© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Climb an erupting volcano: Mt. Ibu, Halmahera

3 minutes to read

Unless you intend to live forever, it may well be worth it to grab some crazy and ultimately memorable experiences in this short life, even if one of them might make it shorter. How about climbing an erupting volcano? Not adventurous enough? Then how about an expedition to climb an erupting volcano in Halmahera, an island so remote that its thickly forested interior has not even been properly mapped? Mt. Ibu is a relatively safe bet: it has been producing beautiful, yet not exceedingly dangerous strombolian explosions steadily for years, and shown no signs of planning to retire. It will take time and effort to get to Mt. Ibu, and more of both to scale it, but that's what adventures are all about, right? And you get a chance to see fresh lava up close and come back to tell the tale.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Away from everything you know

Halmahera, and North Maluku in general, have incredible nature. Untouched jungle that harbors a few known wild tribes and possibly one or two so far undiscovered. Abundant coral reefs and the greatest marine biodiversity in the world. Various, often endemic terrestrial fauna, although it slowly gets eaten up by the aforementioned tribes. Black sand beaches, usually with no people on them, sometimes with a fisherman's hut or two. And volcanoes, lots of them, taking turns to erupt. What it doesn't have is civilization as we know it. Quite a few villages on Halmahera, for example, can only be accessed by boat. There is a new asphalted road crossing the northern part of the island; some sort of motorable track connects it with the settlements in the west; the rest is jungle, partly explored by the local hunters, partly not at all. Mt. Ibu, fortunately, stands in the populated northern region, which even has patchy cellular coverage. Do not expect to send volcano selfies to your friends right from the crater, though.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Volcanic activity

Mt. Ibu is a prominent stratovolcano towering above the coconut plantations of North Halmahera. It is not, in fact, very tall - at 1325 m asl., and it can be climbed in a single day. The crater rim is where you will have to camp. As most of it is covered in heavily interwoven vegetation, you will not have much choice of a camping spot. Still, it is a good one. The view to the NW, all the way to the ocean, is beautiful. But the best spectacle awaits on the opposite side. The crater of Mt. Ibu is 400 m deep and about 1 km across, containing two active lava domes. They erupt with lovely fountains of lava and incandescent rocks very frequently, roughly once in 15 minutes, and intermittently - you never know which one will blow up next. Your position on the crater rim will place you about 300 m from the nearest vent and slightly above it. This means incredible views of the eruptions and relative safety - the overheated ejecta don't fly this far and high. Well, not normally. You never know with a volcano, but you weren't intending to live forever, remember?

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Practicalities

As expeditions go, this one is easy, but still a very long way from a beach vacation. First, you have to get to the island. This means a flight to Manado in Sulawesi, then another one to Ternate in North Maluku. The only cheaper alternative is Pelni ferries, but they would take ages. From Ternate, cute wooden boats carry passengers to Jailolo in Halmahera. Next, hitchhike to one of the villages just north of Mt. Ibu - Togowo is probably the best. Locals will feed and accommodate you for a small fee. Negotiate with them to hire a guide for the climb. Attempting to climb the volcano alone will be a grievous mistake: crevasses in the volcanic ash and thick jungle mean that unless you know the right approach, you will spend days finding it. The fair price for the overnight hike should be around 500-600 IDR - ~30-40$. This will include very basic food - rice with bits of unidentified protein. The guide will also cut the trail where there is none, and appreciate your help if you can handle a machete. Bring your own gear, including warm clothes - it gets chilly on the summit at night. Whatever you do, do not descend into the crater and approach the erupting cones - it may look like you can estimate the radius of explosions from above, but down in the crater it will not be possible. This experience should be adventurous, not suicidal.

Mt. Ibu, Halmahera, North Maluku
Mt. Ibu, Halmahera, North Maluku
Mount Ibu, Kie Ici, Ibu, West Halmahera Regency, North Maluku, Indonesia

The author

Mark Levitin

Mark Levitin

I am Mark, a professional travel photographer, a digital nomad. For the last four years, I am based in Indonesia, spending here roughly half a year and travelling around Asia for the other half. Previously, I spent four years in Thailand, exploring it from all perspectives.

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