Exploring Indonesia’s Breathtaking Volcanoes

Gunung Agung in BaliPhoto: Remy Fesnoux

With over 120 volcanoes dotting the islands that make up Indonesia, it is hard to escape their looming presence. As bringers of both life and death, these growing mountains are ingrained in the local cultures. These pictures were taken over 3 years of exploring volcanoes in the archipelago of Indonesia.

Javanese countrysidePhoto: Noan Fesnoux

This photo tour moves from West Java eastwards through the archipelago. Which starts us in….

Bandung

Surrounded by cities of several million people, the volcanoes around Bandung dominate the skyline. While the north faces are visible from Jakarta, most of these mountains have easy access from Bandung. Tangkuban Perahu (pictured above) means ‘overturned boat’, and features in much of the local folklore. With road access, the top of the volcano is usually crowded with tourists.

Tangkuban PerahuPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

Other mountains in the area, like Gunung Gede, offer a more wild view of volcanoes. A grueling 6 hour ascent takes you to the summit and rim of a massive crater. Along the trail is a magical hot spring waterfall, which gives hikers a respite from the cold while looking across the volcano strewn landscape.

Dieng Plateau

Dieng PanoramaPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

Volcanoes usually conjure up images of death and destruction, but their ash has also brought the incredible productivity of the lands surrounding them. Javanese civilization can attribute it’s prominence to the fact that the lands they resided on were incredibly fertile.

The Dieng Plateau is such a place. Despite steep slopes, the mountains are covered in vegetable farms. While sitting right at the tropics, the altitude means the temperature up here rarely gets hot.

Arriving on the Dieng PlateauPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

The volcanic nature of the place is apparent as cars ascend to the plateau. Every view features the triangular silhouette of a volcano.

Sulfur lake in DiengPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

Once on the plateau, a strange silence covers the landscape. The high altitude winds are blocked by the ancient volcanic rim. On closer inspection, though, the area is still quite active, with sulphur lakes bubbling perpetually…

A vent in DiengPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

… and bubbling vents ensure you do not forget that you are sitting right above viscous magma chambers. In many sites, pipes used to harness geothermal energy are strewn across the countryside.

Central Java

Looking at a map of Java you can see that the backbone of the island is a chain of volcanoes. The island was born from a volcano, and will continue to grow since it sits on the ring of fire.

Central Java SceneryPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

To really get an idea of the size of these mountains, you need to climb one of them.

Mt MerbabuPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

Ben Atop Gunung MerapiPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

Mount Merapi, just 2 hours north of the Kraton (palace) in Jogjakarta, is a good place to start. Since we were climbing in the rainy season, the best time to start a climb is just after midnight. After 6 hours of climbing the sun finally rose and started to warm our seriously chilled bones. The relief of Merapi’s twin, Mt Merbabu, provided a perfect chance to get an idea of just how high we had climbed.

Puncturing the clouds at dawnPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

Other peaks were visible in the distance, each sporting a cap of lenticular cloud.

The flanks of MerapiPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

A hike up at night means the way down is just that much more surprising. Looking back, we saw the first clouds of the day rushing over the peak of Merapi. Much of the cloud seen on the left of this picture is in fact steam coming from the volcano. The final ascent to the crater rim was confounded by this, and even several hundred meters below the rim the air was rank.

Mt. Bromo

Certainly one of the most famous volcanic landscapes in Indonesia, this national park is actually a number of volcanoes that reside in one supervolcano now lying dormant.

Mount Bromo CraterPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

The floor of this extinct crater is made of black volcanic sand. Some plant life has started to colonize this area, but for the most part, the sea of sand remains just that.

Mt. Bromo and BatokPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

In the middle of the sand Mt. Batok stands tall, with Mt. Bromo fuming away beside it. On a clear day, you can see The tallest mountain in Java, Mt. Semeru, behind these volcanoes. Incidentally, Mt. Semeru is one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia.

Parched landscape in Bromo Nat. ParkPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

The landscape is awash with a variety of colors. The black sand contrasts with the fresh green grass slowly encroaching from the crater rim. The flanks of Gunung Batok are covered in tall grasses and small pines.

The flanks of BromoPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

On the outside of the crater, things are much much greener. Vegetable fields and thick jungle vied for space on these steep cliffs. Water has carved deep valleys with razor sharp ridges between them. The locals here must have a hard time imagining something as flat as a soccer field.

Gunung Agung in Bali

Java is certainly not the only island with active volcanoes on it. Other parts of Indonesia also contain a number of these fuming mountains. Directly to the east of Java is the reknowned island of Bali.

Here, like Java, the culture has grown alongside the volcanoes, and therefore the mountains of Gunung Agung (seen top) and Gunung Batur are deeply entrenched in their culture and traditions.

Manado, North Sulawesi:

Some of the volcanoes in Indonesia have just broken the surface, forming new islands.

Manado Tua in BunakenPhoto: Remy Fesnoux

North Sulawesi is also a volcanic hotspot. There are a number of active volcanoes in the area to explore. The easiest and most visited is Manado Tua, which lies just outside of the city of Manado. People come from across the world to dive the amazing reefs underwater, and as a bonus get to watch the Sun set each night behind this young peak.

It is not possible to separate the volcanoes from Indonesia. Inextricably linked to both the culture and landscape, it is a prime example of the intimate relationship between humans and nature.

Crossing Java by planPhoto: Noan Fesnoux

Even from 10000 ftup, the volcanoes still stand out…

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