Are you interested in getting a closer look at a steaming active volcanic crater? Are you into adventure travel? Have you ever heard of Banyuwangi? If you are keen to get way off the beaten track then Banyuwangi, a little tucked away spot in East Java, a region that gets little publicity, may just be the ticket. It is difficult to access, but if you want to see the most scenic part of Java, you have to be prepared to travel to Surabaya in East Java and then take a train or car. The last part of the journey is by four-wheel drive and after you have wound your way through a series of small villages you eventually reach a high plateau. On arrival, you will find yourself elevated and elated. A panorama of volcanoes stretches out from the Ijen Resort with views of Bali to the South.
Hotel Majapahit, Surabaya The launch pad of East Java starts in Surabaya. A stay at the Hotel Majapahit transports you back in time to 1910. The same hotel empire that built the Raffles Hotel, Singapore built the hotel. The colonial elegance of the Majapahit, with its landscaped gardens, beautiful courtyards and opulent suites, is designed to pamper the most sophisticated of guests. Several presidents and royal family members have stayed here. Surprisingly, this palatial hotel is quite affordable, and it offers a range of rooms from standard to executive, deluxe themed suites and the ultimate presidential suite, which claims to be Asia’s largest hotel suite, complete with 18 carat gold bathroom fixtures and fine silk upholstery. The concierge is happy to show it to you, if it is unoccupied.
In fact, Charlie Chaplin who visited Indonesia in the 1930’s officially opened the Art Deco Lobby of the Hotel Majapahit, which marked the 25th anniversary of the hotel. High tea is served daily in the exquisite lobby lounge and includes English scones. The staff is gracious, friendly and trained to serve with a touch of elegance.
If you happen to be around the hotel at 3.30pm you will be treated to the famous Majapahit Duck Parade. Eleven trained ducks strut their stuff through the hotel lobby to the South Garden daily. The Duck Master (concierge) rolls out the red carpet and with perfect manners, the ducks file along the carpet, nod to the doorman who is stoically standing to attention, cross the grassy lawn, climb a ladder and dive into the fountain pool. A spectacle not to be missed.
It is a six-hour overland journey from Surabaya to Banyuwangi. There are two ways to get there. You can take a rental car and driver or take the day train. The train is modern and clean. Meals, drinks and snacks are offered all day and you can even order a silk pillow. It is common local knowledge that the train is often late leaving Surabaya, even though it originates there and is the first train of the day. How it is consistently delayed when it’s the first (scheduled) train of the day is beyond me, but then that’s Indonesia. I suggest you never try to apply logic to anything whilst traveling in this fair land. Just talk to the locals and try and gauge how it all works and then adopt a flexible time schedule, which features “late” a lot, and you will be fine.
Ijen Resort and Villas
The train stop nearest to Ijen Resort is Karangasem. Here you will be met by the Ijen Resort staff and taken by four-wheel drive up to the mountains. The drive takes you through traditional villages and rice fields and, as you gain elevation, there are glimpses of Bali to the South. It is a spectacular drive through picture perfect rice terraces until eventually you end up on the doorstep of the Ijen National Park.
On arrival you may experience a “died and gone to heaven” moment. East Java in all its glory spreads before you, opening out onto a vista that simply takes your breath away. The Ijen Resort sits on an edge of terraced, verdant rice fields, which slopes down to meet the rainforest. The raw beauty of the region is overwhelming. Before you, six volcanoes provide the backdrop to the Ijen Resort: Mount Merapi, Mount Ijen (active), Mount Rante, Mount Pendil, Mount Salak and Mount Raung. It is truly a paradise in Java.
Checking into the hotel open-air lobby your welcome is enhanced by the sound of rhythmic tinkling bells, compliments of the nearby water buffalos working in the adjoining rice fields. After you are shown to your villa- style bungalow, you can fall on the bed knowing the long journey had been worth everything you went through to get to this place, which is stunning, romantic and very beautiful.
It is only a three-kilometer climb but it is a strenuous and steep climb. As you ascend on the well-beaten track you may pass a stream of local Indonesian miners who do this trek daily, often barefoot, carrying bright yellow sulphur loads they have collected from the crater. They pass you at lightning speed with loads of up to 95kg. These village workers make their way up and down the mountain every day (a 35 km round trip by foot) from Jambu.
The views from the Ijen crater rim, framed by the brilliant turquoise sulphur lake of Kawah Ijen (Ijen Crater) are well worth the effort. You should venture down to the lake with caution, as the caustic fumes billow out regularly, making it difficult to breath. The lake is deadly, so take care if you decide to descend the slippery path. A French tourist fell near the crater lake and died in 1997. After hiking the six kilometer round trip hike you can take a rest and enjoy some hot noodles or rice at the warung (small shop) and if you are lucky the ice-cream vendor will come around on his bicycle to catch the few tourists that visit.
Perched on the edge of virgin rainforest, The Ijen Plateau volcanic region will always remain one of the jewels of Java. It is a unique destination and the added bonus is discovering this part of Indonesia with so few people.
Story by Stephanie Brookes
Photos by David Metcalf
Hotel Majapahit Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia
Ijen Resort and Villas
Randu Agung Banyuwangi, East Java, Indonesia
Best time to hike Ijen Crater – dry season (April to October)