Sleep is one of the most beautiful and free things in life, and having to wake up early and get out of bed in the wee small hours of the morning must rank up there with having a tooth pulled. Unless of course there is something amazing and infinitely rewarding to be had as a result. Catching a sunrise from atop a mountain peak such as Java’s Mt. Bromo is just such a treat.
Text by Thomas Jones
The marketing of a sunrise is so all encompassing that we have been convinced that to miss one when faced with the opportunity is a sin against nature. All the mountain sunrises I have seen: Mounts Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Fuji in Japan, Agung in Bali, and Rinjani in Lombok, have each been sublime and so worth the effort that I cherish the memories of being at the peaks at dawn. It’s just the long, cold and arduous walk up to get there that I hate.
What’s great about watching the sunrise over Mt. Bromo in East Java – apart from the waking up early bit – is that you get to the top of the viewing point in the comfort of a 4WD Toyota Landcruiser. The East Java time zone is such that the sun rises around 5.30 so it was 2.40am when the phone rang. “This is your wake up call,” came the sweet voice from the hotel reception. “Harrumph…thanks.” The hotel sits at more than a kilometre above sea level so it was very cold outside. Dressed in jeans, two t-shirts, sweater, jacket, boots, gloves and scarf we had just enough time to swig a black coffee before heading off for the 40-minute journey to the viewing station at the top of Mount Penanjakan, the 2,770m peak along the rim of the caldera that looks down over the volcanic peaks within.
With the heater on full blast we drove up in convoy (it’s a very popular trip) to the crater rim and then down to the caldera floor and across the Sand Sea to the foot of Mt. Penanjakan, where the road turns steep and windy all the way to the top. Arriving at the peak was like rush hour with scores of Landcruisers parked or jockeying for position to unload the hordes of sunrise seeking tourists.
It was still a good hour away from sunrise and at 2,770 metres above sea level it was freezing. Luckily there are a string of shops selling hot coffee, noodles and hats and gloves to keep the hands and stomachs warm. There are also a few enterprising locals renting big thick puffer jackets as well, not that I needed it, but there were more then a few tourists who had underestimated the altitude clad in shorts and t-shirts who were quick to strike a bargain. 150 metres further on is the peak, which is a huge concreted area with seats and guardrails that looks east and down in to the caldera. The place was buzzing with a couple of hundred people like us who had come to enjoy the spectacle, but as it was still only 4.45am and still dark, all we could do was wait in the freezing night air for day to break.
As the sky started to lighten we could make out the shapes of the volcanic cones below and a buzz of excitement gripped the crowd. As the sun started to cast its rays over the surrounding mountains and down onto the caldera, cameras flashed as everyone tried to capture their own photographic version of that classic Bromo Sunrise shot that brought them here in the first place. With the crater now lit by sunlight, and the warmth now returned to our bones, the sight was something beautiful to behold. The crowd didn’t hang out for long, however, and it started thinning out very quickly as there was still a visit to the bubbling crater down inside the caldera and horse rides to be had. We had the sense to do that the afternoon before, thus avoiding the crowds, so we sauntered back to our Toyota and headed down the hill. Instead of heading straight back to our hotel though, we told the driver to stop at the edge of the crater floor and let us out.
We said our farewells after a souvenir photo and started our own trek across the Sand Sea, as we were passed by car after car, and horse after horse belonging to the local wranglers who offer rides around the mountain. It was so nice to be warm again and we just took it very easily, taking in the scenery and the solitude, before we reached the other side and climbed up the crater wall in search of a café where we could fill our hungry bellies with a hearty cooked breakfast. All in all, it was a great day, and it was still not yet 8am. There was still a long afternoon nap awaiting back at the hotel, but the grumbles of the early morning wake up had been replaced by the quite proud feeling of having witnessed something amazing. Sometimes you just have to get up super early to catch the best worms.