Java Lava climbed Bukit Kaba (1,945 m) for the first time in May 2016 – highly recommended. The mountain has a low profile – not a typical volcanic cone. Locally, Kaba is referred to as a bukit (‘hill’) rather than a gunung (‘mountain’). Location: Bengkulu province, south-eastern Sumatera.
As Dan Quinn writes in Gunung Bagging, Bukit Kaba is … a truly beautiful and fascinating volcano complex. Given just how stunning the panorama is and how little effort is required to reap such a reward, it really doesn’t get any easier than this! Given its easy access and spectacular views, many visitors/campers can be expected on weekends.
Bukit Kaba has a complex of some five craters trending ENE-WSW. The two most visited and spectacular craters are known locally as Kawah Hidup (‘live crater’) and Kawah Mati (‘dead crater’), separated by a low ridge. Kawah Lama (‘old crater’) lies to the ENE of Kawah Mati. Two ancient, forested craters lie to the WSW of Kawah Hidup. The highest point in the complex, 1,945 m, is on the forested crater nearer to Kawah Hidup (not at the lookout or rim of Kawah Hidup as is usually presumed.)
Treks include circumnavigation of the rims of Kawah Hidup and Mati, which can be extended to include Kawah Lama, as well as descent to the floors of Hidup and Mati. With an early start, fit trekkers should be able to achieve all these in one day.
Circumnavigation of the rims offers great views into the craters as well as of peaks in the distance – weather permitting! The trek around the rim takes 2-3 hours and is not technically difficult although some bushwhacking may be needed in places. With a full day on the mountain, it should be possible to reach Kawah Lama also. There are three high points – the outlook peak on the northern side, a high point on the rim to the west, and a peak on the southern side. These offer an understanding of the complex and great photography.
Descent into the Hidup and Mati craters is via a well-worn track on the eastern side of the rim of Mati. Once ‘inside’, you can walk around the undulating floor of Mati and, after a short climb over a ridge between the two, around the flattish floor of Kawah Hidup. Plan on a minimum of two hours to visit the these craters.
Kawah Mati contains an extremely formidable volcanic vent with a spectacular blue-yellowish lake at its base. Its last serious eruption was, reportedly, in 1883. The vent is about 200 m deep and some 100 m in diameter with near-vertical walls. (Certain death if you were to fall in; your body would never be recovered; probably cremated in H2SO4 in the lake below! Perhaps that’s why the locals call it ‘Mati’ – death).
Kawah Hidup is fascinating for its numerous, very active steam-gushing fumaroles with sulphur solidifying around the bases of many vents. You can approach these vents but stay upwind to avoid the sulphur fumes. Follow the advice of your guide where to walk.
The climb begins at Pos Wisata (park entrance, 1,360 m); fee Rp 5,000, sign the register book, IDs not requested. From here, there are two routes: the ‘forest track’ (just over two hours), and a longer, more moderate gradient, asphalt ‘motorbike track’ (about eight km). Both lead to the base of the 200 steps below the lookout overlooking the two main craters. The vertical climb is about 600 m. The forest track is shorter, well worn and relatively easy (but would be very slippery in rain). Apparently, there are plans to upgrade the motorbike track for cars to reach the base of the steps at the outlook.
If ascending via the forest track, there is a shortcut to the rim of Kawah Mati: on the left into a gully about 100 meters above a concrete block house (presumably for protection in the event of an eruption) after emerging from the forest. The track on the other side of the gully up onto the rim is clearly visible from the forest track. This shortcut avoids the need to ascend to the lookout then descend again to the rim of Kawah Mati.
Camping sites are on the upper slope of the forest track and at the base of the lookout, which also serves as a motor bike park. The forest track site may be busy and noisy on weekends; the site at the base of the lookout (the motorbike park) is rock hard – difficult to insert tent pegs. A pleasant camp site would be on an open area between the Mati and Lama craters via the shortcut mentioned above. No water on the mountain.
Suitability: not a strenuous climb but potentially dangerous on rim and in craters; reasonable level of fitness; families and older children under close supervision.
Guides: advised for circumnavigation of rim and descent into craters; not really needed for the forest or motorbike tracks. Contact: Pos Wisata Bukit Kaba, 0857 6814 3833 for guides/porters.
Indicative Program: While a weekend trip is feasible, it would be much more rewarding to arrive Bengkulu on a Friday afternoon and spend a full day, Saturday, on the mountain. Those who wish to camp on the mountain Friday night should take an earlier flight to reach the campsite before sunset. Sunday: return Bengkulu; visit the British Marlborough fort built between 1713-19; and, Soekarno’s house where he was exiled, 1938-42; late afternoon flight to Jakarta.
Accommodation and transport: Vila Hijau, Curup (1,100 m), about 100 km by road from Bengkulu. Pak Dayat, manager, 0852 8443 0333, will arrange transport to/from Bengkulu and the park entrance. Pos Wisata (park entrance) is about six km or 20 minutes by car from Vila Hijau. Allow 3.5 hours for return journey to Bengkulu, to be on the safe side, if joining a flight.
Rafflesia flower: Ask about the Rafflesia that may be blooming in the forest along the road from Bengkulu or in the conservation reserve surrounding Bukit Kaba. Wikipedia indicates that Rafflesia blooms at any time of the year while informants provided other information!