Indonesia is one of the world’s most geologically active countries. Given its combination of active volcanism and tropical climate, it is home to several volcanoes which exemplify the type of dynamic interactions between the forces of the endosphere and exosphere that are characteristic of volcanic lake environments. Of all the volcanos in Indonesia, Keli Mutu on the island of Flores appears to have the most exotic lakes. In fact, its lakes are so brightly colored that they are featured on the 5,000 rupiah bill and thought of as a national treasure by the people of Indonesia.
The three lakes all have different names and local people have for centuries believed that the lakes are the spiritual resting place of their ancestors. It is said the lakes change color according to the mood of the spirit – and if that is the case then the souls’ moods are constantly restless.
The Lake of Old People (Tiwu Ata Mbupu) at the western point of the volcano is typically blue. Lying apart from the other two crater, this is where it is said the spirits of the old who have led righteous lives go to rest.
The two other lakes share a crater wall. The Lake of Young Men and Maidens (Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai) is characteristically green. The third, the Enchanted Lake (Tiwu Ata Polo) can often be blood red but in the pictures here appears an olive color. This is the one where the bad people go, young, old, male or female. Kelimutu itself means Boiling Lake and often visitors can see wreathes of steam rise from the surface of the lakes.
Although no extensive scientific survey has ever been undertaken below the surface of the lakes it is assumed that the color deviations are due to underwater fumaroles. These are openings in the planet’s surface which let out gas and steam – sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride and sulfide as well as carbon dioxide. This creates an upwelling (normally an oceanographic term) which drives denser nutrient-rich (and so colored) water upwards to the surface, driving that which had been on top downwards, so changing its appearance.
Mount Kelimutu is situated in an eponymous national park on the island of Flores. Although the island is 350-km in length the park itself is small, with the nearest city (Ende) being 60-km away. However, the small farming village of Moli lies near the volcano and is often used as a base camp by those hardy enough to trek to the crest of Kelimutu.
The visitor is never quite sure what color the lakes will be when they reach the top as they vary significantly. Unlike other crater lakes where the color variation can be predicted, this is not the case with these three lakes. The colors you see here are blue, green and black (and they predominate) yet the lakes also change to white, red and blue too.
Those who make the journey to volcano’s crest usually do so in at daybreak. The three lakes are often shrouded in mist later in the morning. However, by mid-afternoon they are usually haze free and those who venture here then are often the only people around. They must remember to start the treck down to Moli before the evening sets in, however.
A number of unwary visitors have followed an unofficial trail around the rim of the lakes. Loose volcanic rock has made this trail hazardous – not to mention the fumes which arise from the lakes, known to make people collapse. Those who have fallen in to the lakes have not come out alive.
In 1995 a Dutch tourist fell down the precipitous slope in to Tiwu Nua Muri Kooh Fai lake. Although a five day extensive search for his body was conducted his body was never recovered. One can only hope that his spirit joined those of the young men and maidens resident there. People have, though, generally stayed behind the fences since then.
Despite the fact the volcano and lakes are little known outside Asia, many consider Kelimutu to be one of the seven wonders of nature. It is hard to disagree.