- Elevation: 655 m (2,149 ft)
- Prominence: 655 m
- Ribu category: Spesial
- Province: Jawa Timur (East Java)
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none
Gunung Besar is the highest mountain on the island of Bawean, which lies about 150km north of Surabaya in the Java Sea (about a third of the way to Kalimantan). It is very infrequently-climbed, but offers some nice views of the coastline and can be easily climbed in a single day. There are several endemic species here including deer ‘(rusa Bawean), owl (burung hantu bawean), eagle (elang bawean) and wild pig (babi kutil Bawean). Visitors will probably be surprised by the number of large bats seen at dusk. The many rice terraces make the island particularly photogenic. The main town of Sangkapura in on the south coast of the island and the airport is on the north coast near the second town of Tambak. The road which circles the island is approximately 55km in length and the island is about 15-17km in diameter.
The best starting point for the hike is in the west, less than an hour by motorbike from Sangkapura. Follow the main road clockwise round the island, past Pulau Cina off the coast, and turn inland at the Desa Sumber Lanas entrance arch opposite a warung on the main road. Straight ahead you will see the mountain. You reach a junction for Desa Gunung Duren (right turn) but keep on going straight ahead and under a couple more arches. At the end of the road is a disused swimming pool (or perhaps just empty at the moment), a school and a mosque with a blue roof (160m above sea level). On the Bakosurtanal this is labelled Gunungduren / Desa Patarselamat. The peak is only just over 1km in a straight line from here but you will need to hike in an almost question-mark shape rather than head straight up the very steep cliffs.
The trail crosses the river and follows it and goes past an irrigation (‘irigasi’) sign and into forest. You pretty much follow and criss-cross the river for almost an hour as it snakes south and south-south-east. It leads up to a col between Gunung Besar and Gunung Lumut (‘moss mountain’), at 563m the 4th highest mountain on Bawean island. Up to this point the going is pretty easy as forest rangers did research here not long ago along with a European researcher. The col is about 460m above sea level and this is where the going gets tough as you turn left (NE) to head steeply up Gunung Besar (rather than heading right – SW – to Gunung Lumut). There is not much of a trail here and a machete is probably essential (unless anyone has hiked in the last couple of months). There are some steep sections where real care needs to be taken as it’s a long way down, and most of the plants have thorns on them making it difficult to pull youself onward.
Don’t be too concerned because after a tough hour of very slow progress you will reach a minor top on the southern end of the summit ridge of Gunung Besar. It is about 600m in elevation, or possibly a little under according to the Bakosurtanal map. From there you will see a higher top on the ridge further north, but instead of heading in a straight line towards it, you need to circuit round to the right (east) first, following the broad ridge. One landmark on our trip was a hole possibly lived in by porcupines (again, roughly 600m above sea level), which is where you can change direction and head north west towards the highest ridge of the mountain (and indeed of the whole island). There is another top southeast of the ‘porcupine hole’ but this is only between 610-620m according to the Bako map.
As you progress to the north, the ridge narrows, and in some places the drops are sheer on either side. This is also where the best views are to be had. There is a landslide area on the west face of the mountain at 640m and from here you can look out to the west coast, the little island of Pulau Cina, and lower hills. Interestingly, the Bako map has a spot height on the southern half of this summit ridge at just 638m above sea level, and whilst this may be accurate, several online sources state 655 or 656m as being the true highest point. Indeed, further north we had a GPS reading of 658m at one point and then 660m on a knoll which had been previously marked by hikers with a piece of material some years ago. 660m is easily within the standard 10m margin of error of the 655/656m published summit height so we are leaving our listing of Gunung Besar as being approximately 655m high, despite the missing contour lines on the usually accurate Bako maps.
From the summit, beyond a minor col, a further, final top can be seen roughly 200 metres or so away. Based on both the Bako map and our eyesight, this most northerly top is a little lower (but still over 600m according to the Bako map). We didn’t visit this top, so it would be interesting to hear from anyone who does in future, particularly if they have any GPS readings, on the off-chance that the most northerly top is even higher than the knoll marked with the cloth. Interested parties, please see/utilise the GPS waypoints published on this site.
In total, it should have taken you approximately 3 hours to reach this rarely-visited summit. Going down is faster, although not necessarily easier as you once again have to negotiate the steep section between the higher slopes of Gunung Besar and the col between Besar and Lumut. You should be able to make it back down to the trailhead in about 2 hours.
If you are spending a few more days on the island of Bawean, there are a few other hikes that might be worth investigating. The shapely triangular peak seen from Sangkapura pier is probably called Gunung Tinggi/Tengghi – previously though to be the name of the highest peak on the island – and at 601m is the third highest mountain on Bawean. It can be climbed from the south at Dusun Menara, just 3 or 4 kilometres north of Sangkapura. The second highest mountain on Bawean is 625m high according to the Bakosurtanal map and lies pretty much due south of Danau Kastoba. Likely starting point is Sungaiterus Utara and looks straightforward. It may or may not be called Gunung Gigir. If it is indeed Gunung Gigir, then there are some good views of Danau Kastoba from the top. Finally, Gunung Sabu is a lower hill that is offered as a ‘tourism destination’ and also offers views of Danau Kastoba. Along with Gunung Gigir, it does not appear to be named on the Bakosurtanal map (1:25000 Sangkapura 160-114, published 2001) but is not likely to be higher that 350m or so. It might make an easy walk for sunrise or sunset.
Bagging information by Dan Quinn (April 2017)
- Getting there: It takes 3 and a half hours by fast ferry from Gresik near Surabaya to Sangkapura (the main town on Bawean). The Express Bahari 8am currently (2017) leaves Gresik on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and returns from Bawean on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Mondays (always at 9am). The standard executive ticket is Rp150,000 per person and can be reserved via the Bawean Tourism website. The Natuna Express boat generally runs in the opposite direction at a similar time but at present is not in service. There are also very affordable flights to/from Surabaya twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) with Airfast Indonesia and taking just 45 minutes. The prop plane can only hold 15 passengers and each has a weight limit of 10kg baggage. You cannot book online but may be able to arrange to do a bank transfer if you speak with Airfast staff in Bawean. Both the ferry and the flights often sell out so book in advance if at all possible.
- Accommodation: There are several hotels near the pier in Sangkapura, all with similar room prices (Rp180,000 to 300,000). Fathin Motel is recommended.
- Permits: You will need to speak to the forest rangers who look after the conservation areas which include Gunung Besar. They have an office in Sangkapura which opens at about 8am. Manager is Pak Nur Syamsi. Pak Rahim, who works as a forest ranger, has been to the top before and is therefore easily the best choice for a guide. You can SMS him on 0852 06091867 (recommended). You may be able to email the office on email@example.com
- Water sources: The trail crosses a river numerous times near the start of the hike, and there are no water sources on the summit ridge. Given this hike can be accomplished in a single day it makes sense to take sufficient supplies with you from Sangkapura.
- Travel insurance: We recommend World Nomads insurance, which is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities including mountain hiking.
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