Kawah Putih lake (7.10° S 107.24° E) is one of the two craters which make up Mount Patuha, an andesitic stratovolcano (a "composite" volcano). Mount Patuha is one of numerous volcanoes in Java. Kawah Putih crater lake itself represents a relatively stable volcanic system with no records of significant activity since around 1600.
The Kawah Putih site was opened to visitors in 1987. The lake is 2,430 meters above sea level so the local climate is often quite chilly (temperatures are frequently around 10 degrees Celsius). This makes a brisk change from the humidity of the north Java plain and the capital city of Jakarta. Kawah Putih is a sizeable highly acid lake (pH 0.5-1.3) which changes colour from bluish to whitish green, or brown, depending on the concentration of sulfur and the temperature or the oxidation state. The sand and rocks surrounding the lake have been also leached into whitish colours through interaction with the acidic lake waters (with possible mineral precipitation as well).
The lake is said to have been first documented in the western world in 1837 by Dr Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, a German botanist who carried out a considerable amount of research in Indonesia until his death in Lembang, just north of Bandung, in 1864. At the time, there were various local stories about the history of the area. Birds were said to be reluctant to fly near the region and villagers in the area tended to regard the forest around the lake as eerie and somewhat mysterious. These stories prompted Dr Junghuhn to investigate. He discovered Kawah Putih. There was formerly a sulfur mine at the crater although production has now ceased. A sulfur plant known as the Zwavel Ontgining Kawah Putih was first established near the lake during the period of Dutch rule in Java. The plant was later taken over during World War II by the Japanese military and operated under the name Kawah Putih Kenzanka Yokoya Ciwidey. Entry points to various tunnels which represent the remnants of these mining activities can be seen at several points around the current site.
Over a century after Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn first discovered the lake, in 1991 the Indonesian state-owned forestry firm Perhutani Unit III Jawa Barat dan Banten (Forestry Unit No III for West Java and Banten) began to develop the site as a tourist spot.
The surrounding area is heavily forested. There is a pathway down to the lake which is surrounded by the high walls of the crater nestling into the side of Mount Patuha. The smell of sulfur is strong because there is a good deal of steam and sulfurous gas bubbling from the lake. There are tracks around the lake and through the nearby forest including to the peak of Mount Patuha. Visitors can walk around the crater area or sit in the various shelters. Local plants not widely found in lower altitudes in Java include javanese Edelweiss and Cantigy (Vaccinium varingifolium). Animals and birds which may be spotted include eagles, owls, monkeys, mouse deer, and forest pigs. Panthers, leopards and pythons have also sometimes been seen in the nearby forest.
A range of simple facilities exists near the lake. There is ample parking and public toilets. Entrepreneurial vendors sell trinkets and food. The site is well-signposted. Local farmers often take the opportunity to sell strawberries (widely grown in the area), steamed corn, and various other items such as pumpkin seeds (pepita).
Kawah Putih and the surrounding area (where there are resort facilities such as hot spas) is a popular spot for people from Bandung. On weekends and on holidays, quite large numbers of Indonesian tourists visit Kawah Putih. The site is so far less well known to international tourists. According to Perhutani staff at the site, up to 10,000 people might visit on busy holidays and the total number of visitors is perhaps 300,000 per year.
Access is gained from the left of the main road travelling south by entering the park and proceeding along a 5 km access road. Travel time from the centre of Bandung, depending on traffic in and around Bandung, is perhaps two hours. The turnoff from the main road to Kawah Putih is hard to miss: there is a large signboard to the left of the main road and a prominent entry gate. The entry facilities and the crater location are well-managed by staff from the state-owned forestry firm Perhutani.
The usual arrangement is for visitors to leave their vehicles in a main carpark at the entry to the site and catch one of the regular mini shuttlebuses (leaving every five minutes or so) for the 5 km to the crater. For Indonesian citizens, the cost of entry to the site (October 2011) is Rp 15,000 plus Rp 5,000 for the return minibus ride (total of Rp 20,000, around $US 2.20). Charges for foreign visitors are slightly higher. Visitors who prefer to drive in their own vehicles up to the crater must pay a significantly higher charge (Rp 150,000, or $US 17 per vehicle plus tickets for passengers). Tickets are issued by Perhutani staff and include insurance while at the location.
The main road is the busy road south from Bandung through the town of Soreang, the capital of the Bandung District, continuing down through the crowded Pasir Jambu township. Minibuses ply the route southwards from Bandung and, depending on traffic, can take up to two hours to reach the entrance to the Kawah Putih area. There are many thousands of small market-crop farmers in the fertile valley to the south of Bandung which leads up towards the Kawah Putih area. Local food-crops grown include a wide range of fruits and vegetables. A strawberry industry is well-established in the area and many strawberry farms have fruit for sale along the side of the highway.
Accommodation is available at various hotels in the Mount Patuha area close to the nearby towns of Ciwidey and Soreang.
- Simon Marcus Gower, 'Heading for the hills around Bandung', The Jakarta Post, 29 February 2008 and 'Natural attractions abound in montane Ciwidey', The Jakarta Post, 15 June 2007.
- Useful details of the geology of the area at Kawah Putih, including several detailed diagrams, can be found at Erik B. Layman and Sukusen Soemarinda, 'The Patuha vapor-dominated resource West Java, Indonesia', Proceedings, Twenty-Eighth Workshop on Geothermal Reservoir Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California, January 27–29, 2003. Information on the science of volcanic lakes is also helpful as a background to the Kawah Putih system.
- For some details see the notes on Kawah Putih on the catalog of Volcanic Lakes of the World Archived 2012-02-19 at the Wayback Machine.
- A detailed technical discussion is in T.Sriwana, M.J. van Bergen, J.C. Varekamp, S. Sumarti, B. Takano, B.J.H. van Os, and M.J. Leng, Geochemistry of the acid Kawah Putih lake, Patuha Volcano, West Java, Indonesia, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 97(1-4), April 2000, pp 77-104. See also the discussion of the Kelimutu volcano in Flores and the references cited.
- See notes from the West Java Government tourist site.
- The state-owned forestry firm is active, amongst other things, in supporting various community and social projects connected with forestry activities in Indonesia. Some details of these activities are provided on the Perhutani website.
- Details are at the Gunung Bagging site which provides information about climbing mountains in Indonesia. Some additional details about the Gunung Bagging website with more information are at Imogen Badgery-Parker, 'Climb ev'ry mountain', The Jakarta Post, 6 December 2009.
- Some visitors are dissatisfied with the charges for access in personal vehicles. See 'Pretty, Pricey and Smelly: Facing Reality in Kawah Putih', The Jakarta Globe, 20 September 2011.
- Further pricing details are available at the Tourism West Java information page.
- 'West Java finds it hard to bring in tourists', The Jakarta Post, 17 September 2000.
- Lisa Siregar, 'A Delight of Orchids and Strawberries', The Jakarta Globe, 23 December 2008.