Indonesia, the last frontier for Adventure Travel ~ Extreme Kayaking in Banyak Islands, Sumatra

By Dian Hasan | September 19, 2009

Move over Amazon & Costa Rica, Indonesia is the new adventure travel destination. Rugged and unspoiled, awaiting the world’s adrenaline junkies seeking Extreme Adventure! Hurry, before the cat’s out of the bag!

It’s a mixed blessing for Indonesia that’s attempting seriously to develop itself into a formidable travel destination in the region, as tourism is a long-term development that requires deep long-term strategy of attaining the right balance between Profit, People, and Planet. Ensuring enough basic infrastructure investment and deep-pocket tourism promotional dollars spurned by the Government, would attract private investors to develop the facilities, while benefiting the local economy and not endangering the environment that tourism touches. For now though, let Indonesia shine through her greatest gift to the modern traveler: the planet’s ultimate adventure destination. And that may not be an overstatement. We’ll look at how others – mostly adventure travelers – are enjoying Indonesia, her intoxicating natural beauty, her oft impenetrable wilderness, and the indelible culture of her warm-hearted people. Here’s a look at Extreme Kayaking in Pulau Banyak (Banyak Islands), Sumatra, as appeared in Playak.

” Pulau Banyak got hit by the tsunami, an earthquake, there’s Shariah ( islamic law ) and Malaria….
– quite a challenge for marketing !
” said John Gray, a successful outdooroperator from Thailand.
” …probably the best seakayaking trip in my life ! ” said Geoff Foote, experienced seakayaker from Australia.
” folks at home will get tears in their eyes when they see the scenery ! ” said Olaf Obsommer, organizer of kayakexpeditions and film producer.

The above quotes give You an idea what to expect if You visit this remote area in the indonesian archipelago: a destination rather for adventurers than for tourists who need perfect service and 4 star hotels.
Just to get there is quite a challenge:

Once You made it from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur to MEDAN ( biggest city on Sumatra, 2.5 Mio. inhabitants ), You have to cross entire Sumatra overland from east to west. You pass by active volcanoes, raging rivers, Lake Toba, the biggest craterlake of the world, and drive through LEUSER ECOSYSTEM, Indonesia’s second biggest National Park. After 300 km and 9hrs. journey You end up in the SINGKIL SWAMP, home of the world’s largest Orangutan population, tigers, elephants, crocodiles… stuff from adventure books.

above: Lake Toba from it’s northern edge close to TONGGING – a brilliant paddle destination as well !!!

If You are lucky and willed to spend about 700.000 to 1 million indonesian rupiah for a speedboat, You might make it on the same day to Pulau Banyak. WHAT, You don’t want to buy a speedboat ? – No, that’s for the CHARTER !!!
But relax: 1 million rupiah is just 100 Million Goyampels ( or 100 US Dollar ) !
If You are travelling on a tight budget there’s a public ferry once a week ( 2 US $ ) or You can go with a supply boat leaving SINGKIL for BALAI ( 4 US $ ). Takes a bit longer, 4 hrs usually but once we chartered a boat in the night our captain didn’t trust our GPS “Your electric compass is WRONG !” and we ended up way too far south almost half the way to NIAS !

Supply boats : cheap but slow… and not always reliable at nighttime !

Once You made the crossing from Sumatra to Pulau Balai You are supposed to report to the local police, to the military and somewhere else. I gave 3 copies of my passport and visa to Ian, a local guide who did all this work for me.

This time I went to Pulau banyak to give a course to a dozen local youngsters who want to become kayaking guides. This is a project of the Yayasan Pulau Banyak, a non – profit foundation who has the goal to preserve the environment of Pulau Banyak. The main focus is on protecting seaturtles in the area but YPB is aware of the importance to provide jobs to the local communities. To stop local people from eggpoaching, alternative sources of income must be provided. The seakayak project is part of this approach.

below: the ‘ HALOBAN GANG ‘

…and the ‘ BALAI BOYS’:

We chose Sit-on-tops for the eco-tourism program because in warm tropical waters there’s not much advantage of an eskimo style sit-inside kayak. It is great fun just to jump overboard whenever one feels like to go snorkelling or for a swim. Plus, Sit-on-tops can be paddled by absolute beginners and rescue is easy.

YAYASAN PULAU BANYAK bought 2 kayks and 2 more were donated by KAYAKASIA. Huey, founder of Singapore based paddling community KAYAKASIA, supports several environment projects in South east Asia. The ALONA is his first own kayakdesign. It is stable, yet fast enough and handles great as tandem as well as solo paddled with a lot of gear in the front seat.
MERGNER from Germany donated the paddles. MERGNER have a seaturtle as their company logo – and thus became target of our donation request. – Once Jochen MERGNER said in an interview ” isn’t it a great logo, the seaturtle: strong and long life – like my paddles !!! ” )

With the brand new equipment the indonesian boys were eager to get out on the water – grown up in the archipelago there wasn’t much I could tell them about paddling. I took my good old ANIMAS, a whitewater boat along so they could learn the eskimo roll and try out some kayak surfing…

As it turned out, the Sit-on-tops surfed just as well…

The big fascination of PULAY BANYAK is the diversity of the islands. There are the ‘ typical tropical Picture book islands’ with coconut palms swaying on white beaches….

… other islands have a more wild character with stunning rock formations…

On ‘ Big Island / Pulau Tuangku ‘ we found a cave:

Another fascinating spot is AIR DINGIN ( means ‘cold water’ ) where we entered through mangrove forest and followed a glassclear river into the jungle, – the fresh cool water was a welcome delight to wash sand and salt off !

Beside of the river my guides cleared a few square meters to put up tents. We camped on most of the islands as there’s not much accomodation yet on Pulau Banyak. Some cold drinks went for cooling into the creek where we saw lots of fish, – in the morning we watched monkeys playing in the trees…

PULAU BANYAK means ‘ many Islands’ – there are 2 bigger and few dozen smaller ones, many of them uninhabited.
The perfect place to do island hopping and play ‘ Robinson Crusoe ‘ far away from crowds of mass tourism.

KAYAK tours with Sit-on tops are now organized by the local youngsters. There are easy one day – trips to moderate selfsupported tours up to 4 days. If You are interested to do a paddling tour on Pulau Banyak or You want to know more about the seaturtles and the activities of YAYASAN PULAU BANYAK,
visit There is also a lot of practical info, how to get there etc.

Or, if You want to contact one of the guides directly call or text to Ian +62 81264942884.
Ian can speak English and climb coconut palms…

‘ Parental Advisory – EXPLICIT KAYAKING ‘… ? – looks like ‘ BIG O ‘ was here !!!


Kayak SAILING of course !!!
I used a cheap hammock, made in Bali ( 9 US$ ) and a high quality MERGNER ‘ distance’ paddle. Worked great !
The hammock doubles as sunprotection when I’m not sailing and as blanket at night…
Sometime I use it as hammock !

Source: Playak


Filed under Adventure Travel, Asia, Indonesia, Sumatra, Unique Travel Destinations

2 responses to “Indonesia, the last frontier for Adventure Travel ~ Extreme Kayaking in Banyak Islands, Sumatra

  1. Pingback: Adventure Travel's Last Frontier: Extreme Kayaking in Pulau Banyak … | Today Headlines

  2. Pingback: Adventure Travel's Last Frontier: Extreme Kayaking in Pulau Banyak … | Water Sports Leisure Knowledge

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