Sometimes you just have to get up at 3.30am to view a spectacular sight and hope for that wow factor. Most of the places worth seeing in this world always require a bit more of an effort and Mt Bromo is no exception. It might be hard to believe that Java can be as cold as 4 degrees celsius, but its true, so make sure you come prepared with a woolen hat, warm gloves and layers of fleecy, thermal attire if you’d like to brave a sunrise sensation at the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park in East Java.
There are three volcanoes to view in this national park and the scenery is dramatic, making it one of Indonesia’s most impressive sights. The best news is that a trip to Mt Bromo is easily done in a weekend from Jakarta. By flying to Surabaya you can hire a rental car and driver from the airport, then it is a three-hour drive to the township of Probolinggo, one of many places to stay in the area.
The drive to Probolinggo is interesting and takes you into the Tengger Highland area passing through many small traditional villages. There are approximately 60,000 mountain people living in forty villages. The Tenggerese people are ethnically Javanese, but practice Hinduism. Although they are Hindus, there is no caste system and their social patterns are similar to those of Javanese Muslims.
When I checked into my hotel, I was handed my room keys and told by the cheerful, hotel receptionist very nonchalantly that my wake-up call was organized for 3.00am, so it was early to bed for me that night. It was delightful to be sleeping in a naturally cool room – no air conditioning required. It was 17 degrees when the lights went off, but I had a feeling it would be colder when I awoke.
I dressed in a warm thermal jacket, hat and gloves and was down in the lobby for freshly brewed coffee before 3.30am, where everyone seemed to be full of smiles and the reception area was a hive of activity. The drive was around thirty minutes to the jeep transfer point where a thriving clothing rental business was going on. If you do not own warm clothes, everything is rentable including jackets, blankets, socks and other accessories and it will only set you back around USD$5-$10.
It was pitch dark and the temperature gauge showed 4 degrees as I climbed into the back of the jeep, which rattled and bumped its way across a vast windswept sand desert through the dark swirling mist. I could make out a faint set of sand tracks, which our confident driver was following with his headlights on full beam. The driver navigated his way through this dark, vast, barren landscape and we arrived on time for the sunrise viewing at Mount Penanjakan.
The effort was well worth it. Mount Bromo rising to 2,392 meters with its massive ten kilometer crater shrouded in mist. It’s moments like these, where you get lost in the power of nature – a very cleansing and cathartic experience. The other two peaks, Mount Batok, which stands at 2,440 meters, and Mount Kursi even higher at 2,581meters create a breathtaking and dramatic sight. Farther south, Mount Semeru, the tallest mountain in Java stands as the backdrop, at 3676 meters. This is the most active volcano and smokes continuously on the half hour.
The next part of this exciting adventure was the jeep descent down to the crater of Mount Bromo. It was then that I realized the magnificence of this lunar lava landscape that I had crossed earlier in total darkness. It was in fact a huge sand sea stretching across the entire valley floor. Some people trek across this valley floor to reach the crater, but for convenience I took the jeep this time.
At the entrance to Mount Bromo there is an assortment of vendors and if you are hungry you can get hot noodles, fresh eggs, vegetables and coffee from the warung operators. The water is fresh and is trucked in daily to serve the many people that visit Mount Bromo.
I decided to take a horse ride, to the rim of the crater, which is only a 10-minute jaunt. The next part of the journey involved climbing the 256 steps to reach the edge of the Mount Bromo crater for a closer look inside. What you see inside is sulphuric, smelly, smoldering and most definitely active. From the vantage point on top of the rim, you have panoramic views over the entire landscape. It is a very impressive sight. Volcanic scoria spills from the side of this blown out volcano all the way down to the sand sea. The other two peaks rise majestically on either side and below the ancient Hindu Temple stands isolated and strikingly beautiful against this magnificent windswept desert.
Every year, on the 14th day of the last month of the Javanese Calendar, when the moon is full, Mount Bromo holds a “Kasada Festival”. The local Hindu Tenggerese people come in procession from the nearby villages and at sunrise offerings are cast into the crater, which ceremoniously calms the Gods of the volcano.
The drive back to Surabaya is a comfortable three-hour drive. It’s a very even paced, relaxing weekend to take in the sights of Mount Bromo and being one of the true wonders of Java, it is a must-do on the list of Indonesian magic places to visit.
Photos by David Metcalf
Accommodation: Lava View Lodge Hotel, Cemoro Lawang Bromo Village
Flights – regular daily from Jakarta to Surabaya
Jeep rentals – easily arranged through hotel
Tour guide and Car Rental – can be booked through local travel agent