Photo: Traditional fishing boats at Jepara port.


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Sleepy Jepara is a provincial seaside town on the north coast of Central Java, famous for teak furniture production and the for being the home of Indonesia’s foremost feminist hero, Raden Ajeng Kartini.

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Furniture showrooms dominate the streets to the south of town, attracting buyers from all over the world and as you wander around, you’ll notice the ubiquitous statues, artworks and business names dedicated to Kartini. A small museum in town commemorates her life and achievements and is worth a quick visit.

She’s all over town. Photo taken in or around Jepara, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

She’s all over town. Photo: Sally Arnold

The city lies roughly 75 kilometres northeast of Semarang and 185 kilometres north of Yogyakarta (140 kilometres north of Solo) and is wedged between the imposing Gunung Muria and the Java Sea. Hard to believe today, the regency was once an independent kingdom and a significant trading port, which in the 16th century sent large fleets to fight the Portuguese in Melaka. Jepara was instrumental in the spread of Islam in Java along with nearby Kudus and Demak, both which have interesting mosques, worth stopping by on your way or making a daytrip to visit.

Both the Dutch and Portuguese were stationed in the regency, and you can visit the ruins of a Dutch Fort (Benteng VOC) built in 1678, a short hike up a hill in the centre of town, however there’s not much to see as most of the stone has been plundered, but the high position offers good views over the area. Benteng Potugis, the Portuguese fort is a further 45 kilometres northeast of Jepara.

Jepara‘s port is well worth a wander. Photo taken in or around Jepara, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Jepara‘s port is well worth a wander. Photo: Sally Arnold

Jepara is popular with local tourists on weekends as a low key beach getaway. Beaches to the north and south of town offer a bit of sea and sand with some resort-style accommodation in both areas. Bandengan Beach (AKA Pantai Tirta Samudra) is the most popular for a day in the sun, but can sometimes be covered in rubbish. Pantai Kartini is home to a rather incongruous giant cement turtle—lovers of kitschy big things will have a field day! The monstrous reptile houses the Kura-Kura Ocean Park, a local style aquarium with a few fishtanks including turtles and reef sharks in somewhat smallish conditions. The esplanade here (not much of a beach) is lined with warungs serving local fresh seafood and on weekends the area comes alive with kiddie fairground rides and stalls. From Pantai Kartini you can take a 15-minute boat ride to nearby Pulau Panjang for 20,000 rupiah return. Boats operate 08:00 to 16:000 daily.

Despite its scenic setting, the main reason for visiting Jepara is to catch the boat to the Karimunjawa Islands which lie some 80 kilometres further to the north in the middle of the Java Sea. Boats depart from the port at Pantai Kartini early enough that most travellers find it convenient to overnight it in Jepara. Although there’s adequate accommodation options in Jepara, folks coming from Semarang or Yogyakarta will find it comparatively pricey.

Jepara‘s turtle is impressive at all hours. Photo taken in or around Jepara, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Jepara‘s turtle is impressive at all hours. Photo: Sally Arnold

Occasionally weather conditions delay or cancel boats, but there’s enough to do in the area to keep you busy for a day. In the city itself we enjoyed wandering along the Sungai Wiso to the traditional harbour where you can see the hundreds of colourful kapal sopek (traditional fishing boats) crowding the waters.

Out of town there are waterfalls to explore and it’s possible to climb Gunung Muria (1,602 metres), a local pilgrimage site, dotted with graves and shrines, including famously the mausoleum of Sunan Muria one of the “wali songo” or nine Isalmic saints said to have bought Islam to Java. Candi Angin (Temple of the wind) is an ancient Hindu temple believed to predate Borobudur located on the slopes of Gunung Muria in Tempur village.

Pantai Kartini has potential yet to be fully exploited... Photo taken in or around Jepara, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Pantai Kartini has potential yet to be fully exploited... Photo: Sally Arnold

Alternatively you could catch up on work at Jepara Digital Valley, a local co-working space set in an open joglo next door to Sriya Cafe. If you’re stuck for things to do, the helpful Tourist Information Centre next to Museum RA Kartini speak good English and are full of suggestions.

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Jepara’s main centre sits between two rivers, Sungai Wiso, and Sungai Kanal with the bus terminal in the middle of town and the ferry port, two kilometres away to the west at Pantai Kartini. ATMs are dotted around town, with a cluster along Jalan Pemuda. If you are heading to Karimunjawa and only have a Visa card, cash up before you leave as the one ATM on the island only accepts MaterCard.

As always, very friendly people. Photo taken in or around Jepara, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

As always, very friendly people. Photo: Sally Arnold

Rumah Sakit Graha Husada is a private hospital in the centre of town, and RSU RA Kartini is the town’s public hospital to the south.

Jepara Digital Valley: Jalan Kusumo Utoyo, Jepara (cnr Jalan Dr. Sutomo, next to Sriya Cafe); T: (0815) 819 3592
Rumah Sakit Graha Husada: 14 Jalan MH Thamrin, Jepara; T: (0291) 597 806, (0291) 597 807
RSU RA Kartini : 175 Jalan KH Wachid Hasyim, Jepara; T: (0291) 591 175;
TIC Jepara: 1 Jalan Alun-alun, Jepara; T: (0291) 591 169;


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