Prigi on the south coast of East Java is a beautiful unspoilt place to enjoy fine beaches, fresh seafood and a picturesque setting on a bay protected from the Indian Ocean.
If you’ve got a few days to spend and don’t mind an adventurous drive from Surabaya, Prigi and the surrounding areas offer an idyllic hideaway stay on East Java’s Indian Ocean coastline. Prigi offers the visitor that postcard picture view of a tropical island paradise to rival anything in East Java.
Taking the road southwest of Surabaya, you drive through Mojokerto, Jombang, Kediri and down to Tulungagung. Drive on some 20 kilometres westward towards Trenggalek, and at the small staging post of Durenan, turn south. Here, the traffic on the roads abates and the scenery improves. As you wind your way down from Durenan through the villages of Bandung and Watulimo, the views change from the mesmerizing flatness of fluorescent green rice paddies to the ruggedness of limestone hills peppered with caves. En route at Watuagung you can stop off and explore the Goa Lowo caves, which offer a rather mystical experience of the Earth’s nether regions.
The drive becomes steeper as your car climbs ever higher to the rim of mountains, hiding the steep descent to the ocean below. Although the surface of the roads could be better, the panorama of views is stunning; great sweeps of steep, cultivated land spiralling ever downwards towards the ocean.
At last we come down to sea level and reach the small town of Prigi, busy in a quiet way with its fishing port and the hordes of brightly painted perahu (wooden boats) moored alongside. Here you are in a calm, sheltered bay looking outwards to the wilder Indian Ocean. Prigi’s town beach, known as Pantai Prigi, is an enormous crescent of sand rimmed by rows of coconut palms. It is also a centre for the cottage industry of dried fish processing, and as far as the eye can see, bamboo tikar (mats) are laid out along the bank, on which neatly arranged rows of anchovies dry in the sun. The smell is rich and intoxicating. The view, though, is splendid. The simple beachside restaurants offer a good variety of fish: mackerel, tuna, red snapper, barracuda, sea bass and pomfret, freshly drawn from the sea at prices which will make your mouth water.
There is accommodation in Prigi town, but a better, more scenic location is found some five kilometres round the southwest peninsular; the pretty little road via a colourful local market to the left and through a state teak forest, past the Pasir Putih Beach, popular with Sunday trippers from Trenggalek and Tulungagung, and onwards to the tiny hamlet of Karanggongso. Here, almost cut off from Prigi by the forest, the locals have a life distinct from the town and it seems that all males from their early teens find lucrative work fishing here.
Karanggongso Beach is scattered with boat craft, ranging from small canoes carved from a single tree trunk, to the larger, pretty perahu adorned in their splendid livery of primary colours. The beach is safe to swim at and the several small rock outcrops in the bay add interest to the scene. At sunset, the shimmering water speckled with boats reminds one of Venice and its gondolas. Rows of colourful bamboo houses built in the traditional style give the place a timeless quality, and the local inhabitants seem very relaxed and far removed from the pace of the city.
Pondok Prigi Cottages, in two locations along the length of the Karanggongso Beach, offer a range of attractive accommodation to suit all budgets. Number I has the added attraction of a restaurant, air conditioning and speed boats for hire, while Number II is more secluded and rustic. Warungs are to be found at Karanggongso beach (be sure to try the smoked mackerel which is skewered on sticks and smoked whilst you wait), and a wider choice of food is available along the length of the main town beach, Pantai Prigi.
For the energetic, a 20-minute walk from Pondok Prigi II down the Karanggongso beach towards the heads, over outcrops of fallen rocks and occasionally up off the sand along a dirt track, takes you to the most exquisite little cove. With its bleached white sand and over-hanging trees, it offers a welcome respite from the relentless sun – and this is an excellent spot for a swim or a secluded picnic.
A very fine beach with safe swimming is Pantai Damas, across the bay from Karanggongso Beach and easily reached by car in about 20 minutes. It’s considered remote by domestic tourists, so you will have it to yourself. The road leading to it takes you through carpets of green rice paddy fields and over a steep hillside, offering fantastic views as you descend to the bay.
If ever you doubted East Java’s beauty, here is a place of perfect tranquillity amid picturesque scenery to restore the most jaded of souls.
Trenggalek, East Java
Five hours’ drive southwest from Surabaya, or take a Surabaya-Trenggalek bus to Durenan alight there, and take a ‘Colt’ minibus to Prigi.
Pondok Prigi Cottages I & II, Jl. Pantai Karanggongso, Prigi, Watulimo Tel: (0355) 551187
Depot Lumintu (ex-Hong), Pantai Prigi