Marking the northern limit of the Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta, symmetrical, smoke-plumed Gunung Merapi (Giving Fire) is an awesome 2914-metre presence in the centre of Java, visible from Yogyakarta, 25km away. This is Indonesia’s most volatile volcano, and some volcanologists consider it the most consistently active volcano on earth. Through the centuries its ability to annihilate has frequently been demonstrated – as recently as 2010 an entire mountain village was destroyed and more than 350 people were killed.
Nearly a kilometre up on Merapi’s southern slopes is the misty and ramshackle hill village of Kaliurang. Bemos here cost Rp10,000 from behind the Terban terminal on Jalan Simanjutak in Yogya. In Kaliurang, you can join a trekking group to reach high on the barren flanks of Merapi, a fairly arduous five-hour scramble, much of it through the humid jungle that beards Merapi’s lower slopes. During Merapi’s dormant months (usually March to Oct) it’s possible to climb all the way to the top, but at other times, when the volcano is active, you may have to settle for a distant view from the observation platform. All treks begin in the dark at 3am, when the lava, spilling over the top and tracing a searing path down the mountainside, can be seen most clearly. Bring warm clothes, a torch and sturdy boots (not sandals, which offer little protection against snakes).