to Bali.

GETTING THERE

A number of operators offer liveaboard itineraries that take you from Bali to Flores, which takes 3-4 days depending on the package (some include flights), with itineraries generally including stops at places like Komodo National Park.

BALI: BATUR

The island of Bali needs no introduction – with its famous beaches, cultural offerings, terraced paddy fields, and volcanic landscape, it’s been a favourite of holidaymakers for decades. But if you’re looking to explore the island’s peaks, you can climb Mt. Batur. As it’s not as challenging as Mt. Agung, it’s certainly the more popular of the two.

Situated on the northeastern end of Bali, Mt. Batur is considered sacred to the Hindus. As an active volcano, Mt. Batur has the largest crater lake in Bali.

Located in the village of Batur in the Kintamani District, the mountain itself rises 1,717m. The hike is mostly via off-road trails and rocky terrain, and while it’s not a walk in the park, it isn’t too difficult to summit. The best time to climb is during the dry season, from April to September; climbs should be avoided in the wet season (January and February especially). Local regulations require you to climb with a guide, and you are likely to get hassled at the foot of the mountain if you don’t have one.

Again, most people tend to opt for a sunrise trek which starts at 4 am. As it’s pitch black, the rugged, rocky trail can get pretty tricky up the narrow switchbacks, so it’s advisable to bring your own headlamps.

The average fit person will reach the viewing platform in about 2 hours, where most people wait for the sunrise. As the sun rises, climbers will be rewarded with a spectacular view. From the top, you can admire a panoramic view over Lake Batur and Mt. Abang and Mt. Agung in the backdrop. On a clear day, the view extends over to Mt. Rinjani on neighbouring Lombok.

There’s a warung at the top where you can get hot drinks (it gets cold up there) and breakfast including eggs cooked on the steam vents.

Once the sun is fully up, there’s a second portion of the hike, which takes you along ridges where you can get close to the volcano’s craters. Guides will take you across the top of the volcano, where you can peer into some of the safer craters and see chunks of black rock and puffs of steam.

All photos by Eugene Soh 

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