Sumatra, Indonesia

Sipiso Piso Falls

Karo Plateau

Sumatra in western Indonesia is the largest island (of the many thousands that the country is comprised of) and is also the sixth largest island in the world at 473,481 km sq. It has a huge variety of plant and animal species and although during the past 35 years it has lost 50% of its tropical rainforest it still remains a wet place with a lot of vegetation, lakes, mountains, volcanoes, hot springs and waterfalls.

The land that time forgot

One of the many waterfalls or Air Terjun as they are known in Bahasa Indonesia scattered around the island is a truly remarkable waterfall known as Sipiso piso ('like a knife'). It is located in the Batak highlands at the far northern edge of Lake Toba which it runs into at the small Kampung or village of Tongging. You can reach this waterfall from Tongging which is about 5km's away or from Berastagi which is 45km's away.

Rainbow at vapours end

It is formed from a small underground river that comes from within the Karo Plateau and hurtles with great speed and force out of a cave in the Lake Toba caldera walls 120m (360ft) to what can only be described as a dangerous plunge pool. Sipiso piso falls is known as the highest in Indonesia due to this sheer drop being without tiers or levels as other falls may have.

Ethereal plunge pool

Another impressive waterfall and just one of the many cascading down the lush green mountain sides of mid-west lake Toba is Sampuran Falls also known as Sampuran Efrata Falls (efrata is waterfall in Batak language). The falls have a number of levels which you can see from miles away that descend a few hundred metres down the mountainside but are difficult to reach, the main falls that are more easily accessible are well worth the visit and I can assure you no-one in their right mind would be disappointed.

Sampuran Efrata Falls

At the base of Sampuran Falls

Sampuran Efrata Falls are situated below Tele, you have to take the hairpin bends down the mountainside which offers stunning picturesque views as you descend of Lake Toba, Samosir Island and Gunung Pusit Bukit until you reach a small village on the shores of Toba called Harian Boho. From there you take a rough road back up the hillside meandering through fields of paddy and sweetcorn, coffee plantations and the likes until you see the sign for Sampuran Efrata Falls. Alternatively if you are in Pangururan on Samosir Island just go over the bridge onto the mainland and head for Harian Boho that way. 

Simply Magical

Over in Sumatra Barat or West Sumatra about 50km's or 30miles away from the hill town of Bukittinggi (Bukit = Hill, Tinggi = High) there is the rugged Harau Valley where cliffs covered in foliage loom high up above ones head (excellent climbing country) and waterfalls are in abundance.

Harau Valley Falls

In Harau Valley there are a total of five waterfalls all of which all are quite high but not of the gushing torrent type. They are more slender and elegant if you like, wispy and cascading. As you pass through the entrance gate where you pay a small fee of around 1000 INR you will hit a village and a junction, the road to the left has one waterfall and the road to the right contains 4 waterfalls and here the valley is tighter. The road is only motorable for a certain distance then you are on foot. Three waterfalls are in close proximity to one another but about 500m further on from these you will find the best one of all.

Base of the falls

What interested me the most about the waterfalls in Harau Valley were at the base where the more impressive cascading took place with the impact upon the rocks being much more ideal for my style of long exposure photography when it comes to waterfalls.

Long exposure work


There are many more waterfalls in the Bukittinggi area if you enquire as to their whereabouts. One very close to town which I attempted to visit known as Bodorai at the village of Sungai Puar which is on the forested slopes of Mount Merapi or Gunung Merapi as it's known in Indonesian was closed due heavy rains at this time of year. At the end of the motorable road you must walk a further 3km's but the way had become treacherous.

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