We were up at 4am the next day again, but this time it was to get us to the early train in to Surabaya from Yogyakarta. Where the journey to Borobudur had taken almost 2 hours with the holiday traffic, the journey back to the station only took 45 minutes and we were there in plenty of time to get some breakfast and find our seats.
The journey took 5 hours and despite dozing a little on the train, I saw lots of the countryside through the window. Lush rice fields with people wearing conical hats, it was a typical rural south East Asian scene that made me wish, as ever, that we'd had more time to explore the area. At Surabaya station we met the driver we'd arranged with the Bromo hotel a few weeks previously. After about 2 hours we turned off the main road and started to head up into the mountains, the air got cooler and our ears started to pop. We headed up the valley for about an hour before arriving at our hotel, which was engulfed by swirling cloud. When you travel to Bromo you soon find out that all the accommodation here is either pretty basic or massively overpriced, or in most cases, both. There simply doesn't seem to be any nice place to stay in the area. We'd arranged to stay at a small homestay a little further down the valley and away from the edge of the huge caldera where Mount Bromo is located. It was pretty basic and austere, but very clean. After arriving I spoke with the manager about arranging for a jeep to take us up to a viewpoint for the following day's sunrise and he was incredibly helpful in organizing exactly what I wanted to do. I knew that the viewpoints in Bromo got incredibly crowded and as I was hoping to shoot star trails I wanted to have a bit of peace and not too many people shining their torches onto the camera or nudging the tripod. I'd done some research and it looked like I would have a better view from the lower viewpoint at Penanjakan Two. The higher viewpoint, Penanjakan One, is set back on the mountain slope and seemed to be difficult to shoot from without getting trees or bushes in the foreground and I wanted a clean shot of the caldera floor. I also hoped that the lower viewpoint would be less popular than the higher one. We finished the arrangements for the following day and agreed to meet the driver at the eye watering time of 2am. Despite going to bed early we barely slept as the hotel's generator was so noisy and was going all night, so when the alarm rang we were feeling a bit groggy and the twisting journey up the narrow mountain roads as we got higher and higher was a bit of a blur really.
After about 40 minutes we arrived at the bottom of the path to the view point and said goodbye to the driver. It was a steep walk up a path followed by a steep walk up some rough-hewn steps to eventually arrive at the viewing platform. I headed off into the trees thinking I could walk along a little bit and find a quiet spot, but in the pitch dark it was impossible. However, I did see that at one corner the concrete roof of the viewing platform was accessible by a small jump, so I climbed up on top thinking there was so much space down below that everyone would stay there, and started to set up the camera. I always get a little stressed at this point as this was a shot I'd anticipated and planned for a very long time and there was so much buzzing around my head that I had to calm my mind and start sorting out the interval shots for the star trail. This was the first trip I'd ever been on where I hadn't taken a Nikon camera having switched system for Fuji, and although I was pretty familiar with using both the X-T1 and X-T10 by now, I was still aware that this morning's shoot was going to be a challenge.
I decided to use the 14mm lens as it was faster and would allow me to shoot at a lower ISO, and it's also super sharp! The stars were incredibly bright, as bright as I'd ever seen them since the Altiplano in Bolivia, and as I'd tested out star trail settings a little before left I knew that ISO800 or 1000 would easily be enough. The next challenge was composing as I couldn't see anything of the caldera in the darkness of night, so I upped the ISO to 3200 and took a 30 second exposure. The resulting image gave me a clear silhouette of the peaks so I could orientate my composition and I also took the opportunity to do a "constellation shot" although the most interesting arrangement of stars and nebula were in the other direction. I was surprised to see that the barely visible glow on the side of the mountain showed as bright red on the long exposure...I assume it was lava glow from the volcano.
So with my composition sorted out, I set up the X-T1's intervalometer to shoot continuous 30 second exposures for 120 shots, which would take about an hour. Then, with the camera clicking away, I sat down and just appreciated the amazing star filled sky. After a few minutes a couple of other people appeared and sure enough they saw me on the roof and climbed up as well, and over the next hour the viewpoint filled up till there were a couple of hundred people there and about 15 on the roof with me.
The place got busier and busier as sunrise got closer and the magnificent view of volcanos and mist filled caldera became clearer and clearer. As it got lighter I started the GoPro, which was attached to the side of my tripod, doing a timelapse. The scene became more and more amazing, and with the X-T1 on the tripod shooting the changing light in the scene in front, I used the X-T10 with the 55-200mm to shoot the scene to the east where the sun was rising above an ocean of cloud, through which the volcanos Gunung Lembongan, Gunung Argapura and Gunung Raung appeared like an islands.
Also, at the edge of the caldera below, mist was rising up the edges of the crater and then spilling over and floating down the valley, creating beautiful tendrils around the trees which were illuminated in the sun's first light.
The time flew by as I shot scenes in different directions with the two cameras, amazed and in awe of this truly amazing scene. Travel and photography have taken me to some incredible places on the planet, but this sunrise at Bromo ranks as one of the all time best. It was a fantastic dawn and by the time we walked back down to the jeep happy and satisfied 4 hours had passed.
The driver then headed down to the dust filled caldera floor and dropped us off at the base of the smoking Bromo crater. Despite our tiredness we decided to walk as its not often you get the chance to look directly into a smoking volcano. There were hundreds of people there, all making the same climb as us, and lots of local villagers with horses offering rides up the side of the crater. It's an easy, but steep walk before a final stone staircase takes you up to the very edge, and the biggest problem is the heat and dust. It's worth it though, gazing down into the crater belching sulphur smelling smoke is pretty cool although it's not somewhere you want to linger.
We walked down again,climbed into the jeep and made the trip back to the hotel, tiredness beginning to settle in.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing, before a very early night and lots of sleep. We'd arranged to stay two nights in Bromo in case I wasn't able to get any shots on the first night, but as it had gone so well, I decided that catching up on sleep after three very early mornings was a better idea. We got up well rested the next day and jumped in a car that took us on the 50 minute journey to Probolinggo station to catch the train to Banuwangi, where we would make the crossing to Bali.