Ad­ven­ture travel writer Terry Don­ahue ex­plores Krakatau’s in­cred­i­ble history and pro­vides some insight into the won­ders of that re­gion to­day along with pru­dent travel tips.

Indonesia Expat - - Meet The Expat - BY TERRY DONO­HUE

The Res­ur­rec­tion of Krakatau


When Krakatau erupted in 1883, it be­came the most pow­er­ful vol­canic erup­tion in recorded history. Sci­en­tists sta­tioned in Batavia (Jakarta) used seis­mo­graphs to mea­sure the earth’s move­ments and this in­for­ma­tion, along with eye­wit­ness ac­counts, were tele­graphed around the world through new transoceanic ca­bles that con­nected ev­ery con­ti­nent. It was one of the world’s first global news sto­ries.

There were no set­tle­ments on Krakatau it­self as the ill-tem­pered is­land had been rum­bling for cen­turies. How­ever, the nearby coasts of Su­ma­tra and Java were well pop­u­lated by both In­done­sians and for­eign­ers, who were at­tracted to the rich vol­canic soil, the fish­eries and the strate­gic Sunda Strait – a busy ship­ping lane used for the Dutch spice trade.

The forces that had formed Krakatau Is­land lay deep within the earth’s crust where the Indo-Aus­tralian tec­tonic plate grinds be­neath the Eurasian plate. This sub­duc­tion process sends is­land-form­ing magma to the sur­face. In 1883, the is­land ac­tu­ally had three omi­nous vol­ca­noes: Rakata, Danan, Per­buwatan – and all of them were ac­tive. How­ever, the magma cham­ber had been plugged by vis­cous rock for hun­dreds of years and the pres­sure that built in­side in­ten­si­fied un­til the even­tual erup­tion on Au­gust 26, 1883.

It must have been a ter­ri­fy­ing sight that af­ter­noon when all three vol­ca­noes erupted, spew­ing col­umns of ash and mush­room clouds 50 kilo­me­tres into the at­mos­phere. Py­ro­clas­tic flows (fire, de­bris and gases) ran down the moun­tain­side and across the sea, trav­el­ling at over 160 kilo­me­tres per hour in­cin­er­at­ing ev­ery­thing in their path. For the peo­ple in South Su­ma­tra and West Java who wit­nessed the event, their world turned black and warm and sticky ash be­gan fall­ing from the sky. It must have felt like the end of the world.

Sci­en­tists be­lieve that the par­tially emp­tied magma cham­ber was then filled with a hot­ter, darker magma from deep within the earth, cre­at­ing a lethal mix­ture. Gases ex­panded, pres­sure in­creased and by 5:30 the next morn­ing there was a cat­a­clysmic ex­plo­sion that ripped the is­land apart.

Over the next four and a half hours, there were two more ex­plo­sions. The first one was so loud that it was heard in Perth, Aus­tralia, 3,200 km to the south and Ro­driguez Is­land 5,000 km to the west. It re­ver­ber­ated around the globe seven times and to this day re­mains the loud­est sound in recorded history. The next ex­plo­sion was so pow­er­ful that the is­land lit­er­ally blew it­self to bits and whatever was left stand­ing col­lapsed into the magma cham­ber and dis­ap­peared into the boil­ing ocean.

The ex­plo­sions caused deadly tsunamis. Boats in the Sunda Strait wit­nessed im­mense walls of wa­ter and the coast­lines of South Su­ma­tra and West Java were slammed by mam­moth waves up to 40 me­tres high. By the time the dam­aged could be as­sessed, 165 vil­lages had been de­stroyed and al­most 37,000 peo­ple had lost their lives.


To­day the only thing that re­mains of the orig­i­nal is­land of Krakatau is half of the Rakata vol­cano. Left scorched and de­void of life in 1883, Rakata re­gen­er­ated at an amaz­ing pace. Al­gae and ferns took hold within three years. Then grasses ap­peared. Over time trees took over the grasses, and within 40 years the is­land was cov­ered in dense jun­gle. Vis­i­tors to­day can ex­plore the jun­gle and find two-toned chunks of lava, tes­ti­mo­ni­als of the magma mix­ing that trig­gered the mas­sive ex­plo­sion and tore Krakatau apart.

In 1930 Krakatau proved that it wasn’t fin­ished yet. After three years of churn­ing magma onto the seabed a new is­land was born: Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatau). Reg­u­lar erup­tions have raised Anak Krakatau to the lofty height of 400 me­tres in less than 90 years – com­pa­ra­ble to the height of the Em­pire State Building.

There are a few black sand beaches strewn with gran­ite and lava rock. Ar­eas undis­turbed by vol­canic ac­tiv­ity are now cov­ered in jun­gle. Birds sing and ci­cadas drone in the mid­day heat. At sun­rise one is likely to be greeted by a bi­awak or two, cousin of the fa­mous Ko­modo dragon. At dusk re­tir­ing egrets and seed- dis­pers­ing bats will cast sil­hou­ettes against the sun­set.

Snorkellers will feel sud­den cur­rents of hot wa­ter, bump into chunks of float­ing pumice and get a fas­ci­nat­ing look at un­der­wa­ter lava flows. New corals grow from the flows, tem­po­rar­ily pro­vid­ing food and shel­ter for marine life, wait­ing to be buried in the next erup­tion.

Above the jun­gle is a fas­ci­nat­ing tran­si­tion zone where pioneer species of grasses and trees es­tab­lish them­selves in the ster­ile ash and rock, lay­ing the groundwork for fu­ture forests. Be­yond the tran­si­tion zone looms a bar­ren and fore­bod­ing vol­cano. The trail zigzags up­ward through silty ash and lava flows of vary­ing colour. Some­times the ground will feel warm as Anak Krakatau ra­di­ates from the in­side out. Then the land­scape be­comes an oth­er­worldly scene: bright yel­low fu­maroles belch­ing out clouds of toxic sul­phuric gas.

From the top of Anak Krakatau, look­ing out over the ocean at the dis­tant Rakata, it’s dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend forces so de­struc­tive as to make an is­land dis­ap­pear, but gaz­ing into the mouth of the crater one can imag­ine how it is be­ing re­born.


The best way to see Krakatau is through a travel com­pany: Door-to- door ser­vice from Jakarta can be ar­ranged. Over­land to/from Jakarta to Carita or Anyer

Boat to/from the west coast to Anak Krakatau

Vol­canic ac­tiv­ity will de­ter­mine the trip – be sure to in­quire

Boats do not op­er­ate dur­ing much of the rainy sea­son

There are three types of trips:

Day trips in­clud­ing hik­ing and snorkelling, re­turn­ing to the west coast or Jakarta on the same day Overnight camp­ing trips in­clud­ing hik­ing and snorkelling stay­ing on Rakata or Anak Krakatau One- day dive trips in­clud­ing hik­ing, re­turn­ing to west coast or Jakarta the same day

On Java

Visit the ru­ins of the Fourth Point Light­house and see a 600-tonne chunk of coral washed up by the tsunami in 1883

Visit the hills be­hind Carita to see what stopped the tsunami from ad­vanc­ing fur­ther in­land




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