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BALI VOLCANO

Bali travel safety updates

With many travellers asking, "Is it safe to travel to Bali now?" as seismic activity rises around Mt Gunung Agung, some updates and information showing resort areas in relation to the volcano in the northeast, ferry terminals, and a list of some other major Indonesian volcanoes. Also Bali flights status and live maps.

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by Vijay Verghese

First posted 28 Sep 2017. Last updated 23 October 2017

SEE ALSO Asia tsunami damage | Asian health risks | Bali resorts review | Bali guide

Bali volcano map showing distance from Mt Agung to Seminyak and Nusa Dua and resort areas

BALI's sacred Mt Agung continues to rumble with heightened seismic activity now rated at Level 4 - the highest alert. Several readers have asked us, "Is it safe to travel to Bali?" Some facts. On 24 September 2017, authorities called for the evacuation of all within a 9km zone that was extended to a 12km radius. The revered Besakih Temple on its flanks is closed.

While volcanic eruptions are notoriously difficult to predict, the Bali Government Tourist Office cautions against misleading posts and urged tourists (27 September 2017) to "continue visiting Bali." The agency says, "The island is safe except for areas around Mt Agung." The tourist office estimates about "50,000 to 60,000 travellers in and out of Bali Island every day."

Gunung Agung volcano last erupted in 1963 causing an estimated 1,500 deaths. Bali's Mt Agung has been considered an active volcano ever since. Find useful information at sites run by the Meteorological Climatological and Geophysical Agency (www.bmkg.go.id) and the Natural Disaster Management Authority, BNPB (www.bnpb.go.id). There is also a detailed live seismogram graph by MAGMA Indonesia displaying recorded seismic activity around Mt Agung minute by minute.

MAIN VOLCANOES

Indonesia has more active volcanoes than any other country and there have been significant eruptions in recorded history.

MT AGUNG At 3,142m Gunung Agung is a sacred volcano in Bali's northeast that last erupted in 1963.

MT MERAPI At 2,968m, and not far from Jogjakarta on the main island of Java, Gunung Merapi last erupted in October 2010. It remains an active volcano.

MT RINJANI At 3,726m this is a popular volcano for hikes and climbs in Lombok, the island neighbouring Bali to the east.

MT KRAKATAU At 813m, and known the world over as Krakatoa, this volcano grabbed international headlines with a massive eruption in August 1883. The island is between Java and Sumatra and the climbs to the top have been stopped. The volcano remains active.

MT BATUR At 1,717m, this is a sibling of Mt Agung in northeast Bali, rising from a scenic crater lake. With sulphur steam emissions growing climbs up its slopes were stopped by 2017.

MT BROMO At 2,329m this is a much photographed perfect cone in East Java. Mount Bromo last emitted ash into the air in 2015 with heightened seismic activity recorded. It's last major eruptions were in 2010 and 2011.

MT SINABUNG At 2,460m on North Sumatra, Sunabung volcano has been restless in recent times and erupted in 2010, remaining partially active since 2014 with a bigger outburst in August 2017.

AIRPORTS / FLIGHT UPDATES

Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport is open but it is worth noting that in the event of an eruption, planes cannot fly through 'radar-invisible' volcanic ash that clogs jet engines. The government is planning arrangements for passengers to be evacuated on buses via ferries if required to neighbouring islands and Java where nine airports are in a position to fly people out (or in), including facilties at Surabaya and Lombok.

Some key Bali flight status updates and/or flight cancellations are available for Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, JetStar, Virgin Australia, and Bali Airport (www.baliairport.com). Do not be misled by earlier 2015 web updates by Garuda Indonesia about flight disruptions at the time.

You can also check live air traffic into Denpasar (Bali) at Flight Radar. Another real time option is Flight Aware.

An estimated 140 ,000 persons have been evacuated (and relocated in camps and shelters across the island) while staff of the Bali Animal Welfare Association have rescued stray dogs and pets from the red zone.

AFFECTED AREAS

The area most greatly affected is the Karangasem Regency that takes in the entire east of the island roughly from Candi Dasa (and its exclusive cliff-edge resorts) to Kubu. Travel to this area is being discouraged with no travel within the immediate exclusion zone around Mt Agung. The east is less populated and has fewer resorts with a scenic drive winding through barren countryside along the volcano's flanks - this is where the 1963 eruption tossed out giant boulders and spewed ash and lava flows turning the area into a beautiful wasteland. Kubu is a jump-off point for reef and wreck dives and snorkelling trips off Tulamben. More on the area from Bali Dives.

The Unda River that flows south down the volcano's flank is being dredged in parts around Klungkung and deepened with the construction of a 350m-long dyke to help stem any possible lava flow. This river formed one of the lava channels in the 1963 eruption.

RESORT ZONES

Popular tourist spots Kuta and Seminyak are approximately 70km away to the west of the volcano and Nusa Dua is about the same distance to the south. These are the districts where most of the tourism is concentrated with luxury hotels and family resorts. At the western tip of the southern 'chicken's foot' is the revered Uluwatu monkey temple and another slew of designer resorts.

Ubud, the island's cultural heart in the central hills is just 30km away. This is also home to spectacular Bali spa resorts and honeymooner escapes in the verdant hills, rice terraces and along the sacred Ayung River. Perhaps farthest away from the volcano on the island's far northwestern shores is the former hippie haven of Pemuteran.

FERRIES

Pemuteran is not easy to access at best of times but is very close to the port of Gilimanuk from where ferries operate around the clock every half hour (more frequently in the daytime) for the 30-minute hop across to Java (Ketapang). Other ferry terminals are at Sanur, Benoa (close to Nusa Dua) and Padang Bai (in the eastern Karangasem Regency about a 40-minute drive on the coastal highway from Sanur).

ADVISORIES

Resorts say they are prepared for various contingencies. While the government has prepared for flight diversions, travel advisories focusing on insurance and travel safety (though not outright bans) have been issued by Australia (advising a 'high degree of caution' all across Indonesia, with Bali updates), Britain, and USA. Muddling the issue, some advisories are not Bali specific and have been in place for a while. Travel insurance could be an impediment for some, especially US-based travellers. While business remains somewhat fair with some cancellations, most affected are large upcoming Bali conferences and MICE events that may switch to other destinations or pull out.

HOTEL FEEDBACK

Bali Hotels Association (www.balihotelsassociation.com/news/), an umbrella body, runs regular updates on safety and security. The BHA's Ricky Putra spoke with Smart Travel Asia on 28 September 2017. "We are emphasising safety for travellers and are working closely with the government and updating information to our members," he said. By 23 October, hotels were reporting slower business but weddings and leisure travel were continuing unimpeded. The BHA has suggested to member hotels that in the event of an eruption and flight disruptions, guests be permitted to stay one day on a complimentary basis and therafter at the best available rate (BAR). It should be understood that this is a suggestion only and not legally binding. Not all hotels on the island are members of BHA. This is a position endorsed by the Bali Tourism Board as well as the Indonesian Minister for Tourism.

While not all hotels have a guest evacuation plan in place - a worrisome prospect given Bali's whimsical roads and traffic - several international chains do. Grand Hyatt Bali's livewire Ronald Nomura says his hotel "has an evacuation plan" though getting people to ferries may be complicated if the whole island gets on the move simultaneously.

Craig Seaward, general manager of the W Retreat and Spa Bali remains upbeat. "All hotels under the Marriott portfolio in Bali continue to welcome our guests and are operating normally. We do not have hotels located within the regency of Karangasem. We will continue to monitor the situation closely." This was on 26 September 2017.

Pande Sutawan of Royal Pita Maha Ubud spoke with Smart Travel Asia on 28 September 2017. "Things are on track relating to possible evacuation and alert levels and the government is actively monitoring the situation," he said. "The local community is very involved and lending a hand. While no predictions are possible all precautions are in place and travel is normal."

Just out from an evacuation drill, Ana Henriques, general manager of Mandapa, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve, spoke on a crackling line on 28 September to assure Smart Travel Asia readers the hotel was doing its utmost to stay prepared in its river valley location at Sayan (beyond Ubud on the road heading down to Denpasar). Said Henriques, "Things will mainly affect the airport. We are 45 km away from the volcano and are ready for any possible evacuation. We will help guests as much as possible." The main burden of traveller dispersal "is with the airport and the local authorities."

Singapore-based Vikram Khanna who owns the hideaway 12-villa yoga and lifestyle retreat Villa Nirvana in Penestanan, Ubud, looks at things pragmatically. Thirty kilometres from Mt Agung,, "a fair distance... we stand ready to help those who are in any way [disrupted directly] possible both financially and in kind. We do expect some disruptions in supply too so we are increasing our stocks of basic essentials like water and food as well as medical supplies." Like other resorts, Villa Nirvana is closely watching for any flight disruptions. This was the view of several resort owners and managers we spoke with.

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