Indonesia, the last frontier for Adventure Travel ~ Extreme Kayaking along Tsunami Coast, North 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!

Kayaking along the Tsunami-ravaged coast of North Sumatra. Photo: Playak

Kayaking along the Tsunami-ravaged coast of North Sumatra. Photo: Playak

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 along the Northern Sumatra Coast devastated by the 2004 Tsunami, as appeared in Playak.

Off the west coast of SUMATRA Peter Jackson places his SKULL ISLAND, home of KING KONG…
if You watch the movie there’s a scenery where a map is placed on the table showing actually the outlines of PULAU BANYAK, an archipelago about 40 – 100 km off the west coast of Sumatra.

Here a more modern Illustration from HANS DRAKE

The archipelago consists of two bigger and 30 – 40 smaller islands, many of them uninhabited. The most western exposed islands are home to Seaturtles, giant lizards, crocodiles… one of the last true wildernesses in Indonesia.
The area has been hit by the tsunami 2004 and the subsequent earthquake half a year later has caused further damage.
BANGKARU Island in the very west was raised about one meter while the more eastern islands sunk about a meter. Houses and some facilities of the harbour at SINGKIL are now under water and form monuments of the worst disasters that happened in modern history…

above: sunken facilities of Singkil harbour
below: damaged trees telltale of the tsunami

Besides tsunamis there’s Malaria and Scha’ria ( islamic law, – no beers on the island ). As John Gray once put it on occasion of an ecotourism – workshop: ” A challenge for marketing…. ”
So WHY go there and paddle ?

above : THAT’S why we went there to paddle !!!
But clear water and coconuts You find at many tropical areas… there’s much more to the Banyak archipelago:
” Bangkaru is a magical place ! It changes everybody who goes there ” says Mahmud Bangkaru, a swedish pioneer who managed to achieve the status of a ‘ Nature Park’ to be granted to Pulau Bangkaru. ( The man was named after the island – not the other way round ! ) – he founded the YAYASAN PULAU BANYAK to maintain protection for the islands, especially for it’s seaturtles and their nesting site. They managed to stop logging operations and egg poaching, tried to stop bomb fishing and illegal trawlers. Since 2007 more research is done on the turtles. Development of ecotourism, also seakayaking, is another goal of YPB’s activities.

above: tagging provides valuable information about the turtles
below: an old turtle coming close to our kayak – kayaks hardly to disturb the turtles – we could observe them during mating – this old granny came so close I could almost touch her – maybe she thought we were a candidate…

It is an unforgettable experience to be out with the ‘turtle patrol’ in the night and check the beach for turtles nesting.

AMANDANGAN , the nesting site of the turtles in the daylight

It is very important that turtles are not disturbed when they lay their eggs – therefore no flashlights are permitted at the beach and a ‘ beach etiquette ‘ is explained to the guests who visit Bangkaru. There is no beach accomodation at the turtle beach – visitors stay at another beach at the simple camp of the turtle patrol.

above : Campsite of the turtle patrol back in 2007
below : to get from the campsite to turtle beach it’s just a 15 minute trek through untouched rainforest

While for most visitors Pulau Bangkaru is the highlight of a tour to the Banyak archipel – for seakayakers it is a challenge to get there. The nothwestern part of the biggest island , Pulau Tuangku, is as much exposed as Bangkaru to the Indian Ocean and waves are crashing on the reef as far as the eye can reach. We had paddled a long stretch from Pulau Tailana around UJUNG SELINGAR and couldn’t make out any safe landing spot.
“OK, then let’s try to go all the way to Bangkaru ” we decided but I was pretty much exhausted and, being mainly a whitewater kayaker, actually seasick from the tremendous swell of the ocean – the day before I had vomited a couple of times from my Sit-on-top kayak ( but that may have been caused by a noodledish that wasn’t too good anymore ).
” Halim, we’re getting nowhere – we’re paddling against a strong current ” said Geoff, not making me feel any better.
We decided to paddle back to UJUNG SELINGAR when I had the cramps in arms and shoulders.

above : our route as we planned it – the actual landing- oops CRASHsite at UJUNG SELINGAR was about 7 km more to the west, directly under the headland of SELINGAR. Not a good place for landing – as locals told us later it is one of the most dangerous parts of the archipelago where motorized ships have already crashed… ( a better place would be in the area indicated on the map as PASIR PANJANG )

” I guess we don’t have the luxury to be choosey for our landing spot – my batteries are empty ! ” – and I paddled to some place that looked pretty OK… from far – but rather unhealthy as we came closer.
I was too tired and too seasick to wait for a good moment in-between the waves ” so what, I’ve done a bit of surfing with my kayak already, so let’s go !” — Then a wave gently lifted my kayak upwards and forwards and I actually thought it would work – until then another BIG WAVE lifted me up and my kayak surfed for a second then digged into the wave right at the moment I fell of the seat ( Sit-on-top, remember ) and the world got white and salty. I was thrown around but I know different from riverhydraulics ocean waves will run out one time… Right, just enough to catch a glimpse of my kayak thrown VERY far UP on the beach… then the next wave took me and threw me around. ” At least I was lucky enough to catch a really big one – smaller waves won’t drag the boat back into the ocean ” was what I thought after I managed to drag myself on the beach. Some of my gear was dumped just a meter away from the kayak, my main bags by miracle still tied on it ( I didn’t exactly spend a lot of time tying things down properly ).
I saw Geoff was coming in fine but after he opened his sprayskirt a wave waterlogged his Feathercraft ‘Whisper’ and he had a hard time as well to get it up on the beach.
” How the hell are we getting away from this place ? ” I asked.
” Don’t think about it – let’s make food, put up camp and leave tomorrow for tomorrow ” Geoff said.
” That’s what Jesus said ” I mentioned.
” Hey, You know the Bible pretty well for a muslim…”
” Actually, I know it from JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR…”
we had another look at the waves coming in…

…and decided to put up camp and leave tomorrow for tomorrow. – The sunset turned out to be really nice…

Next morning I practised to get the right timing to get out through the surf by imagining I was PAPILLION and waiting with my bag filled with coconuts to catch the perfect moment to escape prison island…
When I actually went for it, it turned out to be so easy that my daughter could have easily paddled out…
It was then 3 hours paddling to Bangkaru on smooth water – even my sensitive stomache was fine and I took a swim to cool down ( one of the problems when kayaking in the tropics is overheating ), happy to be paddling a Sit-on-top.

approaching BANGKARU’s ‘salty bay’ ( TELUK ASIN )

“Geoff, to resupply some water we have to get into one of these rivers where the locals say there are crocodiles…
You Australiens have much more experience with crocs as we germans, – so I suggest You go…. ”

After I saw Geoff stumbling up the creek with the canister over his shoulder I felt somehow bad and taking all the braveness together I decided to paddle up and give Geoff a ride – under the condition that HE sits in front… with the videocamera…” –
” This is really crocodile country ” Geoff said as we passed by some smelly mangroves and the water got more and more muddy.

Some people make a lot of fuzz about crocs but those one’s seemed lazy and passive dozing around in the sun.-
” OK, let’s get out of here – not far anymore to the beach of the Turtle Patrol – out, out… ”
( ok, I was kidding – I took that foto up there in Medan’s crocodile farm )

We went there in exactly an hour and this was a wonderful stretch to paddle – so beautiful I even began to enjoy the swell and the crashing sound of the waves at the shore…

At PELANGGARAN beach I met with some indonesian members of the patrol I knew from my first visit a year ago – they were desperately looking out for the ‘ logistics’ boat to renew their dwingling supplies – especially tobacco – what a disappointment to see just us two kayakers coming around the beach… We were welcome with amazing food and friendliness anyway… had a fantastic time there. It was the first time ever I saw hatchlings of green turtles at night towards the sea. The whole ground seems alive with these small hatchlings hopping around everywhere.
Geoff said: ” Amazing, just out of the egg these buggers can walk, swim eat – and find their way to the oceans thousands of kilometers – and they will come back TO EXACTLY THIS PARTICULAR BEACH TO LAY THEIR EGGS – without a GPS ! ”
” Yes, some of them “, I said. From 500 hatchlings only ONE will become adult and breed again here.
A magic place indeed…

Hopefully seakayaking will become more popular on Pulau Banyak. The area is perfect for it : while extended selfsupported tours to Bangkaru should only be challenged by experienced seakayakers, there is safe paddling for everyone possible in the sheltered eastern part of the archipelago. Yayasan Pulau Banyak will supply some Sit-on-tops to the local community, then relaxed island hopping in combination with snorkelling and fishing will be possible.

above: crystal clear waters around Pulau Matahari north of the big island Tuangku
For further information about ecotourism in Sumatra check
For further information about the seaturtle project check

You can also contact me about any kayaking activities on Sumatra –

Halim ( Georg Jackstadt )
e-mail :
mobile : +62 – 766 57 557

Source: Playak

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