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Batu Tara volcano, Pulau Komba Island, Flores, Indonesia - 4th-5th June 2013

Pulau Komba (Komba Island) is a small, isolated uninhabited island located in the Banda Sea north-east of Flores, Indonesia. Due to its isolated situation and difficult access, it is rarely visited. From 4th - 5th June 2013, we travelled to observe the current state of eruptive activity at Komba's volcano, Batu Tara, with Aris Yanto of, to whom we extend our sincere thanks for planning and arranging this unique custom trip on our behalf.

Approaching Pulau Komba after a 9 hour journey by sea on a tuna fishing boat from the port of Larantuka, on the South coast of Flores island, it was immediately apparent that Batu Tara volcano was still active. Greyish ash plumes regularly spurted forth from the middle of the island in contrast to the lush green vegetation clinging to the steep slopes of Komba's near-perfect cone. As we had read elsewhere, Pulau Komba does indeed bear a remarkable similarity to the much-better-known volcano Stromboli, which we visited in 2006, but is around 200m lower at its highest point.

Approaching Pulau Komba Island - ash can be seen rising from a strombolian eruption.


Relatively calm waters on the West of the island gave way to rougher seas as we sailed around the rocky southern coast to the Eastern flank, where we gained our first views of the active volcanic vent and the huge lava/scree slope below extending all the way down to, and into, the sea.

Impressive Strombolian eruptions, some much more powerful than others, were observed approximately every 10 to 15 minutes; the larger explosions were pretty noisy!

The active vent regularly ejected hot rocks and clouds of volcanic ash, and molten-hot rocks of varying sizes rolled down the scree slope to finally bounce into the sea with a loud hiss of steam.

Unfortunately the choppy seas and lashing waves at the 'beach' proved to be more than our landing craft, a simple wooden dugout canoe, could handle, and our first attempt at landing was aborted after an initial foray with two people and a heavy bag of equipment resulted in the canoe capsizing and one team member being stranded on the 'beach' for a while.

One of the boat crew struggled to swim back to the boat with the upturned canoe and the stranded person had no option but to make a brave swim back to the boat - the canoe proved to be woefully inadequate in these conditions. After observing the eruptions until dusk, we sailed back to the Western side of the island to overnight on the boat with a view to making a second landing attempt in the morning.

A strombolian eruption from Batu Tara volcano, Indonesia - 04/06/2013

A stormy and windy night followed with virtually no sleep, as the wind howled, the rain lashed down intermittently and the boat rocked violently from side to side - not conducive to a good night's rest. Early in the morning we returned to the East flank of Komba but the waves were still crashing onto the beach with considerable force and we were unanimous in agreeing that attempting a landing would be unwise. We decided to give it until late afternoon and again sailed to the Western flank, where we paddled the canoe to shore easily in the calm waters there and spent the day ashore whilst the boat crew went in search of tuna. The prevailing wind meant that occasionally we were showered with fine, black volcanic ash, but otherwise it was a pleasant enough day. Interestingly, there was a group of Bajo fishermen from East Sulawesi who had taken up temporary residence in the bay. Our guide Aris had an extended discussion with them, during which an important fact was discovered; as regular visitors to Komba they had seen, first hand, Batu Tara actively erupting since at least 2004, possibly even as far as 2001. This puts the recorded start date of the present ongoing eruption back by around 3 years!

Pulau Komba is not always uninhabited - the nomadic Bajo fishermen periodically come here to fish.

Fish drying in the sun, caught by the skilful Bajo fishermen

We finally managed to get back on board the tuna boat (amongst fish of varying sizes and shapes....) towards dusk..... and yet again returned to the East flank of Komba. Loud explosions greeted us as we approached, and the waves were if anything worse than they'd been in the morning. To add insult to injury, a heavy bank of cloud was lowering over the volcano, making it possible to only get an occasional glimpse of the active vent. There was not going to be the opportunity to land - we'd given it our best but circumstances were against us yet again. The crew skilfully maintained a good observation position with the rolling boat to enable us to take photographs and shoot video footage, and as darkness fell, we set sail back to Larantuka. We made good progress and after a much more comfortable ride, travelling with the wind this time, were back in port after around 7 hours' sailing.

Vent and lava flow/scree of Batu Tara volcano, Indonesia early evening 05/06/2013. Eruptive vent just obscured by low cloud.