The Karimata Islands are a chain of small islands located off the West Kalimantan coast about 100km west of Ketapang or 160km south of Pontianak. Sitting squarely in the Karimata Strait, the wide strait that divides the islands of Sumatra and Borneo and connects the South China Sea to the Java Sea, they are isolated to say the least. In times past, the islands were an important link in an historic trading route between Sumatra, Banka Island, Belitung and the west coast of Borneo.
First settled by the Melayu people in the 7th century and later joined by the Bugis sea gypsies, the Melayu spread right across the Indo Malay archipelago, sustained by whatever the ocean provided and trading for whatever else they needed. These days, their dependency on the ocean remains largely unchanged.
The two largest islands, Karimata and Serutu boast a handful of small, sleepy coastal villages nestled under swaying palms, the largest of which is Padang on the eastern tip of Karimata. The other islands are uninhabited but for temporary fishermen’s villages but all boast beautiful scenery. In recognition of their noteworthy mangrove, tropical forest and underwater ecosystems, the islands were designated as a marine reserve back in 1995. Unfortunately they’ve received little to no conservation management ever since. Having flagged plans to develop the islands with some large scale tourist resorts, it will be interesting to see how the Indonesian government proposes to balance the two priorities in the future but for now, the islands remain delightfully undiscovered.
Reaching the islands requires dedication. The islanders rely on infrequent local ferries, fishing boats or the mobile health centre boat owned by the local government district of North Kayong which operates out of Sukadana just north of Ketapang. Boats coming from Pontianak in the north generally travel via Sukadana. Either way you’ll need to make inquiries about boats once you’re on the ground in either Pontianak or Ketapang. Once in Sukadana, if you miss the health centre boat, you’ll probably need to charter a fishing boat for the final 4 hour leg to Karimata.
Not surprisingly, the islands receive very few visitors and as a result there’s no commercial accommodation. You may have to camp out but considering the excitement your arrival is bound to be met with, it’s highly likely you’ll invited to stay with a local family. On a cautionary note, the islands are noted for having a serious malaria problem so take precautions.