August 23, 2017
Not far from the tourist masses of Bali is the island of Lombok, found to Bali’s east and comparatively empty – home to an active volcano in a crater of crystal clear water: Mount Rinjani.
Some of Indonesia’s most stunning natural sights can be seen from the mountains of Lombok, and one might spend a lifetime trekking the mountains, valleys, and villages. But, an intrepid traveler can hike the best of Mount Rinjani in just four days.
The Road to Mount Rinjani
To talk about Lombok, it’s important to understand its most important mountain: Gunung Rinjani. At an altitude of 12,224 feet, this is one of the highest volcanoes in Indonesia (second only to Mount Kerinci of Sumatra) and there’s a whopping 6 by 8.5 kilometer caldera. The hike may only be a few days, but it is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Yes, the Gunung Baru volcano is still active – part of the famous ‘Ring of Fire’ – and it is of strong spiritual significance to the local people. Even in recent history the area has been the site of visually impressive eruptions, and the name of the volcano is taken from the old Javanese word for “god.”
The ideal launch point for such a spiritual trek is a rural village of Sembalun, located in the foothills of Mount Rinjani and surrounded by vibrant green rice terraces and a patchwork of agricultural fields below.
Considered the birthplace of the Wektu Telu – a religion combining Islamic beliefs and ancient animist practices – the Sembalun is found near the island’s coast on the west. Camping overnight here is a somewhat of a sacred experience, complete with an uninterrupted view of the night sky and the early morning mist that rolls down the rugged mountain.
The hike gets off to a relatively easy start, traversing flat grasslands, passing grazing cattle, and workers balancing baskets on their shoulders. Slowly, the terrain becomes more sloped, the peak of the dominating Rinjani in constant view, both a motivating and intimidating force.
As the landscape becomes more hilly, the heat gives way to a very welcome cooler climate. An eight-to-ten-hour hike later, the Plawangan Sembalun campsite is within reach. The area is perched on a ridge from whence one might get an impressive view of the mountain peak. It’s also a chance to rest those aching limbs.
To the Top of the Volcano
In order to reach the peak for sunrise, it’s imperative to leave before dawn and hike through the dark, but it’s well worth the early start. You’ll be greeted with steaming mugs of tea and snacks as you witness the sunrise over the turquoise Segara Anak crater lake, with the conical shape of Gunung Baru volcano protruding from its waters.
On a clear day, you might even see the Gili islands across the stretch of ocean from Rinjani peak. After sunrise, there’s brunch at base camp before heading down into the lake.
The vast crater of the volcano is miles in diameter, flanked by jagged rocks, and filled with water so pristine that the name, Segara Anak means Child of the Sea. The descent into the crater is steep and rough underfoot, and the path cuts through dense forest before reaching a campsite erected near the shore of the lake.
The spot is undeniably tranquil and picturesque, great for fishing and perhaps even a quick, cold dip. Beyond that, there are caves to explore and bubbling natural hot springs in which to soak and soothe the muscles after the day’s rigorous ascent. There are few places on Earth that can boast of such natural amenities in the crater of an active volcano.
To the West Rim and Beyond
After the much needed rest and relaxation at camp, the following and final day of the adventure is taken up with a hike to the west rim of Mount Rinjani for one last breathtaking view, and then a descent through thick rainforest that takes you through the village of Senaru where you can make your way back or, if you’ve still got some steam, extend your stay and explore the village and surrounding areas, which include cascading waterfalls clad in dense jungle foliage.
As for accommodation on the islands, the experts at Remote Lands recommend the Oberoi on Lombok – a nice mix of pool, beach, dining, and spas for your weary legs. There are also sunset cruises, snorkeling off those aforementioned Gili islands, and horse cart rides.
The volcano is active and has been the site of some of the most awesome eruptions in the modern age. Having been in a stage of “vigilance” since 2009, it’s really nothing to worry about. If it does, indeed, go off while you’re there, you’ll almost certainly have more than enough notice. Or, you won’t, in which case – well, you know: run.