Anak Krakatau, Indonesia -- In an ancient cycle of death and rebirth, the offspring of a legendary volcano is growing at the spot where its parent was destroyed in the most cataclysmic natural event in recorded history -- and becoming a magnet for adventure tourists from around the world.
The volcanic eruption on Aug. 27, 1883, that blew apart the island of Krakatau in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra produced modern history's most powerful explosion -- 30 times stronger than the largest thermonuclear bomb.
The blast was heard in Australia and Burma, thousands of miles from Krakatau, which is also known as Krakatoa. The ash and rock blasted into the air circled the globe for a year, and the Earth's weather patterns were disrupted for several years.
A 130-foot-tall tsunami inundated some 100 villages on both sides of the busy waterway, killing an estimated 37,000 people. Until recently, the rusting hulk of a Dutch warship could be seen 2 1/2 miles inland on a hillside where the wave deposited it.
For decades, all that marked the site of the original 2,640-foot- high island was a tiny islet, renamed Rakata, that had survived the explosion.
But in 1930, a new volcano -- Anak Krakatau, or the Child of Krakatau -- broke through the water at the center of the old volcano, where the tectonic forces that led to the 1883 eruption are pushing magma upward at an astounding pace.
The Child of Krakatau is now growing five yards a year, says Mas Aceh of the Indonesia's Directorate of Volcanology and Geology. It has already reached a height of nearly 1,320 feet.
"This must be one of the most dramatic spots on Earth, with all the most powerful forces in nature beneath our feet," said Heinz Phelps, a visitor from Munster, Germany.
He and two friends were climbing from the tropical forest that has reclaimed the narrow coastal plain on Anak's northern side, up through the black basalt foothills to the volcano's cinder rim.
During active periods, Anak Krakatau erupts 20 to 30 times a day, sending up sulfurous smoke and raining ash and molten rocks down the hillsides into the sea. At such times, the entire island, now a national park, is closed to tourists.
Danger and drama
Even when it is dormant, the difficult hike up the steamy, sun- scorched slope to the crater is discouraged by local guides, since an American tourist was killed and five injured by a 1993 eruption.
But fascinated travelers continue to come, drawn by the history, drama and danger.
"There's something very sinister about this place," said William Redgrave, an Australian tourist. "A sunny tropical paradise with green islands surrounded by aquamarine waters, all sitting atop a giant time bomb."
Most Indonesians prefer to watch the pyrotechnics from one of the hotels that line the beaches around the port town of Anyer on the western tip of Java.
It is easy to hire a boat from there for the 18-mile ride across the turbulent waters to the three-island archipelago encircling Anak Krakatau.
Other sights to see
Two other popular jumping-off spots are Carita Beach and Tanjung Lesung, both just south of Anyer.
Tanjung Lesung is an attractive option for travelers with a bit more time to spend exploring. It is close to the 297,880-acre Ujung Kulon National Park, which is home to the one-horned Javan rhinoceros, one of the rarest animals on Earth.
The Sunda Strait sits just north of the Java trench, a geologically volatile zone where the Australian oceanic plate is moving northward and plunging beneath the Asian continent, creating the network of volcanoes that gave birth to many of the islands in the vast Indonesian archipelago.
Geologists predict Anak will continue growing for several centuries and eventually be vaporized in another colossal eruption similar to the one in 1883.
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by : SLOBODAN LEKIC Associated Press
Wednesday, May 19, 2004