My Rhino Road Trip: Hiking UKNP’s Peninsula Trail

This is my last adventure of this road trip. It promises to be strenuous as I will join one of the Rhino Protection Units (RPU) on a hike along the peninsula trail of Ujung Kulon National (UKNP). Our objective was to reach the location where a new guard post is to be built to protect rhinos along the coast.

But first, I had to get there. Luckily, our marine patrol boat was at the ready. It picked me up and took me from my home stay across the strait to the near side of the peninsula. UKNP is a beautiful park that comes down from the forested highlands to a flat land area that just right out into the Indian Ocean. Rhinos like to come onto the beaches to get salt that they need for their diets.

Marine Patrol Boat ready to take me

The Marine Patrol Unit patrols this area of the peninsula’s coastline as the waters are calmer. Still they can’t go all the way to shore as it is too shallow. I had to transfer to their smaller, speedier boat know as a “ketinting boat”. Once on shore, we set out, crossing the Javan Rhino Conservation and Study Area, a special zone in the park towards the other shore.

Inov, IRF’s Indonesia Program Manager, leads the way to shore

The Marine Patrol Unit is unable to patrol this area. The waters are rough and large waves continuously break against the beach. As such, it must be patrolled by foot. The peninsula trails follows along the coastline and there are breaks in the foliage where you can see the beautiful ocean views. Throughout my time on the trail, I could always hear the waves crashing in the distance.

The trail is not particularly hilly but it was challenging to get through the mud of the rainy season which also left the vegetation thick. There were plenty of downed trees to scrabble over as well. The RPUs did all of this with easy and had incredible patience for their visitor as I tread carefully and slogged through mud that I thought might swallow me whole.

It was all worth it. At some points on the trail the path was narrow and the plants and trees closed in on me. I felt like they were giving me a hug and I thanked them for letting me pass through their homes. At some points the trail opened up and the high canopy both awed and shaded me. I passed through wild banana trees and under Arenga palm trees where no other plants can grow.

The RPUs made me a walking stick that saved me many times on the trail

We stopped to rest at several locations with beautiful views, but my favorite is this one:

Traditional Gateway to UKNP

This tree is known by locals as the gateway to UKNP. It is not only a gateway to the interior of the park, but one they believe is a portal to the animal and spiritual worlds. I felt a great energy at this stop – one where I was walking where many have before both human and animal. It gave me strength to continue on towards our destination.

The reward for the hike was coming out to an unspoiled and empty beach. Wow! I was able to put my feet in the Indian Ocean, this would be my third ocean that I could feel the sand and water.

Spectacular sunset on the beach.

The area of the guard post has been cleared. The next step may be harder than actually building the post. All construction materials, including the wood for the structure and the sand bags to make concrete will have to be manually carried to the location along the path I just hiked. It is difficult for me to fathom how hard this will be since I could barely carry myself and my light day pack. Through their dedication, rhinos will be safer in this area.

Site of the new guard post area just off the beach

I spent the night at the RPU’s temporary camp. I sat around a fire, enjoying rice and eggs that they had cooked on the open fire. We shared stories. I was interested in their adventures – had they seen a Javan rhino? They were interested in life back in the United States. I thankfully accepted their jabs at my hiking struggles, laughing along with them at my rookie mistakes.

I slept on a mat and some palm fronds under a mosquito net for my protection. Waves rolling onto the nearby beach lulled me to sleep. I awoke at daylight ready to hike back out. The sun was up and strong and it was going to be a hot day for the track back. It was still muddy, and I had to laugh as my challenges began again. Reaching the other coast and seeing the patrol boat off in the distance, I let out a sigh of accomplishment. I made it.

But I had to wait. It was low tide and even the ketinting could not make it to shore. “So, how do feel about wading out in the shallows to the boat,” I was asked. My boots were muddy. I was hot and sweaty. A dip sounded quite nice, and my adventure would be extended for a few moments more.

Thank you to everyone who made my adventure so special!

Thank you for following along on Chris’s Rhino Road Trip throughout Indonesia. Please enjoy the rest of the series:

Bogor, Indonesia

Taman Safari

The Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary

Seeing Community Development in Action

A Trip Down Way Kanan River

Planting a Tree in the Rainforest

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