April 09, 2014

The Island you cannot leave. Karimunjawa, Java

The Karimunjawa islands are hard to get to, and very hard to leave. Not just because they are beautiful, sparsely occupied and teeming with sea life, but because the Java sea often puts paid to ferries being able to visit, particularly in the rainy season. I was lucky in getting out to the islands, with a very calm and sunny sailing from the north coast port of Jepara, but I had to return early, on a very choppy voyage, with warnings of bad weather and likely ferry cancellations likely to strand me there for up to a week. The locals told me that two weeks of isolation were not that unusual!

The islands are a national marine park, bringing in those scuba divers and snorkellers who have heard of the remote archipelago, with long white beaches fringed by palms and very little pollution (so unusual for Indonesian beaches). The waters are so protected that only 50% are actually open the to visitors. Hire a boat to see the outer islands, snorkel with the fish, and return to the beach to find your captain has caught one of the tastier ones and is barbequing it for your lunch. 

The main town, also called Karimunjawa, has the most accommodation, with the small streets packed with home stays and a few tour operators. It is quiet and sleepy until night time when the hawkers come out onto the main street of Jl. Raya Karimunjawa and the smell of fresh fish being roasted on open grills fills the air. I had a very tasty local fish with rice and a Bintang with a group of locals, until we were forced to go back to our beds by the power curfew. As they are so remote, the islands rely on oil for power and only run generators for 6 hours a day, from 6pm to 12pm. 

Far Flung Travel Tips

* Avoid weekends in the dry season (May to October) when the small amount of accommodation can be full.

* With the limited hours of electricity the expense of a air conditioned room (double that of just a fan) is not really worth it.

* Head to the small wayung, beyond the football pitch, for a cold Bintang at the edge of the sea and watch the sunset.

* Spend 30,000 Rupiah more (A$3) to go Business Class on the ferry. Leather seats, leg room and no tv blaring out bad pop music for five hours. Bliss.

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