Mt Merapi, located near Yogyakarta, is one of the most active volcanoes on earth. It is one of some 500 volcanoes in Indonesia, from which at least 129 are active in the volcanic arc spread along the Asia-Pacific islands called the Ring of Fire.
Living in the shadows of an active volcano is like sitting on a time bomb, especially when it is called the Fire Mountain or Mount Merapi, the volcano that dominates the center of the island of Java.
Despite its frequent eruptions, Mt. Merapi is very central to the lives of the Javanese people and kings. For through its eruptions Merapi spews lava, ash, and minerals to the surrounding areas. These provide nutrients to the soil, making this one of the most fertile areas in the world, and consequently the most densely populated.
This majestic, perfectly cone-shaped volcano, with its peak at 2,911 meters above sea level, has also determined the lives of kings and realms. In the early 11th Century, the once-mighty ancient empire of Mataram mysteriously disappeared, and power suddenly shifted to East Java. Scientists surmise that a violent eruption of Merapi in 1006 AD was the ruin of the empire.
This massive eruption also buried the nearby Borobudur temple in ash. Most recently at the end of October-beginning November, Merapi erupted catastrophically killing 353 people mostly by its Pyroclastic flows, the worst ever after the one in 1870.
Since then the mountain has been quieter, but the people here have befriended the mountain and accept its rumblings and coughs as part of normal natural phenomena.
The Merapi volcano also plays a central part in the accepted cosmos of the Javanese sultans. The Keraton of Yogyakarta faces the mountain in one direct line. Merapi is also guarded by spiritual "guards" who give offerings to the mountain.
Local people respect the awesome power of this volcano. Annually, on the anniversary of the Sultan's coronation, offerings (Labuhan) are brought from the Keraton of Yogya to Mt. Merapi, together with similar offerings carried to the Indian Ocean to the south, to appease the spirits of the mountain and the sea, in order to bring welfare to the inhabitants of Java.
Today Merapi is continuously monitored by a number of earthquake posts, that warn inhabitants of imminent eruptions. Nonetheless, despite frequently giving out smoke, the mountain still attracts hikers and climbers and lately adventurers who love to retrace the hot lava flow of the last eruption, although now the lava has cooled down considerably.
Whether you are a professional or avid vulcanologist, or love the adventure of climbing or riding in off-road jeeps up dangerous slopes of Merapi, here are a number must-do activities:
1 | Learn about volcanoes at Museum Merapi
Your introduction to volcanoes is at the Museum Merapi. This Museum at Kaliurang, on the slopes of the volcano, is located some 25 km. North of Yogyakarta, and is dedicated to scientific studies of volcanoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. It was unveiled for the public on October 1, 2009.
Occupying a land area of 3.4 hectares, the 4,470 square meters building consists of two floors. The first floor contains rooms with themes, such as Volcano World, The Merapi Volcano Trail, Man and the Mountain of Fire, Earthquake and Tsunami, Disaster Movement of Soil, Diorama and Extra-terrestrial Volcanos.
Meanwhile, the second floor is used for the screening of images and films on Mount Merapi. It also highlights the National Personalities who have visited the victims during the last devastating eruption. At the west hall, is information about tremendous volcanic eruptions around the world. One of these was the Krakatau Eruption in 1883 that killed thousands, caused by Pyroclastic clouds and its ensuing tsunami, while its eruption darkened the skies for 3 days across Asia, US and Europe.
Address: Jl. Kaliurang km.22 Banteng, Boyong, Harjobinangun, Pakem Sleman, Yogyakarta
Image by markomorciano
2 | Get awestruck by mighty Mt. Merapi at the Kaliurang Observation Tower
There are many spots established as viewing points overlooking the mighty Merapi. But your best vantage point is at Kaliurang's Observation Tower, located only 7 kilometers away from the crater, ensuring a relatively safe distance. There is an extensive garden surrounding the 2-story tower, where you can linger in the cool air while sipping a warm Wedang Ronde – a warming ginger drink -to revitalize your energy.
Address: Desa Hargo Binangun, Pakem, Sleman, Special Region of Yogyakarta
3 | Take an Adventurous Lava Tour at Kaliadem
If you are very adventurous and are dying to know how a volcano erupts and see for yourself its dire aftermath, take the Lava Tour up Mt. Merapi and follow in the lava's deadly path.
You will find many Jeep communities at Kaliadem who can offer you an off-road adventure of the devastated area covered by ash and lava in the last eruption. The tour will always be led by professional drivers who double as guides. The rushing feeling of adrenaline will keep in as your Jeep zig-zags over the trail.
The tour usually includes visits to important landmarks such as the Mini Museum "Sisa Hartaku" (translated meaning: My Remaining Treasure Museum) that serves to inform about the impact made on the people living in the area during Merapi's the latest eruption in 2010. There is also an underground bunker that was the last refuge for 2 volunteers, but who sadly died by the extreme heat of the lava. There's also the Alien Stone, a unique rock that resembles a human face.
Be sure to pack a sweater against the cool mountain air. You can also take the tour by riding your own off-road motorcycle if you're skilled enough to ride over challenging rough terrain.
Address: Desa Kepuharjo Kecamatan Cangkringan, Kabupaten Sleman, Provinsi Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta
15 Amazing Experiences You Can Get in Yogyakarta!
The Magnificent Borobudur Temple
4 Special Things to Experience on a Rural Getaway around Yogyakarta
Homey Homestays in Yogyakarta and Magelang, Central Java