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The Archipelago Journal: Sumbawa

Where tradition, rugged landscapes and a proud people meld with the sea, Sumbawa is becoming a hotspot for those seeking a less-travelled Indonesia.

Words by Matt George

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With a geography both elaborate and unpredictable, Sumbawa is an island of sawtooth volcanic ridges that drop into verdant rice fields, turn to dry chaparral and finally melt into the sea within myriad sheltered bays.

For the adventurous visitor, this contorted landscape translates into an almost unlimited number of travel options. Take the southwest coast from Maluk, a layered series of headlands and wide, white beaches. Or strike southeast to Hu’u and witness the famed Lakey Peak, Sumbawa’s premier year-round magnet for expert surfers and beachcombers. And for the very adventurous, there is always the massive, climbable Gunung Tambora, a simmering volcano that exploded in 1815 with such fury that it changed the climate of the entire planet.

EM6RTW Chuldren of Sumbawa Island,Indonesia.

Trekkers answer her call in small, private parties, but if you’re here to summit her 2,850m peak, be prepared both physically and spiritually. Her beauty and grandeur have been known to make the most stoic of climbers burst into tears. Reaching the summit after a two-day trek affords a breathtaking view of a six-kilometre-wide caldera. Within it, set like a glimmering gem, floats a two-coloured lake. And over the caldera’s rim, endless ocean stretches into the distance, with Lombok’s grand Mount Rinjani forming its terminus on the horizon.

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For those who want to venture down into the Jurassic crater itself, one of the world’s deepest, it is smart to add another five days. A spiderweb network of secret trails and even more secret natural surprises await. Much of the mountain was declared a national park in 2015, but make no mistake, there will be no rest stops. This place is untamed. The base camp for guided ascents is the remote village of Pancasila near the town of Calabai on the western slope. Seek your reward here if you must.

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Obviously, though easily connected to Bali and Lombok, Sumbawa is a world of difference. It is far less developed, mostly dry and decidedly conservative. During Sumbawa’s countless festivals you may come across traditional horse and water-buffalo races, held before the annual rice harvests are planted. The buffalo races are particularly nail-biting, featuring teams of huge animals thundering through the rice fields, whose jockeys ride barefoot on no more than slippery shafts of bamboo.

South to the Taliwang region, the beaches and bays are unbridled. Your first stop will be the working-class district of Maluk, where the town is tough as nails but the beaches are empty and inviting, where the sands, both gold and bleached white, are held within the arms of two fantasy headlands. There’s great swimming in the shallows, and when the bigger swells hit, the outer reef sculpts perfect waves for expert surfers. Much like the rest of the surf spots on this island, the waves are alluring, but for adept athletes only.

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A new, exciting find is the unique village of Mantar, perched like a sentinel high upon the mountains that overlook the Alas Strait, where the Bali and Flores seas entwine. The ravishing panoramic view is dominated by the mighty Rinjani of neighbouring island Lombok. Both sunset and sunrise set Rinjani alight with a master’s brush. The village people breed horses, somewhat unexpectedly, and grow what’s rumoured to be the best rice in the world in a once-a-year hillside crop. Fine-dining chefs- in-the-know show up from Europe to collect their secret share. And the people of Mantar are a smiling group, living the way they have for hundreds of years. One can only hope the influx of outside visitors respect this enough not to change it.

With a combination of rugged mountains, dream surf, empty beaches and traditional culture, Sumbawa remains an understated prize of Indonesia: an adventurous destination that will continue to reveal her secrets the enlightened traveller.

Mataram to Sumbawa Besar


Flight Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Frequency 7 flights per week

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From Colours April 2016

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5 Senses – Sight
MAGNIFICENT MOYO

A visit to Sumbawa would not be complete without exploring the beauty of nearby Moyo Island, just off the coast of Sumbawa Besar. The seven-tiered Mata Jitu Waterfall is a breathtaking must-see here with its alluring greenish-blue hues — this is an excellent place to get your feet wet and connect with the picturesque tropical jungle. The diving here is also highly recommended, with rich reefs and commonly sighted loggerhead and green turtles. This hidden paradise is so incredibly beautiful that it has even attracted celebrities and royalty in the past, including the late Princess Diana and rock star Mick Jagger.