Kelimutu: Sustaining Parks - and People

Indonesia is not exactly famous for its strong ecological stance, so any resort that claims it deliberately operates near National Parks to raise conservation awareness is unusual. But Kelimutu Crater Lakes Eco Lodge on Flores makes a point of employing local people to extend that awareness into the local community. By James Teo.

 

Flores, Indonesia, March 20, 2018. Kelimutu Crater Lakes Ecolodge (KCLE) sits in a valley just below the famous coloured crater lakes at Gunung Kelimutu, in the Taman Nasional Kelimutu Park. One of the most popular attractions on the Indonesian island of Flores, the three Kelimutu lakes have always attracted tourists to climb the mountain and look out over the craters at sunrise.

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If you do visit, you should try to make the early morning trip up the mountain to see the lakes. They have the unique properties of each being a different colour – all of which change over time and season. Over the past few years they have changed from white, turquoise and red to black, greeny-blue and coca-cola, then bottle green, turquoise and khaki. Apparently they change colours continuously, and without any simple explanation.

Although the National Park is a gazetted area which brings in a lot of tourist money, local people still make use of its natural resources, and this can lead to reductions of, and pressure on, both flora and fauna. This, says Ecolodges Indonesia (ELI), the company that runs KCLE, is why it deliberately develops ecologically based lodges on the edge of national parks and creates ecotourism opportunities.

People conservation

ELI says it is the only company in Indonesia which tries to help conservation in Indonesia’s iconic national parks through offering and promoting ecotourism - and helping create sustainable jobs for locals, that nonetheless depend on the environment. Laudable stuff indeed. One good example is Patrise Tiba, the head guide at the Lodge.

 Patrise Tiba now works helping visitors appreciate the National park. Courtesy KCLE.

Patrise Tiba now works helping visitors appreciate the National park. Courtesy KCLE.

A native of Flores who lives in a nearby village called Moni, Patrise joined the lodge after a short stint as a teacher. Although he had no guiding or hospitality experience, he learned on the job and now works directly in guest relations and guiding, with a special interest in the birdlife that fills the forest of the National Park.

According to Alan Wilson, the chairman and co-founder of ELI, helping local people to understand the value of National Parks is one of the great conservation challenges faced by Indonesia.

“One of the greatest weaknesses in Indonesia regarding conservation is the very poor management of the country’s magnificent national parks,” he said in an interview. “Currently the parks are staffed by poorly educated people who develop petty bureaucracies of power, restricting access and growth of the park.” Wilson went on to say that many common problems such as poor morale, underfunding, illegal activities, poor tourist experiences, and lack of understanding could be solved by better, more transparent management. “This issue needs to be urgently addressed,” he added.

 Most people visit Kelimutu to see the coloured crater lakes. Courtesy KCLE.

Most people visit Kelimutu to see the coloured crater lakes. Courtesy KCLE.

Getting to KCLE isn’t too hard – regular flights run to various airports on Flores from Bali Denpasar, Jakarta and Surabaya. From Ende (the nearest airport) there it is a road ride to the lodge through Flores's amazing sub-tropical scenery; the lodge will arrange your transport.

The accomodation at KCLE includes 21 rooms. These are spread across 5 standalone bungalows, 4 duplex bungalows, a three-room lodge, and some extra rooms in the main building. All have terraces that look out over the tropical garden, the surrounding jungle or the nearby terraced rice fields. In the background, the horizon rises to those 1,400m high volcanic craters of Kelimutu with their amazing coloured waters.

Close to nature

The rooms are all traditionally comfortable without being overdone; the bungalows offer delightful outdoor showers so you can hear the birds as you cleanse. Operationally, the lodge itself is extremely sustainable. Almost all power comes from solar panels, recycling is a given, and locally grown food is offered as much as possible.

 The bungalows offer delightful outdoor showers. Courtesy KCLE.

The bungalows offer delightful outdoor showers. Courtesy KCLE.

“We also use energy efficient appliances such as low flow consumption devices in most toilets, recycled paper products in-room, and we recycle paper, bottles and biodegradables,” says Wilson. Visitors can also opt out of daily cleaning services as well as choose not to have towels and sheets washed daily.

Additionally, grey water is recycled on to the gardens, a worm farm recycles kitchen and garden waste or it is fed to animals, and at least 90% of staff are local. This helps educate and empower people with sustainable, environmentally sourced jobs. “All this activity is thoroughly reviewed every year,” adds Wilson.

 Traditional villages on Flores haven't changed much over the years. Courtesy KCLE.

Traditional villages on Flores haven't changed much over the years. Courtesy KCLE.

It is an ideal place for nature lovers and hikers who want to visit the crater lakes, hike into the park or surrounding traditional villages, local waterfalls or hot springs. It’s not luxury, but you can bask in the feeling of being close to nature, helping local people, and also contributing US$10 to a dedicated conservation fund.

“We believe that protection of National Parks will only occur through providing sustainable jobs for people who live on the edge of parks - and our guests play a vital role in this process,” say the managers.