The Volcanic Lakes of Kelimutu


One way to repurpose litter…

We woke before dawn on a Sunday morning and dinghied ashore to meet our driver Johnny, who we had arranged to take us to Flores’ most famous attraction, the three-color lakes of Kelimutu. Leaving Maumere with iron gray predawn light just beginning to seep into the eastern sky we drove south and west, clearing into the foothills of Flores’ mountain ranges just as the sun peeked over the horizon. The mountains were an interesting contrast to the drier northern coast of Flores we had sailed along before arriving in Maumere, their hillsides covered in rich tropical forests dense with cacao, papaya, macadamia, mango, and clove trees. Thriving villages are interspersed through the ridges and valleys, their crowds we passed on the way to Church all over the island, Flores being predominantly catholic. For three hours we motored, reaching and driving along the southern coast before turning again north from the city of Ende, climbing even higher into the mountains. The midday sun filled green valleys lush with rice fields and crops, beans, corn and more growing in abundance between stands of tropical trees. Bamboo, absent from the coast, was more and more in evidence both as massive stalks growing in the forests and as a building material for the higher elevation villages. 

 The approach to the lakes
Eventually we arrived in a parking lot high atop a cluster of mountains after weaving through a tourism village with all the hallmark souvenir hawking and tourist lodging that surrounds such attractions. The bright sun that had shown us so much of the island thus far was hidden behind a suddenly overcast sky. We were told that the lakes we had come to see lay about 20 minutes’ hike up a trail through the high forest surrounding us, and so we set off through the trees. Tropical foliage and ferns competed with pine trees that seemed more natural to me this high on the mountain, bright purple flowers abounded on either side of the gravelly path and lilting unfamiliar birdcalls brought the trail a musical life. About halfway through our walk a rustle in the bushes saw us facing the wizened, bearded face of one of many gray monkeys that now seemed all about us, peering curiously at us from the bushes. Hardly fearful of the tourists, they jumped and played and even walked along with us all the way for the rest of the trail, eating peanuts and various other foods that tourists either left in too easy of reach or threw to them willingly. A short walk further saw the forested path open out onto a broad hillside, the trees giving way to rhodedendron and scrubby bush plants as the trail turned from gravel to decoratively patterned concrete steps that rose steeply up the open hillside. We passed locals selling ornately woven blankets and shawls, and high above and behind them we could see sheets of steam rising from beyond the ridge. Following the steps, we stepped onto a viewing ledge to see the volcanic summit of Kelimutu and its lakes laid out beneath us.

From the platform we stood on the sheer cliffs of striated white and yellow stone swept out to either side, forming a massive crater. At the bottom lay the source of the sheets of steam, a large lake of vivid turquoise blue, striking in its contrast to the grand falls of white stone around it. A narrow ridge separated the bright turquoise from another steaming lake of opaque green as bright as any ocean water. Another short hike brought us to the lip of yet another crater, this one even deeper than its fellows and filled with a lake that seemed normal until the rare shafts of sun illuminated it, revealing deep greens and coppery tinges around the edges. 


All three lakes surround the true summit of the volcanic mountain Kelimutu, which is revered by local cultures as the final resting place for spirits of the dead. The natural magnificence of the lakes is augmented by the knowledge that they change colors frequently (in geological terms), sometimes changing from deep blue and green to an opaque blood red depending on the oxygen content of the lakes. The gases and thermal processes of the volcano cause these striking changes and give the lakes their well-deserved fame. Kelimutu is truly a natural marvel unlike any I have ever seen, and it is quite easy to see how local cultures would revere it as a holy place. 

 Mom and baby monkey

Another now-familiar three hour drive brought us back to Huck’s anchorage in front of the Sea World Dive Resort just outside of the city of Maumere. Here we had spent the greater part of a week resting, reprovisioning, and catching up with boats we last saw in Debut now arriving here from the northern part of the rally route. Having separated from the rally to travel southwest along the Forgotten Islands in little company through relatively untraveled waters it was nice to see familiar faces in Dragonfly, Wakanui, Island Pearl II, Taka’oa and Por Dos once again bringing stories of their own exciting journeys so far. After so much time spent in multi-day passages, we are finally relaxing and enjoying ourselves in front of a resort beach and looking forward to a much more leisurely schedule ahead of us. Now we make our way in small day sails westward towards the world-famous Komodo National Park, where we hope to find the Dragons that bear the islands’ name. Cheers all!