Giant Seashells and Disappearing Islands: Belitung, Sumatra

A hard pattering resounded from the earth. Rain. Heavy rain drops plummeted down from the sky and turned the brown dry earth into brown sludgy mud. The wind barged through the palm trees, bending them backwards with its force. Large palm leaves snapped off and fell to the ground. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned bungalow, Jack and I huddled and waited for the storm to pass over Pulau Burung; Bird Island.

Pulau Burung

Pulau Burung

It was another half an hour before the rain subsided. Raindrops continued to drizzle from the sky, but despite the unfavourable conditions, we decided to persevere and move on to our next island destination, so we waited on the shore for our Captain to manoeuvre the boat round to our side of the island. The air was cool now; the rain feeling like tiny sprinkles of ice on our skin. Expecting the sea to be just as cold, we cautiously edged our toes to the water. The surf lapped at our feet and we were met with a most welcome surprise, the sea was warm. Deliciously warm. Jack jumped into the shallows and fully immersed himself in the snug waters, like a hot bath after a harsh winters’ day.
A few minutes later our semi-toothless Captain arrived and it was onto our next and final island destination, Pulau Pasir (Sand Island) – also known as ‘the disappearing island’.

We sailed back towards our island of Pulau Kepayang and stopped a few hundred metres away from it. The misty rain persisted, but the sea which had been a ferocious wolf-grey before, was now slowly returning to its natural aqua colour. Our Captain anchored the boat. At first I wondered why we had stopped here – all I could see was the wide ocean; we were completely besieged by open water. And then, a small distance away from us, a drift of sand surfaced from the water. A stark white island, perhaps not even ten metres long, had emerged – entirely independent, it cheekily peeked out amongst an expanse of turquoise sea. A few starfish had discovered the secret and were happily sunbathing on the small bank the mysterious island provided.
‘It only appears at low tide,’ our Captain explained to Jack in Indonesian. ‘Otherwise the island is completely underwater. When the weather is better, it’s covered in starfish.’

In spite of the rain, Jack and I were eager to go and sit on the tiny island for a while – the chance of standing on a disappearing island (that could quite possibly be the smallest island in the world as well) was overwhelmingly tempting.  The sea was surprisingly shallow – we clambered out of the boat and walked through the sea to the island. It felt very surreal, almost like a Magritte painting, walking through the water when we were so far out to sea.
In the midst of rain and accompanied by our new starfish friends, we perched on the shore of the island and basked in the warm waves in the middle of the ocean.

the storm

the storm

on teeny tiny Pulau Pasir, the disappearing island

on teeny tiny Pulau Pasir, the disappearing island

We returned to our home island of Pulau Kepayang and walked through the now slushy, damp jungle back to our bungalow. A nap and a plate of calamari later, it was now the calm after the storm. The sky, diffusing its grey rage, began to compose itself and the sea reassumed its prior friendlier disposition. Air damp and tide now out, we decided to go and comb the length of the beach that lead from outside our bungalow.

As we walked the length of the island’s coastline, we encountered a trove of washed-up sea treasures and creatures. The air hung with a secretive silence, with only the clicking sounds of some scuttling crabs accompanying our soft treading. The tide was now drawn far out, revealing a hidden city of green, sharp rocks with tiny white, almost transparent fish darting around them in the shallows. Palm-sized crabs would guard their homes and grumpily hide in the crevices each time I tried to get close and take a picture. Rocks were marked with the swirls and squiggles of current-erosion and the surrounding, twisted trees were bleached terracotta, umber and indigo from high tide waters.
The shore was laden with seashells, and being the crazy, certified shell-finding expert lady I am (and thanks to Jack’s boundless patience) it was a must that I inspected each and every shell that caught my inquisitive eye. Time and time again I would be distracted by a small protruding corner, or some coralline ridges partly hidden by the sand and would go to investigate further, which usually resulted in being on my hands and knees, connecting with my inner dog and digging and digging until I uncovered the specimen from the depths of the beach. Some seashells were a pearly white, some were mottled with the green and grey of the sea. Most were at least the size of my foot, and a few hidden gems were bigger than my head – real, washed up sea sages, perhaps hundreds of years old, hailing from the deep fathoms of the ocean.







some as big as your head

some as big as your head

I had stopped for a few minutes to excavate what seemed to be a sandy hub of seashells and coral before I realised Jack was no longer in my vision. Where’s he gone? I thought to myself. With a raised eyebrow and curious feet, I continued along the shore and was instantly confronted by a gargantuan granite rock, around eight metres high. Whoa. In awe, I slowly tip toed round it, only to be struck with fear and excitement when Jack pounced out from behind it.

The rock was accompanied by a second, equally mammoth, slanted granite rock sitting behind it. A small passageway snaked between them, and being the curious cats we are, Jack and I decided to enter the shrouded path and see where it lead to. In the middle of the thin passage, a boulder had fallen and had become lodged midway between the granite. A few goofy poses with the stuck boulder proved irresistible before we finished our exploration and made our way to the curve of the coastline’s end.





Mr. Crab trying to hide away from me

Mr. Crab trying to hide away from me


*Tune in next time, for our final day in Belitung, Sumatra, turtles and for an unidentified, mysterious sea animal…

Go Go Go!

Island Hopping: Renting a boat to island hop around Belitung is very easy. With our accommodation with Belitung Adventure on Pulau Kepayang, we were able to rent a boat and see five different islands for Rp. 400,000 (at the time of writing, approx. £20).



  1. Those are some really big shells! the place is very beautiful. great snaps!

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