The tiny dewadaru airport on the island of karimun Java has a kind of when a plane is coming in to land, a siren is activated to warm stray cows to get out on the way. ironically, on a island with few car, an airplane lading or talking off is such a rare wonder that it attracts crowds of human spectator. As the cows vacate, the humans gather around to watch the show.
As we banked for our final approach in the kura kura Cessna 420 i could see people lining up on sideline, some were already waving.
It's almost unbelievable, but according to the airport's own record, in the year 2001, the siren was only sounded twice. and both of those times it was for military fligths. that's good news for the cows but not so good for the area's fledgling tourism industry. but that industry has just received a kick-start thank to the efforts of one small tourism enterprise - kura kura resorts and, more recently, kura kura aviation. the brainchild of Swedish businessman and boat-lover soren lax, aided by his son Magnus, kura kura has been in operation now for some three years, and is, for my money, one of the boldest most well-executed tourism developments in the country. Lax is humble when reflecting on all they have achieved in just a few short years. "We had some good years in the furniture business and we wanted to put it back into the country - besides it's just so much damn fun!" he enthused.
As a tourism destination Karimunjawa is yet to be "discovered", but it seems like that's just a matter of time. It would be a shame though if the spectre of mass tourism ever darkened the shores of these beautiful islands. It is almost unbelievable really, (given that Karimunjawa is only 45 nautical miles off the north coast of the world's most densely populated island, Java) that it has managed to remain as unspoiled as it has.
A small acrhipelagic chain of 27 islands, islets, and atolls - seemingly adrift in the blue expanse of Java Sea - only five of the island know human inhabitants, with a total of only around 10,000 people. Five thousand of those live on the main island of Karimunjawa. Industry is limited to fishing, farming and subsistence agriculture like coconut harvesting. These Robinson Cruso-esque island embody, without any embellishment, the idyll of tropical island paradise, each and every one. White sandy beaches, ring tiny ringed by turquoise shallows and coral reefs teeming with aquatic life.
So much do they define the concept of an island paradise, that a group of Canadian survivalist wanted to conduct a kind of Cast-Away type experiment to live on one of the islands for year - without any kind of modern technology of course. "They're pretty crazy guys!" opined Lax in a thick Swedish accent "but we offered to save them if they got into any trouble. They'd probably be able to see the lights of our resort at night. I hope that wouldn't be too distracting, especially when we have parties!"
But the Lax knows something about coming to an uninhabited tropical island and setting up some kind of civilisation. That's what he did, despite all the odds, and all the people who thought he was crazy.
Today Kura kura is a fully functioning modern resort complete with bungalow accommodation for up to 30 people, swimming pool (with swim-up bar), restaurant, bar and fully-equipped PADI dive centre. The octagonal west-facing bungalow come with full air-conditioning, mini-bar, satelite TV (with indovision) and hot & cold running water - so you don't have to leave behind any of the comforts of home. Best of all, the bungalows are designed so that the front three wakes are full lenght windows allowing you a priceless view of the beach, the waving palm trees and some spectacular sunsets.
The resort also has its own mini-fleet of boats, which includes the original Elizabeth, a Grand Banks Maine-style cruiser perfect bath rooms, kitchen, sundecks and bar. As a descendant of the vikings Lax has a love of the sea in his veins and over the years he's added several more hulls to his collection, including Miami Vice-style wave Breaker, twin hulled luxury catamaran called Mete, and two dive speed boats.
Until recently the only connections to Karimunjawa had been by see. The twice weekly public ferry from Jepara is the area's life line to the outside world, bringing in essential supplies, food, fuel and medicine. A faster alternative for resort guests was to take a speedboat, but even then trip would take around three hours from Semarang. A government-subsidised Deraya air service used to operate between Semarang airport and the Karimunjawa airport, but was cancelled after the Aidan financial crisis struck. And so it looked like the cows had won their fight for uninterrupted grazing rights... That is until Kura kura Aviation was born. In a boldly confident move, Kura kura made the decision to set up its own small airline charters. To that end they bought two 8-seater