One of the best things about living in Balikpapan is the stupendous, completely original, I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-do-this-on-a-regular-basis! cycling here. One recent experience was a group ride from Balikpapan’s Kampung Baru (also known as “Water Village”) to Penajam, a village across the Balikpapan Bay, where back roads lead through idyllic little plantations of tapioca, water farms filled with fish, crab and shrimp, and ultimately a wide, sandy beach where tourists haven’t yet caught on to what’s on offer.
This is an excellent ride for those who may feel intimidated by Balikpapan’s uber hilly terrain. Penajam is mostly flat, the roads are relatively wide, and really the only thing that you need to worry about is the heat (wear lots of sunscreen!) … and be sure to have plenty of water on hand. There are stalls at both the beginning and end points of the journey where water, soda and juice can be purchased, so make sure you have plenty of liquids to get you at least through a one-way leg.
How to catch a boat from Kampung Baru to Penajam
The easiest way to reach the water taxis is to arrive at the parking lot/angkot (public mini bus) station just outside called “Pelabuhan Speed, Kampung Baru Tengah” (translates to “Speedboat terminal at middle Kampung Baru”).
From the parking lot, follow the narrow alley that leads over the water where little shops line the left side and a fish market is on your right. Keep going until you must turn left or right; turn left and you’ll see a small ticket office on your right just before the pier leading out to little blue boats. Purchase a ticket at the ticket office (make sure you specify Penajam as there are other destinations as well), load your bike and self onto the boat assigned (they are all numbered, so it’s easy) and … off you go!
The boat ride itself is great fun; so much so that I forgot to time it, but I’d hazard a guess it lasted about thirty minutes. Fare for the regular boats to Penajam totals 15,000 IDR per person (no extra for the bike), but if you want to use a speedboat, which is also available at this same terminal, the price is higher.
An unexpected bonus for the regular ferry ticket purchase? It comes with life insurance! Perhaps not the most reassuring of facts, but to us, it was at least amusing.
Cycling Directions from Penajam Wharf
Once you’re in Penajam, just follow the main road (“Jalan Penajam Kuaro” a/k/a “Jalan Propinsi”) out of town for a little over seven kilometers, then hang a left as shown in the map above. This side road will then take you down to a bizarrely well-developed wide, two-way asphalt highway that no one uses as it is apparently built to lead to a bridge that will cross the bay to Balikpapan, but completion of said project looks dubious.
Take a right on the highway-to-nowhere and continue south, then veer left just before the river. You’ll cross a bridge that appears still somewhat under construction, then through water farms until you veer right down a dirt road that parallels the beach.
Just follow that until you can’t go any further without crossing a rather sewage-looking creek and you’ve cycled about 24 kilometers and reached the turnaround point! Several stalls along the beach sell snacks, instant coffee, bottled water and sodas if you feel like taking a little coffee break.
Getting Back to the Penajam Ferry Terminal
For return, you can reverse your path (we did) or head right up one of the side roads to reach the main road once more, Jalan Penajam Kuaro. But if you stick to the coast like we did, most of the ride is fairly flat. The nice thing is that, due to the small size of the town and the fact that the main road parallels the entire ride, it is quite difficult to get lost! Once at the Penajam Wharf, just buy your return ticket to Kampung Baru for the same amount (15,000 IDR) and you’re headed home with the wind in your hair and some pretty cool views.
Tasty Travel Tip
If you’re in the mood for lunch before heading back on the boat, there is a great Indonesian seafood restaurant on the right, just a little after turning back onto the main road, called Pondok Ikan Bakar Asian. Fresh squeezed lime juice, grilled fish, steamed rice, sauteed water spinach, barbecue kampung chicken, freshly made sambal served on a sizzling plate…. Mmm, mmm!