If you’re looking for an off-road adventure where you can have an up close encounter with some of Indonesia’s incredible wildlife be sure to add Sukamade Beach to your travel list. Located on East Java’s southern coastline this beautiful long beach is known as a turtle conservation area and forms part of 50,000 hectare Meru Betiri National Park. It offers a rare opportunity to observe different species of sea turtles nesting and hatching.
All turtle base activities at Sukamade are under the supervision of a local and knowledgeable guide who will not only ensure the turtles don’t get distressed from overzealous tourists, but knows the best places to find the turtles. To watch the turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, you need to head down to the beach between 8pm and 2am, although you can head back to bed whenever you’ve had enough. The sight of these ancient creatures hauling themselves up the beach, laboriously scraping out a nest in the sand then laying hundreds of eggs is an incredibly moving experience though and bed is likely to be the last thing on your mind.
In order protect the eggs from predators and poachers, once the turtles go back out to sea rangers collect the eggs and take them to a hatchery facility where they are incubated until they’re ready to hatch. Most days, there is at least one batch of eggs ready to hatch so after catching a few hours sleep, you have the option of visit the hatchery later in the morning to help the rangers release the babies back into their natural habitat. Another truly moving moment.
Whilst the turtles are the highlight of Sukamade, there are some nice short treks to be had along the beach to Teluk Hijau, a beautiful beach abutted with high cliffs, or the adjoining jungle where other wildlife such as monkeys, deer, banteng and a variety of birds can be seen. Deeper into the national park, rumours of footprints and faeces belonging to the Javan Tiger have ignited debate about the ongoing survival of this officially extinct species but don’t hold your breath hoping to see one. Other than trekking and wildlife spotting there’s also a nearby coffee and cacao plantation that you can visit.
However, the Sukamade Beach adventure starts in just getting there. Sukamade is usually approached from Banyuwangi, 137km to the northeast or from Jember, 103km to the north-west. The last 50km of the journey requires a four wheel drive as the access road involves rough and often muddy mountain tracks and several river crossings. It’s slow going (3-4 hours) but the scenery along the way is gorgeous, passing by rice fields, cocoa plantations, lush jungle, beaches and cliff tops.
The easiest option from either Banyuwangi of Jember is to hire a driver/guide with a four wheel drive for the return trip to Sukamade. This will set you back about 800,000Rp, not too bad even for a budget traveller if you can split the costs between four passengers.
Alternatively, take a bus from either Banyuwangi of Jember to Jajag (about 2 hours) then catch a minivan (bemo) to Pesanggaran. From here you can jump on the daily truck that departs from the local market at 1pm for Sukamade Beach via Sarongan. If you miss it you’ll have to head back to Jajag for the night as there is no accommodation in Pesanggaran.
Obviously, you need to stay at least one night at Sukamade and your only option is the “Wisma Sukamade Guesthouse” a 5 minute walk from the beach. Facilities are clean but basic so don’t expect anything fancy; cold bucket showers, traditional Indonesian style toilet, limited electricity between 6-10pm and no mobile phone reception. The guesthouse can provide basic Indonesian style meals. Expect to pay around 80.000Rp per person. Meals are additional. For a small fee camping is also possible for those wishing to bring along their own gear.
Whilst the turtles come ashore all year round, the best time to visit is during a full moon and in the dry season when the access road is passable. There’s no facilities at Sukamade so be sure to bring snacks, insect repellent, a torch and enough cash to pay for your accommodation, entrance fee (70.000Rp per person but rumoured to be increasing to as much as 250.000Rp), night time guide (150.000Rp per group), turtle release (100.000Rp per group) and additional for optional activities such as a plantation tour.
All inclusive Sukamade tours can be arranged at either Banyuwangi or Jember. For a more upmarket alternative, check into the Margo Utomo Agro Resort just out of Kalibaru, about 60km east of Jember. The resort is originally started out as a homestead but has now been extended to 51 rooms with a pool, restaurant and lovely grounds and apart from being a pleasant stopover, they can arrange Sukamade transfers for their guests.