Indonesia, the last frontier for Adventure Travel ~ Extreme Kayaking in Dead Crater, Toba Lake, North Sumatra

By Dian Hasan | September 21, 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!

Lake Toba, South East Asia's biggest lake and the world's largest crater lake, makes for a great kayaking adventure. Photo: Halim

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 the world’s biggest crater lake on Lake Toba, North Sumatra, as appeared in Playak.

100,000 years ago, the worst volcanic disaster that ever happened on earth, occurred on the Island of Sumatra in Indonesia.

An explosion 1,000 times more powerful than Mt. St. Helene eruption blasted 2,000 cubic kilometers (!) of magma, tuff and ashes into the atmosphere. The ashes darkened the sun away for years and changed the climate of the earth…

The explosion left a huge hole in the earth – this chamber collapsed and filled with water during thousands of years to come. Lake Toba is the biggest craterlake on the planet – the chosen playground for KAYAKASIA’s Expedition consisting of 9 folding kayaks plus one hardhead- um…shell-kayaker.

” Huey, that’s not going to be enjoyable ! … more than 40 km per day is NO FUN – and then paddling in the night… Jesus !!!” –
I argued in my e-mails with HUEY from Singapore, who is the uncrowned leader of a southeastasian paddling community who mainly use folding kayaks to travel and paddle. Check out if You wanna join the club or need some info, gear etc.

” No worries, HALIM, they can go even 60 km / day… maybe a bit tough for the newbies… ” – so we kept on changing our plans about the proposed route about every two days. What we finally did was this:

We started on the island SAMOSIR, which has about the size of SINGAPORE, – the lake is about twice the size. Lake Toba is located on Sumatra, the ‘Wild West of Indonesia’ and has perfect climate 23 – 27 Celsius all through the year… well sometimes it rains a lot – which may have to do with the rain forest that is still abundant around the lake.

The scenery of the lake would suit another sequel of ‘LORD OF THE RINGS’ – and it comes complete with the BATAK tribe which reminded us of the hobbits, – some nice fellows but also some creatures more resembling the SMEAGOL / GOLLUM type asking us for money, our shirts, trousers – or even our boats ” WE WANTS IT !!! ” –
Comments from participants: “This is rather like Thailand !” , “This is more like Scotland with palmtrees ! ” , ” Reminds me of lakes in Austria ” etc. – ( so now You may have a clue…? )

The ‘dry season’ in Northsumatra turned out to be pretty wet and we got into a storm already on the first day – or better : night of paddling. Huey insisted that nightpaddling is a useful experience for any seakayaker, and he definitely has a point there. So we paddled with lightsticks dangling down our livevests and kayaks. This may sound romantic but it wasn’t: Windy insisted: ” We look rather like a bunch of marine stormtroopers who ran out of gas… or had to take kayaks for a silent mission ”

– However, in the darkness of that storm the lightsticks appeared to me as a light of hope at the end of the tunnel.
We had GPS with us to point us the way…roughly… as You can’t get any decent maps from Sumatra it turned out to be not that easy as moving around in more civilized part of the world.

“HALIM, You go and ask someone where the next town is !” Huey suggested. When I left my boat I slipped on sharp rocks and fell forward into thorny bushes. The locals who were singing stopped dead silent at the sight of a dark figure emerging out of the lake with dangling lightsticks and full kayakgear moving towards their hut…

“No chance ” – I told to myself, ” but never mind, – damned town must be just few km to the west ” – I tried to convince myself – and to make an impression on the others as if I was sure where to go – after all I was the only one who paddled the lake frequently.

We finally arrived after 13 hrs or so paddling at a hotel -…. it was full, of course, but considering their beer prices that was probably the best what could happen to us – at least we could leave our boats at their concrete beach…

We found a cheaper place in town – obviously MUARA is becoming an insider hit for rich Indonesians – this other place was still under construction but we were tired enough to find it comfortable and some sleep.

Next morning wasn’t sunny but at least dry enough and we got on the water only two hours later than planned.
Elke from Germany had built up her folding kayak in a way that it was pulling constantly to one side. We all marveled how she could have done the 50 km paddling with a boat that was pulling to one side…

Huey reassembled the kayak from scratch while the rest of us buggered off heading for the the south western tip of the lake which has some beautiful hobbit villages…

Some of these towns are so isolated – not even a postman comes around and kids are brought to school not with a school bus but with a schoolboat !

After 3 hrs or so we went into another storm – but this one passed by fast. I went for shelter into a village in the hope I could find a coffeeshop there – which wasn’t but I found a fisherman building his own non-folding kayak. The most important ingredients are some illegal cut wood, a stone – and a huge amount of Kretek Cigarettes….

I head to leave the man fast as some pressure was building up in the lower parts of my stomache and I found a pleasant enough spot with enough water rushing by and a great view over the rice fields.

The rest of the rainy afternoon we spent mostly with waiting for Huey and Elke ( who actually passed us by in the storm), with cursing Huey and Elke for not catching up with us… – finally we decided to leave as we still had a long distance in front of us.

We arrived again in the dark – I almost passed by SAMPEAN – it is not exactly a HILTON and they do not sport shiny Neonlights to attract nightkayakers.

Next morning was bright sunshine and we actually had a sunny day with a chance for sunburn.

HUEY is a shyboy – doesn’t like to look into cameras !

41 km lay ahead of us, the bay of TELE south of the biggest town of SAMOSIR, – it has the beautiful name PANGURURAN

There is a tight channel between SAMOSIR island and the western shore of the lake. This channel did not exist until the Dutch colonialists decided it was good to dig this channel so boats to go through. This met the protest of the local people who were afraid the whole island could sink…

– On the northern side of the channel the lake widens again and our next stop was PULAU TULAS, a small uninhabited island – not countain the statue of holy Mary in a cave. Local farmers grow onions and spices there, but they are only there on the weekends. The place is quite nice for a lunchstop and a fast bath

After lunch we passed by the town of HASINGAN…

…and some of the wildest, most spectacular scenery Lake Toba has to offer with steep mountains and high waterfalls – Hobbit-country again…

Finally arrived at SILALAHI, Morina Hotel where Daniel, the helpful manager had already alarmed local newspapers to be around when our group was supposed to show up … well, as usual we were a bit late and arrived in the night after the usual thunderstorm… – so here a foto I took on a former trip to SILALAHI ( what a difference weat5herwise )

At Morina, SILALAHI there was good food, cold beers, friendly service – on top of it all we were allowed to store our boats in the restaurant.

Silalahi is worth to spend more time – which we did not have; so we also did not see the production of ULOSS, the traditional BATAK scarf.

After a good sleep, the final leg of the tour, a mere 12 km from SILALAHI to TONGGING were a piece of cake.
– but what is this ? a terrorist kayaker searching for the shores of Afghanistan..???

Good I had my big ROBSON ‘Puffin’ with me – with a big enough rear hatch for a tailgunner – if You don’t mind to enslave local kids…

TONGGING is located at the northern tip of the lake. From there it’s just 100km back to MEDAN – which still takes 3 – 4 hrs on Sumatra roads which are definitely no highways and are one of the reasons why tourism is low in such an amazing place…

On the way to Medan we drove by SIPISO-PISO Waterfall…

…and two active volcanoes, the 2400m high SINABUNG and the 2000 m high SIBAYAK which is close to BRASTAGI.
( on the photo the crater of SINABUNG )

Brastagi is a favourite weekend hangouts for the crowds from Medan on Sundays. It is 1200m above sealevel – the area around is famous for their fruit- and vegetable plantations ( below a foto of Brastagi’s fruitmarket )

and enables Medanese to catch some breath after the pollution of MEDAN ( biggest sh… hole,um… city of Sumatra with 2,4 million inhabitants and no rocket scientists. Below foto of fruitmarket in MEDAN )

MEDAN is hardly to avoid if you want to travel to Sumatra. There are flights from KUALA LUMPUR, PENANG, SINGAPORE and JAKARTA.

Interested to learn more about paddling on lake Toba, contact HALIM at
or HUEY at website:

All photos from Halim, stormfotos from Lee and 3-D view from Lake Toba from Geoff Foote – all participants of the expedition – thanx !

Source: Playak

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