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There aren’t many better ways to wake up than to sip ginger coffee as the sun crests Kelimutu’s western rim, filtering mist into the sky and revealing three deep, volcanic lakes – nicknamed the tri-coloured lakes because for years each one was a different striking shade. Kelimutu National Park remains a Nusa Tenggara must. It is spectacular even though at research time there were two turquoise lakes – one with flecks of rust, while the third was dark green, but from the right angle looked like black glass. The colours are so dense that the lakes seem the thickness of paint. It’s thought that dissolving minerals (a process that can accelerate in the rainy season) account for the chameleonic colour scheme – although one of the turquoise lakes never changes, the others fluctuate to countless shades of yellow, orange, red and brown. The summit’s moonscape gives Kelimutu an ethereal atmosphere, especially when clouds billow across the craters and sunlight shafts burn luminescent pinpoints to the water’s surface.
Kelimutu is sacred to local people, and legend has it that the souls of the dead migrate here: young people’s souls go to the warmth of Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai (Turquoise Lake), old people’s to the cold of Tiwu Ata Polo (Brown Lake) and those of the wicked to Tiwi Ata Mbupu (Black Lake).
Ever since locals led early Dutch settlers here, sightseers have made the sunrise trek. Today there’s a sealed road up to the lakes from Moni, 13.5km away at the base of the mountain. Visit in the rainy season or in the afternoon and you will probably have Kelimutu to yourself, but pray for a sunny day – the turquoise lakes reach full brilliance in the sunlight.
There’s a staircase up to the highest lookout, Inspiration Point, from where all three lakes are visible. It’s not advisable to scramble around the craters’ loose scree. The footing’s so bad and the drop so steep, a few careless hikers have perished here.