Star in your own western adventure on Indonesia's sea of sand

Jeremy Piper explores the equatorial alpine cool of Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo’s peak rises above the Tengger massif, in East Java, Indonesia.

It’s the cool air that first grabs you. It is mid-evening and I have just arrived at my guest house near Mount Bromo in east Java after a four-hour car ride from Surabaya Airport and the temperature is already in the single figures.

The cool evening air is quite a shock after a few days lazing around beaches and sailing around Komodo National Park.

Our first point of call is bed as our group has a 3am start before we head up Mount Penanjakan in the dark so we can capture the sunrise over Mount Bromo’s 2300-metre crater.

The early morning trek involves a rough, steep and winding one-hour jeep ride to the start of a walking trail where we are to wend our way up the mountain to watch the rising sun.

On the way up there are numerous lookouts where you can stare into the inky early morning light before sunrise as well as gaze down to the dark plains below. It’s all part of the vast Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park and it’s only once the sun rises do you realise there’s desert-like sea of sand stretching as far as the eye can see around Mont Bromo.

The local Tenggerese people call it Lautan Pasir (sea of sand) and after descending the mountain, it’s well worth exploring.

One of the best ways to navigate the sand area is on horseback and riding through the desert you get the feeling you’re appearing in your own western, even though you’re in Indonesia. The good news is you don’t need to have riding experience as the horse owners will lead you if you’re not sure of how to drive/ride the world’s first autonomous vehicle. Other options include a motorbike or you can continue a jeep tour of the sand sea.

This particular morning we have a quick breakfast at a local café in Cemoro Lawang at the base of the mountain before jumping on horseback for a leisurely one-hour ride to the base of Mount Bromo itself.

Gates of hell

Once there it takes about half an hour to wander through lava fields and up a steep staircase to the crater rim.

The rim is an awe-inspiring sight. You stand above a steaming volcanic crater with a short concrete wall the only barricade between you and the smoking darkness below – the veritable gates of hell, redolent with a sulphur vapours.

Contributing to the excitement is the noise. Imagine you’re in pit lane at a Formula One race or standing near a jet fighter. There is a roar emanating from deep inside the Earth that is truly amazing.

Back down the side of the volcano and out on to the sea of sand, my passion for adventure has been ratcheted up tenfold. Keen to experience more of Indonesia’s wild, natural delights we head to the Madakaripura Waterfall. Still in the National Park, the waterfall lies hidden at the end of a deep valley in the foothills of the Tengger mountain range.

To reach Madakaripura, we start with a drive before reaching the entrance to the falls. What follows is a 20-minute hike across rivers and a rocky path through spectacular rainforest scenery before the waterfall is in view.

Cathedral of water and stone

Before we reach this point, we find ourselves in a place where the sheer volume of water falls like a curtain around us and slowly soaks us through. We had been pre-warned so had wet-weather gear but this amazing curtain of water is just the precursor to the falls which topple 200 metres down the cliffside inside a spellbinding circular valley.

The path ends in this surreal tube-like valley where you’re surrounded by walls rising to the sky with water pouring in and bouncing off the moss-covered boulders at the waterfall’s base.

Sunlight sparkles against the glistening rock and moss creating a mystical atmosphere and a paean to the natural world. A vast cathedral of water and stone, it is one of the most extraordinary natural sites to be seen anywhere on the planet.

With a day of adventure under our belts we decide to finish with a picnic overlooking the savannah on Mount Bromo’s southern side. Gazing over the sea of sand below and beyond from Savannah Hill, we sup on local foods bought earlier in the day and as the evening cools, enjoy steaming coffee while trading adventure stories.

Others have brought along tents and seem to be settling in for the night but our plan is to return to our guesthouse beds and repeat the whole experience again the following day.

Everything we have done all day was very well organised by the local tourism operators, which means our Indonesian adventure is proving to be relatively easy. While exciting, it isn’t an adventure on the fringe – it is an accessible adrenaline ride and unlike anything else in the world.