A once off-radar Indonesian archipelago is slowly emerging as an idyllic island getaway. Visit now, before the word spreads any further
By Cristian Rahadiansyah
Photographs by Muhammad Fadli
Itâ€™s a warm May morning on the Java Sea, and though the monsoon season has passed, foaming waves are making for a wild ride aboard the KMC Kartini. Twenty minutes into the trip, the fast ferryâ€™s attendants begin handing out plastic sick bags, and they arenâ€™t going unnoticedâ€”or unusedâ€”by my fellow passengers. What should be a three-and-a-half-hour crossing takes more than four.Â Queasy, I focus my attention on the swells beyond the window, which seem to stretch in an unbroken procession all the way to Borneo, far across the horizon. Itâ€™s not a comforting thought. By the time we finally reach the jetty at Karimunjawa, Iâ€™m ready to kiss the ground.
Unseasonal weather aside, Indonesiaâ€™s Karimunjawa archipelago, 120 kilometers north of the Central Javanese harbor city of Semarang, is a gem of a spot. Only five of its 27 tiny islands are inhabited, and these by less than 10,000 people, most of whom make their living from fishing or seaweed harvesting. The rest of the islands have been protected as a national park since 2001, with oneâ€”Men-yawakanâ€”having the added distinction of hosting a Bali-worthy boutique resort named Kura Kura, the only luxury accommodations in Karimunjawa.
I get there via a short and mercifully smooth speedboat transfer from the main island. With thatched-roof cottages spread along an unblemished beachfront, their walls as white as the sand, the scene reminds me of the Maldives. Iâ€™m disoriented again when Iâ€™m served a very respectable vitello tonnato for lunch; the resortâ€™s owner, Pietro Tura, is Italian, and heâ€™s imbued the 22-hectare island with an international flavor since he bought it six years ago. Itâ€™s like a little world unto itself, with 15 air-conditioned cottages and 21 pool villas, generator-supplied electricity, a private marina with a small fleet of boats, and even a dedicated turtle nursery.
In addition to its languid pace and creature comforts, Kura Kura also provides guests with amazing diving and snorkeling opportunities. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Karimunjawa is home to 250 species of reef fish and 100 types of coral, not to mention the sea turtles that Kura Kura is named for.
â€śWhale sharks always show up at the end of the year too,â€ť says the resortâ€™s fiftysomething Italian dive master, Renato Ticozzi, whose thick mustache and weathered, sun-browned face give him the look of a Mediterranean fisherman. â€śAnd there are lots of dolphinsâ€”so many dolphins.â€ť Ticozzi adds that in the last five years, he has identified no fewer than 25 dive spots in the area. Luckily for me, theyâ€™re all near at hand.