Sempu Island, East Java – Eden Enjoyed

Submitted by indohoyindohoy on 2 November 2009   •  Itinerary

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August, 2007

Ever seen that movie, “The Beach” that stared Leonardo Dicaprio, and had the soundtrack of All Saints with it? If you happen to see it, and you are peering this site, then you definitely know the sight about that lagoon where they swim in. The white sandy beaches, a salt water lake with clear water, barrier to the sea by cliffs, blue sky, and green scenery (Am I exaggerating or what?!). This was the temptation offered by the famous reputation of Sempu Island. This, my friends, made me and Maya drool.

It’s a small paradise near Java that not many know of. For me, add to it my hobby of birdwatching, then it’s a perfect paradise. So off me and my friend to Sempu Island.

Sempu Island

Camp Gear Preparation

I happened to find the camping gear at a place called Tripple X in the Klender area, East Jakarta. They had all the gear we needed to rent and gave us a great price. And they were really nice people which is always a plus. Damn, man! It’s so hard to rent gear in this city that I had to go all the way to Klender and take cab for Rp 100.000! Geez…

Words of Wisdom

Now an important thing that everyone should remember when taking a trip that seems to be too much of a hassle is: don’t think about the hassle! Think about the fun to come. Trips that are full of hassle and take up a lot of your money, usually comes out worth it! Especially if you have the right crowd and you are in Indonesia. Meaning there are so many exiting unexpected surprises to enjoy. Don’t ever back out just because you don’t have the energy or because the people around you question your stupidity. LAME! Because Indonesia has so many places and experiences to offer. Spending money for memories is always stupid so deal with it! Back out only if the universe doesn’t let you go.


This entry is to talk about the trip to the island where I did the birdwatching, Sempu Island. The event was the Profauna Birdwatching Rally. Profauna itself is one of the many NGOs in Indonesia concerned with animal welfare. Now, a little information for you guys, a bird rally is an event where participants are let loose in a certain area to identify the species of birds existing. Because it seeks birds, rallies can venture to many less known places of the country.

Sempu Island

Personally, I love to bird watch. It’s exhilarating (and I’m running in slow motion through a meadow). An irreplaceable feeling to see wild in the wild (swing my head from let to right,…). Kinda like a safari but for birds. And so it’s so worth the trip. *Smiling and holding thumbs up*

After participating in the Profauna Birdwatching Rally, my bud Maya and I claimed ourselves as happy ‘twitchers’. (‘Twitcher’ is a term for maniac watcher that would travel the world just to see a certain bird). We, in this term, are also looking to increase our list of seen birds in the wild but having the vacation as priority numero uno. Like everyone in this site I guess… hehehe… that’s why it’s important for us to put ‘happy’ before the ‘twitcher’ term ^_^.

Anyway… not many like birdwatching, so I’ll spare that part of the story…

Fact is…

The first ‘temptation’ of this island is, once you reach the sands of Sempu all communication to the outside world starts to fade. So farewell everyone on main land!

Sempu Island

Maya and I thought we were to camp there or not so far from this location, that’s why we didn’t calculate our load. Tadaaaaa! We were dead wrong! We all had to walk about 2 hours inland. With all our equipment and our 9 liter water and food supply and excitement, we struggled through the tropical forest and sharp rocky road. Wow! It was definitely a struggle. The camping ground was beside Lele Lake, a freshwater lake, which was definitely not the famous lagoon, and turned out to be an isolated tranquil lake, located inside the island.

Sempu Island

We were also the loudest one on the way. Complaining and laughing, I mean. But we finally got to the camping ground, and instantly all complains and tiredness disappeared. What was left was our laughter because it was soooo tiring. Hard work worth it. 

Sempu Island

When it starts getting dark, you could see the trees all around and stars soooo clearly in the sky. It was so relaxing, sitting and lying in our tents and just munching on some snacks and staring at the sky. It was filled with countless stars, unlike in the city. You can find this sight almost anywhere as long as you’re not in a polluted area.

The Dried Lake

We woke up in the cold misty morning and prepared breakfast. We used the water we brought in Malang, the nearest city to the island, where we saw the last civilization before heading here. Hey! There is no point of bringing it so far and heavy out, unless we use it. So we didn’t use the lake water, which was actually verified as clean by the committee.

This island is so rarely visited by people. We couldn’t really see the footpaths, so we did use a little of our instinct. There have been cases people lost for three days or so in this tiny island, going in circles. That’s how hard the paths are on this island. We hung around a fallen tree and sat there in the middle of all the green lush trees. We brushed our teeth there (Not allowed by the way, but really needed to. Ssshhh…, don’t tell anyone).

Sempu Island

After seeing an eagle soared above us, we moved on, and found the dried lake. Heading further for about half an hour, we finally found the location. It was this vast field filled with shrubs and surrounded by trees. It was AMAZING! Like in the melancholic movies where people stroll in fields and surrounded by trees. This area is also a dried lake. It will be filled in the wet season. There are no trees in the middle, because that is where the lake would be. We took out our gear and had a small picnic there, while still bird watching of course.

Our Secret Beach

We agreed to follow the committee to the beach area. We weren’t planning to win the rally so why not just explore the island. We were guided by one of the committee member, who took us through paths that you can’t imagine. Believe me, you wouldn’t think the paths we used were paths. Over fallen trees, under bushes, and on tracks that I hardly recognized. But we did get to the beach, where some of the other committee were hanging out. I tell you, that girl and the committee is psychic. She can tell where to go.

Sempu Island

It was a white sandy beach facing the east of the island. We could see the mainland of Java across the strait. The water was blue and the beach had a rocky coast, where corals were still alive even though emerging above the sea level. Eagles passed and cliffs were on each side of the beach. To the south you could see the horizon of the south sea. And we all had laughs and talked about the environment. It was so yummy!

After a long day we finally retired to our Big Bird yellow tent. We filled in the form of what birds was seen because this basically will be data for the amount of species existing on the island. Afterwards we had a serious talk about the birds in Indonesia. There Finally I can say something more and know about NGOs.

Sempu Island

Dolphins on Our Last Day

The next morning we woke up quite early and packed up. By 7.30 we were hitting the small path back to shore. It was much faster going back, because it was down hill and our stuff wasn’t as heavy as the trip to the camping ground. A bit of rain poured on us, but since it was a rain forest, we didn’t get too wet because the water was held by the canopy above us. And my trusty umbrella or a raincoat was always handy.

We got to the shore, and waited for the boat to pick us up. While half panic because the boat was nowhere in sight, we happened to see a bunch of dolphins pass, we could see the humps bop up and down through the strait. It was AWESOME! I never thought I would see wild dolphins again. Especially in such a small area. I think they’re regular visitors because fishermen usually fish there, meaning there area a lot of fish there for them to feed on.

Sempu Island

The boat finally came to pick us up. And we paid the same Rp 50.000 to get across. On the other side, the driver was already waiting and a bit worried because we were nowhere in sight. On mainland, I kinda regretted a bit because I didn’t see the legendary lagoon. But I had information on how to get there, and the word of Profouna committee that are willing to take us there whenever needed. This brought hope for us to come back. It was said to be the same distance as the fresh water lake, but on another direction. So… next time, maybe… definitely!

Porong Village – city of mud 🙁

Our ride back passed through Porong. It’s tragic. The houses were submerged in mud. In a distance you could see a whole town become a dead city. We couldn’t stop because we needed to catch a plane. So we just passed and saw the mud about 7 meters from us, only separated by a wall of sand. It could just burst and flood the whole road at any time. And there was an area where people came to just see the area. I pray for those that have lost their homes and their entire livelihoods.

Porong Village

Reaching the airport, we got tickets for the wrong day, which meant drama hasn’t finished. Oh deary! But it really didn’t reduce our love of the trip. We had great laughs and it’s always great to gossip and catch up with old friend. It’s the best thing. An new place with an old friend. And hopefully to be repeated soon….

Home not so sweet home, Jakarta

We finally got back to Jakarta, in time to catch a bus and get dinner at Gambir train station, where Maya then hopped on the bus to Lampung. We said our goodbyes and exchanged hugs. It was a great journey! I would definitely do it again. I got home and had an extreme rest. Which apparently wasn’t enough because I got sick the next few days. My voice was all sexy and shit (soar I mean). But it will never back me down from other trips to come. See you there!

Hiho! To Sempu Island to we go!

The whole journey started when Maya took the DAMRI bus from the train station in Lampung (a province in southern Sumatera), where she lived. It headed to the Gambir train station in Jakarta. This cost about Rp 120.000,- for an executive class bus through the night. If you’re a sleepy head like us, that’s a perfect trip there on. It starts about 9 pm and arrives at about 5 o’clock in the morning and also the other way around.

To Get to the Airport in Jakarta

To get to the Jakarta airport, we jumped on the DAMRI bus that stands by all the time at the Gambir train station (yup, it’s the trains and buses at the same station; talking about efficiency!). It costs Rp15.000 per person. It’s a great alternative if you are from the middle of the city. This bus has to wait until it’s somewhat full before it leaves. But it doesn’t take long, about 15-20 minutes. It takes about 40 minutes to get to the airport from Gambir in the cold morning. (This DAMRI bus also starts from several points in Jakarta: Rawamangun (East Jakarta), Blok M (South Jakarta), Gambir (Central Jakarta), … ) This bus is definitely convenient. But under normal working hours, it’ll probably take about 1 hour or more. It depends on one thing: Jakarta traffic jam!

From Jakarta to Malang

Sempu island is located on the south coast of Java. It takes about a 60 km drive south from the city of Malang, East Java. To get to Malang from Jakarta by public transportation, you could take the trains, buses, or planes. Because of the limited time, we had to take the plane.Flying from Jakarta to Malang would cost us about Rp 600.000 one way per person with Sriwijaya Air. So we took the cheaper option, although it took more of our time, and that was taking the Lion Air flight for about 1.5 hours from Jakarta to Surabaya (about Rp 300.000 pax one way), then took a mini-bus ride from Surabaya’s Ir. Juanda International Airport to Malang.

Getting the Mini-bus Ride from Surabaya to Malang

We got an offer from this guy that approached us at the exit of the Juanda Airport. He offered a mini-bus ride for Rp.70.000 to the Malang bus station, called Arjosari. It’s not such a bad price since we had been told to prepare about Rp 55.000. After agreeing to his price, the guy called his mate… suddenly, I’m seeing double. I just had to point at them rudely putting a confused face, realizing what I’m seeing. He called his twin brother. How cute was that?! We just had to laugh out of surprise. I know, it’s not something unusual, just surprising. Not to mention their Javanese accent in double dose. Hahahaha….

The journey took about almost 1,5 hours until we got to the bus station.

Sendang Biru Port

Because we were extremely late to meet with the whole Profauna comittee and participants, we had to think about our own transportation, so we had to rent a car to get there. It’s possible to take public transportation, but we were very short of time. So we called a taxi driver coordinator that Maya knew, and rented a car and driver. It cost about Rp 350.000 to take us to the port on the edge of south of Java and to pick us up on the upcoming Sunday afternoon. It was a done deal, and we waited about 20 minutes at the station.

Accompanied by a Rp 3000 lunch called pecel that consists of vegetables poured with peanut sauce. we drove about 2 hours though a winding road. The scenery was excellent! When coming to the coast you can see how the landscape suddenly drops to a flood plain. There are vast area that are so clear so you could see the terrain perfectly. It was luscious with green mountains and rice paddies in the bottom. Like a typical Indonesian kids drawing in elementary school …

Sempu Island Nature Reserve 

We finally got to the port. The sun was blazing bright showing us the colors of the south coast. We arrived just a moment after the whole committee got there. So perfect timing! The area turns out to be actually quite restricted to tourist because it’s stated as a Nature Reserve where people can’t enter without permission from the authority. There has been damage in the past that the authority does not want to repeat. So for those that want to go there, better sneak in. Better yet, report to the authority and do the right thing. Convince them that you wont do damage to this pristine area. AND I HOPE YOU DON’T!


Sendang Biru

Crossing to Sempu island from the port would cost about Rp 50.000 one way, and you could just contact the local boats that exist there. We crossed the small strait in about 10 minutes. We had to walk in water before climbing on board because the water was too shallow for the boats. The strait is sooo shallow sometimes that deers can swim across, even with the hard currents.

Around the island? Well, walk…. and walk… and a bit more… don’t forget… walk HOREEE!!!

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