Navigating the rims of bellowing volcanos, descending into blue fire and 1am hikes – all part of the fun while exploring Indonesia's stunning Bromo and Ijen mountain ranges.

Six months down, one to go. Indonesia was to be the final destination on my seven month journey through South East Asia.

40,000 feet above sea level, on a plane departing the Philippines, I started to reflect on what other travellers had recommended me to do in Indonesia. Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen popped up in my train of thought. The mountains are two separate volcanos that lie on the east coast of Java – the world’s most populated island. A vague memory recalled that visiting the volcanos involved a few days of hiking and travelling – exactly what I needed in my unfit state. Since I was about to touch down in Jakarta – which just so happens to be on Java Island, I decided a trip to the volcanos would be my first big mission in Indonesia.

After enduring an 8 hour layover in Singapore, I finally touched down in Jakarta. I was fairly worn out, so I decided to take a break from the hostel life and check into a hotel room. The next 3 days consisted of taking photos and stuffing my face with Jakarta’s exceptional grub. During this time I booked myself a train to Yogyakarta – a city known for it’s unique culture and cuisine.

My time in Yogyakarta was fairly brief, I was eager to summit the volcanos. I only spent a couple of days doing much the same as I did in Jakarta – food and photos, before booking my oneway ticket to the hills. I discovered the hostel I was staying at (Laura’s Backpackers), sold tours for the Bromo/Ijen excursion. There were a few options available, but I booked the 3 day, 2 night tour.

Here’s a quick overview of the itinerary, followed by an in-depth break down for each day:

Day 1

  • Depart Yogyakarta via minivan at approximately 10am
  • Arrive at Cemoro Lawang Village at approximately 10pm

Day 2

  • Wake up at 3am
  • View sunrise over Mt. Bromo then hike to crater rim
  • Depart Bromo around midday and bus to Catimor Hotel on Mt. Ijen

Day 3

  • Wake up at 1am
  • Hike into Mt. Ijen crater to view blue fire
  • View sunrise off Java’s east coast then bus to Bulusari

Day 1

Surfacing from a decent sleep at Laura’s Backpackers, I filled up on my free noodle soup breakfast and waited eagerly for my minivan to arrive. During the wait, I studied the tour itinerary to find out exactly what the first day involved. Quite simply, it was a 10 hour van ride to the accomodation, based near Bromo’s summit. Not the most exciting of days ahead, but hey, at least I’d see just how populated the island of Java was. After a brief wait, the van arrived and I crammed my backpack in the boot.

Inside the van, I met my new backpacking team for the tour. The team consisted of 4 people from France, 2 from Belgium and myself – the solo Kiwi. We all got chatting and kicked back for the 10 hour ride ahead… or should I say 14 hours. In true South East Asian style, the ride took a little longer than expected. Eventually we reached our destination, checked into our rooms and rested for the big day to follow.

Day 2

Rudely awakening to my mobile phone alarm, I peered at the screen to discover it was 3am – time to hike! Assembling outside, myself and the team were met with a chilly breeze and some heavy fog. Our tour guides appeared and told us to hop into our jeeps. They would be dropping us near the view point for sunrise.

After being dropped off by our transportation and a brief hike, we arrived at the viewpoint to take in the serenity. Unfortunately the heavy fog decided to hang out with us for the entire sunrise, meaning our pleasant view was somewhat tarnished. It didn’t help that my poor selection of clothing was met with a bitter, stiff breeze that made itself present around my exposed legs. Despite the bad luck, we jumped back in our jeeps and progressed to the second part of the tour.

As we descended down the windy mountain road, I observed the morning light filtering through the swaying trees. The road started to level, then all of a sudden a humongous open plain burst into view. Our jeep made it’s way towards it, pressing it’s tyres into the dirt. Hauling across the broad wasteland, I looked around to see a pursuit of Toyota Land Cruisers, motorbikes and horses, all venturing towards the distant volcanic smog. It was an impressive scene – like something out of Jurassic Park! The vehicle finally ground to halt and I set foot outside. Regrouping with the team, we gazed ahead at the billowing mass of smoke and made our way towards the volcano.

We reached the staircase that climbed to the crater’s edge. The stairs were steep and coated with piles of jet black ash. Looking up, I knew this was going to be the ideal test for my unfit state. Eventually reaching the top, I let my whinging legs catch a breather before spinning around to assess what I just climbed. The view was spectacular. My eye followed the contours of the charred mountain face, before reaching the distant plain that we’d travelled across earlier. The gradient of thick ash fading to lush forest was amazing.

Hiking around the mountain’s rim, I was again met with incredible scenes. On my right lay the depths of the crater’s mouth, spewing a never ending plume of sulphur. On my left, a fine haze whipped up off the mountain tips, clouding the silhouettes of distant tourists – awesome stuff.

Regrouping with the team, we headed back to the jeep, before making our way to the next village where we would spend the night.

Day 3

Now, if you thought getting up at 3am for a hike was a mission, try 1am – our wake up call for Mount Ijen. Following the same routine as the previous morning, I packed my bag, scoffed my breakfast and jumped into the transportation. After a brief drive through the depths of darkness, we arrived at our next stop and set off on another foot mission.

It was a good thing I warmed the legs up the previous day, because the hike ahead was a steep, hour long incline. So steep, that some people were paying to be pushed up the trail in trollies – lazy sods. Arriving at the summit, we were presented with a 360 degree view of the horizon under a sparkling, clear nights sky. Lightning periodically struck in the distance, revealing the silhouettes of the surrounding volcanos – it looked insanely cool and eerie. Sadly, the view was short lived, it was now time to descend into the crater of blue fire.

Before diving in, we were each given a half-face respirator to mask the sulphurous smog we were about to endure. My respirator was in dire straits – it looked like something from a World War 2 battle scene. The mask’s elastic headband was long gone. Instead, it had been replaced with what appeared to be a shoelace – oh well, she’ll be right. I tightened my apparatus the best I could and we started the steep and rocky decline.

Arriving at the bottom of the crater, after a treacherous ordeal coming down, we were presented with the flames. My team and I decided to take full advantage of Indonesia’s limited health and safety regulations and get as close as we could to the luminous fire. It was truely an incredible scene as the electric blue inferno roared 3 meters in the air, wrestling with the hoard of escaping sulphur. Finding a nice little nestling spot, I set up my tripod and camera to get some long exposure shots.

Things were about to take a turn for the worse. While getting some photos on my perch, the sulphur decided to take a viscous turn in direction. Myself and the team got completely smoked out – barely being able to see a metre in front of ourselves. Our tour guide appeared out of nowhere, repeatedly saying, “get out, very dangerous!”. I snatched my tripod with the camera still attached and made a break for it. Visibility was getting worse. I had to unleash my cell phone torch to identify the minefield of rocks to escape over. There was about a dozen of us scattering through the darkness and smog. Everyone was coughing so hard, I thought someone was going to hiff a lung up. I thought the whole thing was pretty humorous, although my concerns grew – it was complete chaos. Eventually everyone successfully vacated the danger zone, I ripped off my poor excuse of a respirator and inhaled the less toxic atmosphere – it felt like I had just smoked 2 packs of cigarettes. Regrouping with my team – now on high alert, we decided we’d seen enough and started the incline out of the crater.

Back up top, the morning horizon started to ignite, meaning it was time to trek to the sunrise viewpoint. Despite the white out we experienced from the sunrise on day 2, we were in luck today. Reaching the vantage point we sat down, relaxed and enjoyed the show. Mother nature put on a stunner. Golden rays lit up the symphony of transforming clouds that we sat level with, while the island coastlines of Java and Bali awoke below us – it was a real treat.

With the sunrise wrapped up, it was time to make our way back to the minivan and end the tour. Part of the tour includes a drop off to the ferry terminal in Bulusari – here you can ferry across to Bali.

After 6 months of backpacking, I was starting to lack motivation on the sightseeing side of things. This tour however gave me a good kick up the backside and made me hungry for more – even though I was completely wrecked and reeked of sulphur from the 3 day excursion. It was definitely one of the highlights of my 7 month journey through South East Asia, and a must do in Indonesia.