A surfer gets ready to ride the waves at Merah Island in Banyuwangi, East Java.
In the East Java town of Banyuwangi, tourists come for its “dragon” — the dragon sunset of Merah Island; seiryuu, the blue flame coming out of Mount Ijen crater that is named after a mythical dragon; and a fresh cup of coffee.
Sounds from the little tern and the helmeted hornbill greeted the morning sun, which streaked the sky red at Merah Island Beach in Banyuwangi, located at the most eastern tip of Java.
The sounds were a sign for Australian Rebecca Stefanie to get her surf board ready.
“I’m learning to surf here before testing the waves in Plengkung,” said the 36-year-old, referring to the other beach in Banyuwangi, which was touted for having the second best waves for surfing after Hawaii.
Apart from Mentawai Islands in West Sumatra or Bali’s Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan, Banyuwangi’s Merah Island is also popular among surfers for its challenging waves.
The island has regained international recognition since the regency administration held Tour de Ijen international bicycle race in December last year. It became more popular after hosting the Banyuwangi International Surfing Competition in May this year.
Two dancers perform Banyuwangi’s gandrung traditional dance.
President of Indonesia Surfing Association, Jro Made Supatra Karang, said Plengkung Beach is renowned internationally among professional surfers, with three level wave heights. Merah Island only has one level wave height, making it perfect for beginners.
Merah Island, however, has better road access than Plengkung, he added. “Merah Island is an alternative for surfers who want to bring their families,” Jro said.
Merah Island is one of 15 islands in Banyuwangi, with its white sandy beach stretching some 3 kilometers. Located 70 km south of Banyuwangi city, it’s known as dragon sunset for the fire red reflection of the sunset on the sand, which reminds people of a dragon’s fire.
Head of Merah Island community, Muswandi, said that many surfers from Bali wish to further develop the place as
a surfing site due to its challenging waves, which resemble Kuta, Legian and Seminyak beaches.
“Many surfers find Merah Island’s waves exotic and it’s considered safe with not many reefs,” he says.
Apart from its beautiful scenery, the island is also home to a temple, which annually hosts Melasti ritual by the Hindus.
Banyuwangi Regent Abdullah Azwar Anas said that the administration continues to develop ecotourism in the regency while taking into account local culture and the wisdom of its people. The regency is also home to Alas Purwo National Park and Mount Ijen’s crater, which is frequently visited by tourists, including Japanese and French tourists.
Tourists watch blue flame at Mount Ijen.
He said the administration has made a spatial plan in order to preserve the ecotourism sites — called the diamond triangle, comprising the Alas Purwo National Park, Mount Ijen’s crater and Merah Island.
Climbing the 2,368-meter Mount Ijen is something that is not to be missed while in Banyumas. At its crater, many tourists wait to witness the seiryuu blue flame, the shape of which is similar to the bluish green mythical dragon.
Apart from the beach and the mountain, Banyuwangi, which is located some 300 km from the province capital Surabaya and some 100 km from Bali capital Denpasar, is home to the national park, the habitat of the banteng (Bos javanicus), also known as tembadau, a species of wild cattle found in Southeast Asia.
“There is no other place which hosts a beach, a mountain and a biodiversity rich tropical forest, which is also home to the protected banteng. We call our regency ‘The Sunrise of Java’,” Anas said.
In a hope to catch a glimpse of seiryuu, visitors should climb up Mount Ijen around midnight. After three hours climb, visitors can see the blue flame, which will disappear at sunrise. Under the sun, visitors can enjoy a view of the crater’s greenish lake, which reaches 182-meters deep.
“You have to walk down the crater to see the blue flame since it will be go away at around 5:30 a.m.,” said Abdus, a sulfur miner, who also works as a guide.
The blue flame results from sulfur firing process inside the sulfur-rich mountain.
“Apart from Mt. Ijen, the blue flame phenomenon can also be viewed in Iceland,” said Bambang Heri Purwanto, an expert from the Vulcanology and Disaster Mitigation Center.
After visiting Mt. Ijen, visitors could also take a coffee tour by paying a visit to the Arabica and Robusta coffee plantation in Kali Bendo River area, located around 6 kilometers from Kemiren village in Glagah district.
“Visitors can stop by at Genjah Arum workshop at Kemiren village to see how the coffee is made while sipping a fresh brew,” said Setiawan Subekti, a coffee tester whose reputation in promoting coffee and Osing culture to the international world made him known as the coffee dragon from Banyuwangi.
In December last year, 14 Miss Coffee contestants from countries including Colombia, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Kenya, Myanmar, South Africa, the Netherlands as well as Indonesia visited his coffee place.
However, Setiawan said that he is not a coffee businessman.
“I just want to teach people the right way to enjoy their coffee for free. I also want to introduce Banyuwangi as the country’s coffee place to the world.”
— Photos by Indra Harsaputra