There is very much a standard tourist route through Java - you WILL go Jakarta-Bandung-Jogjakarta-Bromo-Bali. On this visitor freeway, options and information abound, but dare to take an off-ramp and prepare for an information drought – even Jogja tour operators who sold Karimunjawa packages turned out to be near useless on the specifics of ferry tickets and other details.
The solution, as ever, is to simply point towards your destination and move forwards. The closer you get, the better the information becomes and it's always a fun journey.
Comparing notes with other travellers when I reached Karimunjawa, all had the same experience. This then, is an intentionally DULL "practicalities" post for a Jogjakarta–Semarang–Jepara–Karimunjawa journey, as at September 2013, in the hope that others may find the information useful.
The most frequent ferry services to Karimunjawa depart from Jepara, so step one was to get there. I was short of time on this trip, so went super luxury for my Jogjakarta to Jepara journey, starting with Jogslosemar executive shuttle bus. It's a slick, well-run operation – you'll get a comfy (though full) AC minivan, plus an entirely superfluous but well-received cake/cup of water. In theory there are pickups from selected Jogja locations included in the 70,000 IDR ticket price, but check and re-check – a lazy night clerk at Hotel Oryza on Jalan Sosrowijayan sold me a ticket but didn't bother calling Jogslosemar to book me in.
Starting from the Joglosemar shiny corporate terminal/office at Km 5.6 on Jalan Magelang, a pleasant and scenic journey took us up and over Java's volcanic spine before dropping down into the port city of Semarang. My 11am weekday departure from Jogjakarta took 3h 20m, though other options are available – I've seen at least one blog post taking about direct shuttles from Jombor terminal in Jogja all the way to Jepara. And, of course, there will be cheaper, slower local buses to Semarang.
Jogslosemar operate a single drop-off point in Semarang - the Tourist Information Centre on Jalan Pemuda (good Warung next door). Luckily for the Karimunjawa-bound, this is precisely where you need to be for the nice people at Central Java Transporter (CJT).
My driver had already called ahead and checked that CJT had a shuttle going to Jepara at 3pm (Thanks also to fellow passenger Sita for her help and advice!) The TIC at Semarang was being refurbished as at September 2013, and (then) was in a temporary office down the side of the building. Helpful staff weren't able to make reservations for me, but did check with Bahari Express (the ferry company) that the scheduled boat was running and that there was plenty of space. They also have a useful up-to-date Karimunjawa leaflet including village map, as well as some outdated accommodation flyers.
The CJT shuttle (35,000 IDR) took 2 hours exactly from Semarang to Jepara, dropping at Hotel Segoro. Note that Central Java Transporter also have a ticket office at Hotel Segoro for booking return tickets to Semarang/onward.
Overnight in Jepara
Hotel Segoro was clean and friendly, if a little dull, but the AC "biznis" rooms (150,000 IDR inc tax, western toilet/mandi) don't come with a mozzie net, so prepare to be devoured overnight. The hotel had the sum total of two large Bintangs in stock, so it was "challenge accepted!" and I can now honestly say I have literally drunk a bar dry single-handed (at the super expensive cost of 38,500 rupiah per bottle). I took a becak out to the alun alun warungs to eat, but as I wandered back spotted a new resto close to Hotel Segoro, which looked very expat focused (I think it was on the west side of Jalan Veteran, just North of the double roundabout outside Hotel Segoro).
Buying Karimunjawa ferrytickets in Jepara
From Hotel Segoro it is approx 1.5 km to the Bahari Express ferry ticket office on Jalan Suryani (between Hotel Segoro and the ferry terminal) which opened at 8am sharp (I know, I was waiting), with tickets for that day's sailing 109,000 IDR. One of the travellers I hung out with on Karimunjawa rocked up at the harbour 15 minutes before departure and WAS able to buy a ticket and board immediately.
My information is limited to the Bahari Express fast boats, though there is the slow ferry KMP Muria as well, shuttling back and forth, approx 6 hours, one journey per day, Fridays off. Bahari Express fast ferries depart from Jepara's Kartini port, at the terminal about 200m South East of the giant plastic turtle (yes, really) visible on Google Earth. Bahari Express have TWO boats on the Jepara-Karimunjawa run.
As at September 2013, this was the timetable, as displayed in the window of the Karimunjawa ticket office.
Outwards, I was on Express Cantika 89: 11am on-time departure, ice-cold aircon and LOTS of longitudinal roll even in calm seas – if you are prone to motion sickness this will not be a pleasant ride.
As advertised, journey was pretty much exactly 2 hours. The rear open deck was fun at first, but we were sensibly thrown off it after a few minutes - even in relatively calm seas it would have been a man-overboard factory at full speed. So, nothing to do but return below, regret that the hoodie is at the bottom of a pile of rucksacks and settle down to watch the in-wave movie which, helpfully was an Indonesia Telenovella style romantic drama set on, wait for it – Karimunjawa!
My stay in Karimunjawa was extended by one day as all ferries were cancelled due to "big waves." Lazing around that day on Nirvana Beach, the sea beyond the reef was choppy rather than stormy, so clearly the two fast ferries have a fairly narrow operational window - travellers with tight schedules beware...
Salma Dive Shop operator Noor Khoir is also a Coastguard official, and was extremely helpful with information re: ferries and local conditions, so please do try and use his tours/services if possible.
Buying return tickets on Karimunjawa
The Bahari Express Ticket office is just outside the ferry terminal on the right, BEFORE the left hand turn for the long straight road into the village - see google map here for exact location marker. On the weekday I needed to use it, it was open from 9am, and was closed by 4pm the day before.
My return leg 5 days' later was on Express Bahari 2C - warmer and FAST - 1h 45m for the Karimunjawa to Jepara journey
The group I was travelling with arranged a Central Java Transporter van from Jepara direct to Jogjakarta for 109,000 IDR each. Their office was able to deal with a telephone booking in English, were happy to reconfirm on the day by SMS, and turned up on time at the port (we arrived early). We thought we were booking a private bus, but it turned out to be shared, and rather than direct, it was just a handover to the Joglosemar bus at Semarang, where there was a 75 minute wait.
A different route - Semarang to Karimunjawa
On the day I left Karimunjawa there was also a ferry service direct to Semarang harbour. Noor Khoir described this as a "medium" ferry - faster than KMP Muria, but not as fast as the Jepara route as it was a slower boat that cruised at 16/17 knots. He said the trip was approx 4 hours. I do not have schedule information for this.
As Karimunjawa increases in popularity with both foreign and domestic tourists, ferry services do seem to be increasing in frequency e.g. I did not expect there to be two fast boats on the Jepara-Karimunjawa run. The information above will no-doubt date quickly, but should be of some use.