The rustic natural charms of East Java

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Ijen Mountain is better known as Ijen Crater. It is one of the only mountains still active, peaks at 2,443-meters above sea level, has cauldron walls reaching 500-meters and has erupted in 1796, 1817, 1913, and 1936. Ijen is a volcano complex which consists of the Ijen mountain crater and highlands. (photo: IO/Hendra)

IO – Within the past few years, people in the tourism industry frequently mention Banyuwangi. Anyone can easily access the gorgeous spots clustered on the East end of Java: Baluran National Park, Ijen Crater, Merah Island…these exotic spots are now the cool places to visit. Their hitherto-neglected beauties are now much exposed in social media, alluring travelers from inside and outside the Archipelago. The provision of supporting facilities and good tourist management makes it even easier for tourists to go to Banyuwangi for holidays.

Baluran National Park
Indonesia’s nature is abundant in the kind of things that any lover of nature and beauty would want. For example, you might want to go see a real savannah like those in Africa. You don’t have to go across to the Black Continent, because Indonesia has the natural equivalent of just about any site. Those who are interested in savanna-type regions can find them in Banyuwangi. In fact, there are two sites: Sadengan savannah, located within the Alas Purwo National Park, and Baluran National Park.

We are only going to discuss the rich beauty of Baluran National Park in this article. Baluran National Park (Taman Nasional Baluran – “TNB”) is located at Wonorejo Village, Banyuputih District, Regency of Situbondo. The locals would say that Baluran is located in the Regency of Banyuwangi. They’re not wrong, because Baluran National Park is located on the Banyuwangi-Situbondo border.

The name “Baluran” is taken from the name of the mountain overlooking the area, the Baluran (“Spread Out”) mountain that sprawls out beautifully in the background. Baluran used to be called “Afrika Van Java” or “Little Africa”. TNB is worthy of the sobriquet, as it contains a lovely savannah stretching out with wild animals that can rival its foreign namesake: bulls, deer, snakes, buffaloes, long-tailed monkeys, and even peacock. Baluran National Park was established to protect these exotic animals.

The Park is a 25,000-hectare area comprised of several different types of forests, each with their own unique set of flora and fauna. Baluran is frequently cited as Indonesia’s miniature forest park, because you can find just about any type of Indonesian forest terrain here: savannah (40%), mangrove, seasonal forest, coastal forest, lower mountain forest, and even evergreen forest.

Baluran is home to 44 plant types, some unique to it, such as the widoro bukol, the mimba, and the pilang. There are also 155 bird and 26 mammal types, which include bulls, buffaloes, ajag, deer, muntjac, leopards, and mangrove cats.

Evergreen Forest
On entering TNB, visitors will find themselves immediately surrounded by 5 km of evergreen forest. This type of forest remains green all year and never dries out, because it is located on top of a basin with an underground river network beneath it. The best part when you pass through the evergreen forest is the cool, deep green silence of close-ranked trees with their dense canopy.

Bekol Savannah
Once passing through the evergreen forest, visitors will enjoy a different kind of natural charm: the Bekol Savannah. Bekol is a breathtaking savannah that contrasts with both the evergreen forest behind it and the friendly slopes of Mount Baluran in front of it. Bekol Savannah has an area size of 300 Ha of the total 10,000 Ha of TNB. It is the biggest savannah in Java. During the rainy season, Bekol would look green and cool as far as the eye can see. During the dry season, Bekol would be brown and sere. This goes for all of Baluran’s forests, except the evergreen.

Any visitor would get either a brief glimpse or a good long look of the wild animals. A pack of wild deer might pass in front of the vehicle’s path, or more frequently, long-tailed monkeys. These monkeys are feral animals who like to bother visitors to get food. Other than monkeys and deer, you might also spy wild bulls in the distance. It is a rare treat (pun intended) if you get to see the wild peacock in its natural habitat here.

Exotic Bama Beach
After having crossed the big savannah, visitors need only cross 4 km from it to reach Bama Beach. This beach a unique mix of black and white sands, graduating according to the specific area. The coastline is lined with beautiful Baringtonia (between Pandean and Tanjung Candibang in Labuan Merak), pandanus (Pandanus tectorius) in Tanjung Bendi, Pemphis acidula in Air Karang, and other plants such as Acrophora, Porites lutea, Serioptophora histerix, and Stylophora sp.

Please be careful when you enter Bama Beach, because there are many wild monkeys roaming the area, as there is a mangrove forest. It is also the best place to watch the sun rise, as it faces the Bali Straits in the East.

Here, there are plenty of options. You can simply walk down the beach and look at the tree houses, or explore the mangrove forest and visit the pier. You can ride a canoe or go snorkeling. Bama Beach has many facilities for your convenience and comfort: offices, store rooms, musholla, public rest rooms, as well as inns and a diner. There is also an area for outbound games.

Ijen Crater
Mount Ijen, or to be more specific, Ijen Crater, is an active volcano. It rises 2,443 m above sea level, with a 300-500 m high caldera wall. To date, it has erupted 4 times: one each in 1796, 1817, 1913, and 1936. The Ijen volcanic complex is comprised of the Ijen Crater and highlands. The entire area straddles three regencies: Situbondo, Bondowoso, and Banyuwangi. The mountain has a sulfur mine, more proof of its activity. When visiting Ijen Crater, you can see miners quietly carrying their load of sulfur in baskets on their backs, crossing steep paths swirling with dangerous toxic gases.

Ijen Crater is the site of the world’s biggest crater lake, which produces 36 million m3 of sulfur and hydrogen chloride a year in its 5,466-hectare area. The crater is as beautiful as it is dangerous: it contains a lovely turquoise sulfur lake of an amazingly dramatic beauty. Ijen Lake has zero-degree acidity and a depth of 200 m. Such strong acid would simply melt off your fingers to the bone if you dip inside it.

Mount Ijen is accessible to adventurers from two directions: The North and the South. The Northern part would take you from Situbondo towards Sempol (Bondowoso) through Wonosari and then to Paltuding. It is a distance of about 93 km and you can get within 2.5 hours by car. From the South, you start from Banyuwangi to Licin (15 km), then go on from Licin to Paltuding (18 km), and go on a further 6 Km to Ijen. We suggest that you use a jeep or other all-terrain vehicles due to its harsh, rising path.

Merah Island
Kuta beach is not the only Indonesian beach that attracts foreign tourists. Right now, the coast of Merah Island in Banyuwangi is a close second favorite destination for both domestic and foreign tourists.

Banyuwangi is rich in coastal beauties that are famous worldwide. Nearly half of the region is coastline. Merah Island is actually located a few hundred meters off the Banyuwangi coast proper. When the tide’s out, you can actually cross to the island on foot. The island has a lovely 3 km-long white sands beach and a 200 m-tall cute round hill with red earth. This is why it is called “Pulau Merah” or the “Red Island”. You get the best of both worlds here: the tiny mountain in the East, where you can watch the sun rise from the top, and the coastline in the West, where you can see the sunset from the bottom.

Other than its amazing natural views, the Merah Island beach is well-known for its large waves. The 2-meter tall, 300-meter long waves crash on the mangrove-rimmed coastline regularly. That’s just perfect for surfing, and the presence of surfers from all corners of the world prove it. In fact, these surfers fell in love with the clean, strong waves so bad, that they stay for days there, even weeks. The Regency Government of Banyuwangi has hosted a surfing event every year, attended by participants from more than 20 countries in the world.

The local Government in Merah Island takes coastal safety seriously. There are many coast guards and lifeguards who secure both the land and sea area and help in case of accidents or other unwanted occurrences, especially when people are swimming and surfing due to the high waves. These guards are stationed in a 5-m high tower so that they can quickly see everything that happens in the local beach and sea, and rescue people from the water as necessary.

(Hendra)