EXPLORE YOUR INNER KOMODO DRAGON
Where can you see Sumatran tigers, Komodo dragons, Anoa buffalos, Javan rhinoceros, Sumatran orangutans, Borneo elephants, Maleo birds, Babirusa pigs, Macaque monkeys, and Sunda clouded leopards on safari in one exotic country? The only answer to that would be the sprawling island nation of Indonesia. The country has a length of 2,210 km (1,373 mi), half of which is below the equator. It is made up of over 18,000 islands ranging in size, including Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi. Welcome to Southeast Asia’s largest nation. “TIGER, TIGER BURNING BRIGHT” Let’s head straight for the tiger-haunted forests of the island of Sumatra. Tropical broadleaf evergreen forests, freshwater swamp forests, peat swamps… this is unmistakable tiger terrain. Sumatran tigers are the smallest surviving tiger subspecies. They are magnificent creatures with their heavy black stripes and deep orange coats, and they weigh up to 136 kg (300 lb). There are less than 400 of these tigers remaining, that is, they are highly, highly endangered. Continuing deforestation and reckless poaching does them no favors. Consider that Javan and Balinese tigers are already extinct. Even though the laws have been strengthened and poachers face lengthy jail time and heavy fines, the brutal market for tiger parts and products is very much still in operation. So, appreciate the gift of sighting these noble creatures on safari. Sumatra island is the only place where tigers, orangutans, and elephants live together. The Sumatran plays a pivotal role in forest biodiversity. Protecting tigers and their habitat have a roll-on effect, as other species benefit too, including humans. The majestic Barisan Mountains run northwest-southeast of Sumatra, Indonesia, for 1,600 km (1,000 mi). It is nearly the length of the entire island. The mountain’s highest point is called Mount Kerinci, reaching an elevation of 3,800 m (12,467 ft), making it one of the tallest mountains in Indonesia. Heading in an easterly direction, flat alluvial lands are drained by river upon river – the Batang Hari River in particular meanders along 480 km (300 mi) of land. Then there’s the spectacular Lake Toba, the king of the mountain lakes. THE HEAT IS ON Sumatra’s climate is hot, bar the highlands. It’s also incredibly moist. You’ll safari in the midst of Vegetationville, home to monster flowers, myrtles, bamboo, rhododendrons, and orchids. Giant Sumatran pines, palms, oaks, chestnuts, also ebony, ironwood, camphor wood, and sandalwood abounds. Besides the tigers, the island’s animals come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the local animals you can see are apes, comical tapirs, the two-horned Sumatran rhinoceros, tailless gibbons, tree shrews, flying lemurs, wild boars, and musky-scented civets. You can choose between a trio of national parks on the island—Mount Leuser, Kerinci Seblat and/or Bukit Barisan Selatan. The excellent news is that they were collectively designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. YOU’RE ABOUT TO ENTER THE PACIFIC RING OF FIRE Volcanoes! Volcanoes everywhere! 120 of the 130 volcanoes in the area are active; they can erupt with little or no warning. Nevertheless, many settlements cling mind-blowingly close to the smoldering rims. Mount Sinabung in the Kalo Regency is over 2,438 m (8,000 ft) high and one of Indonesia's most active volcanoes. It was inactive for a staggering four centuries before erupting in 2010. In January of this year, it sent a massive ash plume of more than 6.4 km (4 mi) into the air! So, is it safe to explore? Your guide will be aware of any trail restrictions, no matter what volcano you decide to visit. In the case of Mount Sinabung, travel was restricted to within 7 km (4 mi) of the crater. Geologically tumultuous indeed! Safari-goers are given the special opportunity to climb some volcanoes though. Sure, the climbs can make you break out into a sweat, but the views from the summit are breathtaking. The pervasive smell emitting from the cauldron-shaped calderas might have you reach for a scarf. TO THE LAKES If that made it sound like there’s way too much drama, then we recommend the colorful Kelimutu lakes in Flores. Kelimutu's trio of crater lakes bubble and boil, their magnificent colors forever changing with the chemical composition of the water. The locals will tell you that the spirits of the dead come down Kelimutu to find rest in one of the three lakes, according to their deeds performed on earth. These scenic lakes are situated between the towns of Ende and Maumere in Flores. Most visitors grab shared transportation to the volcano early in the morning, take in the sunrise on the summit, then walk or hitch a ride back to the neighboring village of Moni. PEAKS GALORE Next up, one of East Java’s most famous peaks – Gunung Bromo. The summit sits at 2,329 m (7,641 ft) high. Dress warmly! It’s a spectacular summit sunrise favorite. You can opt for a jeep tour or set out on foot from the village of Cemoro Lawang. Mount Senaru and Mount Batok, two neighboring peaks, afford fabulous views of the mysterious Laut Pasir ‘Sea of Sand’ – a vast plain that is a protected nature reserve. Explore the base of this volcano via jeep, on a motorbike or on horseback. TREKKING BORNEO If the combination of mystery and adventure gets you going, we proudly present the great Cross-Borneo Trek. The island is vast, wild, and covered in dense jungle. Malaysia and Brunei occupy parts of Borneo, but the greater part of the island is taken up by Kalimantan, which is a province of Indonesia. Borneo is famous as one of only two places on planet Earth where you can see orangutans in the wild. The other is, of course, Sumatra. Back to the trek. The island is surrounded by a thick rainforest with the Muller Mountains in the center. You’ll cross the island from east to west on your trip. It’s a challenging trek, not for rookies, but is oh so rewarding. The trek starts from a boat station. Then jungles and rivers await you. The guides are experts and know the area like the back of their hands, which is a big feat since conditions and accommodations are challenging. You will use busses, public houseboats and chartered motorized canoes to access the rugged jungle. Then you’ll trek on foot. You’ll sleep in the humble houses of the villagers with basic facilities and houseboats. The trekking is gnarly, and it’s going to get wet, but the actual jungle of Kalimantan, the local Dayak tribes and wildlife on tap make it SO worth it. HEAD FOR UJUNG KULON This national park sits at the extreme southwestern tip of Java on the Sunda shelf. The park contains the Ujung Kulon peninsula, many an offshore island and the natural reserve of Krakatoa. Here you’ll find the largest remaining area of lowland rainforests in the Java plain. Endangered plants are aplenty, so too are animals – look out for the sturdy Javan rhinoceros. This area sustains the last viable natural population of this species. There are only 60 individuals left. You can bet this park is Carnivore Country! Leopard, wild dog (dhole), leopard cat, fishing cat, Javan mongoose and several species of civets reside here along with three endemic primate species – the Javan gibbon, Javan leaf monkey, and the silvered leaf monkey. Over 270 species of birds soar in the skies while terrestrial reptiles and amphibians include python, crocodiles and a ridiculous number of frogs and toads. GET CRACKING FOR KRAKATAU Krakatau’s forests, coastline, and islands are scenic beyond measure. There’s lapping seas, natural vegetation, and volcanic beauty as far as the eye can see. Then there’s the natural vegetation of the lowlands, tropical rainforests, grasslands, beach forests, mangrove forests, and mystical coral reefs. BEST TIMES TO GET TRAVELING All the archipelago is tropical. At sea level, you’ll experience temperatures between 21 ̊C and 33 ̊C (70 ̊F and 91 ̊F). It gets cooler in the mountains. The year is split into a wet and dry season, but it’s sometimes tricky to tell the difference. In most of Indonesia, November to April are the wet months (January and February, by far, the wettest – we’re talking intense tropical downpours). The month of May until October are dry (er). Note that in northern Sumatra, this weather pattern flips on its head. The peak tourist season is between mid-June and mid-September and over the Christmas and New Year season. So, if traveling sans crowds is your thing, you’ve been warned. Bali and Kalimantan are least affected by the season change; the contrast becomes much more apparent if you head eastwards into the Nusa Tenggara region. Here are the islands of Lombok, Flores and beyond. Here, some flooding occurs during the wet season and droughts occur in the dry one. Muddy back roads are a given during the wet season if you go off the beaten track. Tumultuous seas can make it tough for smaller boats to access some of the islands. The best time for diving off the coast of Bali, Lombok or the Komodo National Park is April to September – rough seas are all the rage in January and February. If you plan to climb one of Indonesia's volcanoes, like Mount Bromo or Rinjani, then the dry season is perfect timing. Pack warm layers! QUICK TIDBITS ABOUT INDONESIA’S NATIONAL ANIMAL The Komodo dragon has long inspired myths and folklore. It’s the world’s largest lizard and endemic to Komodo Island in East Nusa Tenggara. Get a load of this… Komodo dragons are venomous They hunt using their tongues Not only are they cannibalistic, but they are also known for eating their young Considering point 3, it’s no wonder the younger Komodos hide their smell by covering themselves with the intestines of dead animals to fool hungry parents They’re grave robbers of note – yup, they dig up human graves… They can have virgin births – the fancy word is parthenogenetic, meaning that the females are able to conceive without the aid of male sperm They swallow goats! King Ks can eat up to 80% of its body weight Komodo dragons have island gigantism. Being apex predators, they have no predators of their own to contend with on the island They are avid swimmers And finally, they are ancient but surprisingly playful See you in Indonesia!