3 August 2015
THE INCREDIBLE CRATER LAKES OF KELIMUTU
3 August 2015
On an island blessed with beautiful mountain scenery, the extraordinary crater lakes of Kelimutu National Park were at the very top of things we wanted to see during our two-week trip to this fairly remote part of Indonesia. Getting there turned out to be something of a challenge, however.
We flew from Bali to the eastern town of Maumere with a plan to work our way west and fly back out from the port of Labuan Bajo. Our arrival at Maumere didn’t start too well as we had to run through the usual Indonesian gamut of airport taxi drivers. Our destination was the hillside hamlet of Moni, essentially the gateway to Kelimutu. We managed to negotiate a taxi to get us there for 400,000 Indonesian Rupiah (IR) – which is about £20. I say “negotiate” but it turned out that this particular piece of negotiation was about as watertight as a rusty tea strainer.
After about a mile of our man trying to sell us his services as a tour guide for the next seven days, he eventually stopped his car and asked us to transfer to a minibus for the rest of the journey. After we protested that we’d hired HIM to take us to Moni in HIS car he then asked us to get into another vehicle behind us (which was an estimated 25 years older than his). Oh, and the driver of this one wanted 500,000 IR from us instead.
The blue touch paper holding Nicky’s temper in check was now burning so brightly that I almost felt sorry for our man, who predictably got both barrels and more. We demanded the return of our bags, which he reluctantly did after asking us for 50,000 IR for having taken us this far. You can probably guess the rest.
Bags recovered, we marched our way back towards the airport. But, on the way, we managed to flag down a bus, which was heading towards Moni, en route to the port of Ende. Having agreed the fare of 100,000 IR (£5) each our bags were despatched to the luggage department – that is, the roof – and we climbed over numerous bags of rice and people to get to our seats. To say the bus was full is an understatement. To say the soundtrack coming from the two huge speakers at the front was soothing is an outright lie.
And so it was for the four-hour journey to Moni. A journey that passed through the sort of mountainous jungle scenery that left our lower jaws firmly routed to the floor.
The reason tourists visit Moni is to use it as a base to visit the crater lakes. Otherwise, it’s a small village in the mountains where people live their lives the way they’ve done for generations – and where the smiles and waves from excited children welcome the weary traveller.
Only they’re now tapping into the fledgling tourist market by providing homestay and guest house accommodation. Let’s just say that our guest house of choice – Daniel Lodge – was probably the worst place we’ve stayed in since we began our Big Trip. It wasn’t helped by the sound of a faulty water pump right next door to our room, which blared out its cry of help for a service engineer every 90 seconds for the whole time we were there. No sleep at Daniel Lodge for this writer then.
But enough of the gripes. After a less than encouraging start, our trip to Flores was about to spectacularly kick into gear at 4 am the following morning, with a trip up to Kelimutu.
The lakes of Kelimutu
For now, this is the number one tourist draw on mainland Flores. The three volcanic crater lakes famously change colour at regular intervals as minerals within them react with volcanic gas.
Access to the park is via transport to a car park near the summit from where there’s a 30-minute paved walk. There are plenty of people in Moni willing to offer you a lift for 250,000 IR (£12.50) but we were lucky enough to be offered a lift from the delightful Klara and her Javanese parents, who we’d met in one of the restaurants, and who’d hired a car and driver for a seven day tour of the island.
After paying the national park entrance fee (5,000 IR for Indonesians, 150,000 IR for foreigners) we reached the summit lookout point in time for the first rays of sunrise to peer over the low clouds and the distant volcanoes.
It was quite a sight and the fifty or so of us gathered there just watched in silence for a few minutes as we drank in the scene around us. However, the mist that had blown in meant that the crater lakes themselves were not visible at all. In fact, the mist got so bad that it looked like our efforts to get there were ultimately going to be in vain…..
Apparently, the previous two days had been a complete washout for crater lake viewing as the rain, clouds and mist had been something of a permanent feature. But, not prepared to be beaten, we stubbornly waited with everyone else for around an hour and a half as the mist swirled around, revealing tantalising glimpses of what we were missing.
And then, just as we were about to give it up and lick our wounds back in Moni, a loud cheer signalled that the mist had suddenly dispersed and the three lakes revealed themselves to us in all their multi-coloured glory.
The one to our left was an inky black, while the two to our right, separated by a dramatic narrow ridge, were in turn milky sky blue and turquoise. In fact, in times gone by their colours had included browns, reds, oranges, and greens. I raced down to the second observation point to get a closer look and perhaps some suitably dramatic photographs. But, following a couple of fatal accidents a couple of years ago, safety barriers had been erected so any plans I had of getting some unique shots of the lakes were dashed.
Still, it was an awesome sight and turned out to be just a teaser for what else Flores had to offer. Had the weather not been kind to us (eventually) it would probably have been something of an anticlimax – particularly after the journey to get there and the lack of sleep from the night before. There’s not much else to do around Moni, and the quality of accommodation and food on offer doesn’t make for a stay of more than one night worthwhile (unless you’re planning to re-try the trip up to Kelimutu if the previous day was unsuccessful).
What made it special for us though was the friendliness and warmth shown towards us by Klara and her parents. Indeed this was to be a feature of Indonesian, and especially Floresian hospitality throughout our trip.
What did you think? Have you been to the crater lakes of Kelimutu? Or maybe you’re thinking of travelling there as part of your Flores adventure? Either way, we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
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Hi, we’re Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we’d like to think it also provides information, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too. So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.