The smartphone alarms started buzzing at one thirty in the morning.

Four bodies emerged from four separate rooms of a villa filled with excitement as they packed their knapsacks with sandwiches, water bottles and cameras with gusto.

As the clock strikes two, they ushered themselves into the awaiting van and so began a two-hour long drive up into an ancient volcanic crater in the northern highlands of Bali.

Today’s goal for me, Juan, Millie & Su Jing – trekking Gunung Batur for a chance to catch the island’s elusive sunrise.

Today's goal - hiking that volcano. In the dark.
Today’s goal – hiking that volcano. In the dark.

Dazed and Confused

Sleepy eyes were greeted with a warm smile as we met up with Pak Bangko, our hiking guide tasked to take us up and down this 1,717 m mountain. The whole drop-off point was buzzing with hundreds of hikers in their various stages of awareness – some still dazed trying to find the toilet while others were happily sipping their cuppa at a nearby warung.

It took us 10 minutes to get our engines going and as soon as everyone turned their flashlights on, it was go time. We were breezing along a flat gravel road for the first half hour, passing by farms and shacks not realizing we were still a long way off from the foot of the mountain.

Reach For The Stars

From there on, it was uphill all the way. I felt that we were in a desolate moonscape – the dusty black path was littered with scraggly rocks while the darkness was accompanied by chilly winds that occasionally crossed our paths. It was a stark contrast to the hikes I’ve done in Malaysia where dense foliage and sweat-inducing humidity were the order of the day.

As the trek got tougher, the stops were more frequent. While taking a breather, we took time to gaze at the full spread of stars canvassing the night sky and admire the fluorescent caterpillar-like trail made by flashlights of hikers behind us. Once hydrated we took off to the first peak – marked by a lighthouse lamp that seemed so far away.

Break Of Dawn

Hiking in the dark is good in a way because you would feel that the trek was completed much faster than it actually is. Maybe it’s a mind trick but we reached the peak in 1 hour 40 minutes, about 20 minutes short than the prescribed climbing time. We were loitering around for most of the time but when it got too cold to stand around, we headed for some warm comforts.

A wooden cantina on the first peak was a much needed relief for us freezing hikers as it provided shelter from the winds and provided us with hot cups of locally-brewed teh and kopi, made to order. Now, it was just a matter of waiting for the sun to come out amidst the thick mist engulfing the mountaintop.

The clouds were out in full force that morning.
The clouds were out in full force that morning.

The Shrouded Sun

It was not meant to be. The unending clouds passing by the crater were continuously blocking the view and our guide mentioned that this early morning occurrence has been going on for the past week which was quite unusual in July. We hung out at the look-out point for a while before going on exploring other parts of the volcano led by Pak Bangko.

A procession of locals bringing morning offerings for the volcano.
A procession of locals bringing morning offerings for the volcano.

I was hoping to fully test out the time-lapse video with my GoPro4 but I was only able to capture frames of clouds breezing through with the occasional ray of sunlight penetrating onto the giant crater. Another photographer was trying to capture the sunrise with his DSLR camera but he also gave up after waiting close to an hour for the clouds to disperse.

It was not meant to be.
It was not meant to be.

Batur’s Crater

About five minutes away from the first peak was Gunung Batur’s dazzlingly deep crater. The conically-shaped caldera last erupted in 1968 and the black lava fields can still be seen near the village of Kintamani. We knew the volcano was still active as we saw steam billowing from a number of thermal vents dotting around the walls of the crater.

Official plaque recognizing the height of this mountain - 1,717 m.
Official plaque recognizing the height of this mountain – 1,717 m.

It was fun and scary to walk as close as we can to the edge of the crater. There were no railings to prevent people from falling to their death so it all boiled down to instincts and guts. Locals do climb down into the caldera to harvest honey and precious minerals, including Pak Bangko when he was younger. He now finds being a mountain guide a bit more “stable.”

Look, Ma! No railings and a steep drop into death.
Look, Ma! No railings and a steep plunge into your death.

Morning View

We had to move on to the second peak, a 20 minute hike further up the mountain for a better vantage point. Juan and Millie followed Pak Bangko up while Su Jing and me stayed down – the pesky clouds deterred me from going up so I decided to fix-up my GoPro4 and enjoyed the view while the camera takes another round of time-lapse photos.

Aerial view of Lake Batur and the black lava fields.
Aerial view of Lake Batur and the black lava fields.

I have experienced such majestic views like in Danau Maninjau, Sumatera but this trip was more fulfilling because we actually hiked up this stratovolcano in the wee hours of the morning so we could see the sunrise. The sun acts like a curtain to a stage theater, gradually adding light to unveil a show as majestic as the ancient caldera of Lake Batur.

Let there be more light.
Let there be more light.

The hike down was much more pleasant because we were able to immerse ourselves in the gorgeous view of the mega-crater that we missed while climbing up in the dark. We snapped some selfies before heading down into a forest and onto the gravel road leading us back to the drop-off point, including Millie who contrived to get herself lost along the way.

Team Gunung Batur
Team Gunung Batur.

This is my second time in Bali and I actually visited this highland region of Kintamani back in 2006 on a guided tour. I saw how beautiful Gunung Batur was and made a promise to myself that if I ever come back to Bali again, I will scale the heights of this mountain even at four in the morning. So, when life gives you a second chance, go hike a volcano!


Travel Tips:

  • Gunung Batur Sunrise Hiking is one of the popular hiking circuits to be done in Bali. Cost varies based on the package offered so please check on the price before agreeing upon it. Our package was IDR 550,000 (about RM 160) that included return transport, mountain guide and a bottle of water.
  • The drive to Gunung Batur takes around 2 hours from Kuta area so most pick-up times will be around 2:00 a.m. The trek usually starts at 4:00 a.m. and takes at most 2 hours to reach the the first look-out point and another 30 minutes to reach the second peak.
  • It gets cold and chilly up there so do bring a sweater or jacket to keep yourself warm. Although the climate is cool and windy, make sure you hydrate often to prevent yourself from losing fluids.

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