Karimunjawa: Hidden Paradise
The island of Java is perhaps best known for its sprawling megacities, towering volcanoes, and many cultures and traditions in art, music and dance.
With more than half of Indonesia’s population of over 255 million people living there, it’s not often that one associates Java – the world’s 13th largest island by land area – with a pristine paradise, sparkling seascapes and richly diverse marine life. If you don’t think that’s true, clearly you haven’t been to Karimunjawa: Java’s hidden paradise.
Roughly 80 km off the coast of Jepara, Central Java, Karimunjawa offers visitors white sandy shores and an aquatic experience comparable to the world-famous waters of East Indonesia. This small archipelago of 27 islands (only five of which are inhabited) boasts underwater life so vibrant and prosperous that it was declared a national marine park in 1988. Administratively, the Karimunjawa Islands District is divided into three villages, covering 111,000 hectares; 100,000 hectares of that area is water.
According to local myth, Karimunjawa is where one of the Wali Sanga – nine revered saints of Islam in Indonesia, especially on the island of Java – sent his son to propagate and practise the religion. Sunan Muria, one of the Wali Sanga, referred to the islands as kremun-kremun (barely visible) from the Mount of Muria; and thus locals named them accordingly.
Yet this ‘barely visible’ chain of islands is incredibly rich in natural flora and fauna. A testament to its ecological wealth, there are five types of ecosystem for nature lovers to explore here: coral reefs, seagrass and seaweed, mangrove forests, coastal forests and lowland tropical rainforests.
Karimunjawa’s coral reefs are made up of fringing reefs, barrier reefs and several patch reefs. They have an extraordinary wealth of species: 64 genera of reef and 353 species of ornamental fish.
Two protected biota species – black coral and organ pipe coral – can be found here as well. Other protected sea biota include the hornet helmet, triton trumpet, chambered nautilus, green shell and six species of clam. The islands are also nesting grounds to green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles.
It’s no wonder that snorkelling and diving are the activities of choice for most visitors. Although lounging on the beach all day with a good book is a tempting alternative.
Karimunjawa and Kemujan are the two main islands where you’ll find most of the accommodation options. With a short bridge connecting the two, they are often thought of as one island. Wherever you decide to stay, island-hopping is highly recommended to absorb the uniqueness of each one.
Snorkelling spots can be found around almost all of the islands, but the popular spots are located near Menjangan Besar, Menjangan Kecil, Bengkoang, Kembar and Krakal Kecil.
Designated dive spots are located near the main island Karimunjawa, Menjangan Besar, Menjangan Kecil, Geleang, Bengkoang, Parang, Kembar, Katang, Krakal Kecil and Kumbang. Around Kemujan, the sunken Panamanian ship Indono, which sank in 1955, is now a thriving habitat of coral fish and a popular wreck dive.
Another unique attraction is the shark nursery on Menjangan Besar. Those who are brave can see the sharks up close in their nursery pool, take pictures and even swim with them. The area is also used as an eagle and turtle nursery.
Above the water on Kemujan is a 10.5-hectare mangrove forest. Winding wooden boardwalks take visitors deep into the thick forests that provide a haven for migratory birds, deer, snakes and even endemic butterflies.
This miniature archipelago is a tropical treasure trove of ecology and a wonderful alternative for those seeking a hidden paradise so close to – and yet a far cry from – the frenetic pace of Java’s urban centres.