Sunday, January 8, 2012

Karimunjawa: Java’s One-and-Only Island Paradise

It took me 16 years of living in the country, travelling far and wide throughout the archipelago, before I finally got my act together and made it to Java’s very own island paradise.

The Karimunjawa – the 27 islands that make up the island group — are located about 90 kilometers north of Jepara, off the Central Java coast, and about three hours by direct fast boat from the provincial capital Semarang.

Until now something of a backwater, improving transportation connections are slowly making the islands, which were declared a national marine park in 1999, more accessible to visitors. The result is that more people are coming from farther afield to visit this island paradise.

My hotel manager informed me there had been a 200 percent increase in the number of visitors during 2011 compared with the previous year. That’s a sign of success, and yet it also poses something of a problem for the limited accommodation options on the main island during the peak season from May to October.

Karimunjawa Islands are not the easiest of places to visit, which has helped to preserve their special character and natural environment. Things are improving, but at present there are these main options to get there:

•On Monday, Wednesday and Saturday a ferry — the Murni — leaves from Jepara at 9 a.m., and returns from Karimunjawa at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. The trip usually takes seven hours. It’s worth checking the timetable on the internet because it can change at the last minute. And beware: the ferry stops running for a month of maintenance in November, which meant that I ended up having to snuggle up on a local kapal barang (the cargo boat).

•The fast boat, called the Kartini, leaves from Semarang port on Monday at 9 a.m. and Saturday at 10 a.m., and returns from Karimunjawa at 11 a.m. on Tuesday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Booking tickets directly with the Dinas office of the Transportation Ministry office is problematic (0291 591048), unless you use an agent. The direct trip takes about three hours, while fast boat trips via Jepara (the Monday/Tuesday trip) take a total of four hours.

•The three main small hotels are: Hotel Escape, Blue Laguna Inn and the Karimunjawa Inn and charge between Rp 180,000 and Rp 250,000. The Nirvana Hotel is more expensive, the suite costs Rp 1.7 million a night. There are numerous cheaper home stays both in Karimunjawa town and also in some of the villages on the two main islands, Karimunjawa and Kemujan. These range from very good, some with AC, to rough and ready, without as much as a fan.

•Boats for day trips and motorbikes are easy to arrange through hotels and home stays as is the renting of snorkelling gear and diving equipment. The best time to come is from April to October. The weather is more unpredictable from November, and can be stormy and very wet in January and February.

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