Owabong, an acronymic name for “Bojongsari water tourism object” in Bahasa Indonesia, is indeed a unique tourist site. True to its name, Owabong offers entertainment all connected with water, and is a suitable place for water lovers. The recreation center located in Bojongsari village of Purbalingga regency, Central Java, offers a variety of aquatic games and entertainment, including a swimming pool, a water slide and a miniature river.
The tourism destination, which cost as much as Rp 13 billion in its construction, is special because it is the only one of its kind to be found in the province.
Further, Owabong is popular among tourists because it makes use of the pristine natural water that gushes from local springs.
Visitors can swim to their hearts’ content at various depths. They can also go boating or simply sit idly while splashing water with their kids.
Opened in 2003 by then regent Triyono Budi Sasongko, Owabong is always full of tourists, especially domestic ones. About 90 percent of these tourists are from outside Purbalingga.
At Rp 12,000 per person over 5 years of age, the entrance tickets are beyond the reach of many local residents, and Owabong generally caters to well-heeled families. But the facility has its own attraction because despite its modern structure and design, it is located in a cool and airy rural area with boundless amounts of water.
On holidays and weekends, as well as over extended holidays such as school holidays and Idul Fitri, visitors form a queue to enter Owabong. During such periods, Owabong welcomes as many as 15,000 visitors daily.
“I often visit (Owabong) because it is a suitable tourist destination for the family. The facilities here are not located far from one another so it isn’t be tiring for visitors… Besides, children like it here because it has all kinds of water games,” said Suparmi, 45, from Purwokerto, who added that she had visited Owabong with her family about five times.
As for the ticket price, Suparmi said it was natural that this was expensive, because Owabong offered complete and excellent facilities.
Purbalingga resident Toto, 37, commented: “Well, the people around Owabong are poor. Although Owabong is an imposing water tourism site located in a village, most of the villagers can only watch from outside, as the ticket is too expensive for them.”
Before it was turned into the tourist site it is today, Owabong used to be a public swimming pool that drew its water supply from a nearby spring. Local residents, particularly children, used to enjoy swimming in the clear and fresh water for a mere Rp 1,000.
“Today, they can no longer do so. Locals are now like children who cry when their toys are taken away. The tourist site is now monopolized by the well-off, and the poor locals are powerless to take it back,” Toto said.
Tourism head Sugeng Priyanto of the Purbalingga culture and tourism office said that local residents had long known of the existence of the springs in Bojongsari.
“The springs were discovered during the Dutch colonial times. It used to be a bathing place for those Dutch who had happened to take local women as their wives,” Sugeng said.
The bathing area, which occupied about 8 hectares of land, was later purchased by a foundation in Purbalingga and turned into a public swimming pool. The pool was unique, Sugeng said, because the water came from seven local springs and did not require any chemical treatment.
In 2003, the swimming pool was bought by the regental administration and turned into a tourism destination.
“The establishment of Owabong was prompted by a desire to increase local earnings in the present era of regional autonomy,” Sugeng said.
He agreed that the entrance ticket was expensive, but added that the management of Owabong had been delegated to a third party. The tourism service, he said, could no longer interfere in its operation.
“We act only as a supervisor. At most, we can give the management some input and alert them when local residents give us unfavorable input,” he said.
“We also do not know how much money Owabong generates. We get nothing from this income. The management deposits the money directly to the regional treasury,” he added.
The Purbalingga administration, Sugeng said, had set a target of Rp 1 billion this year for Owabong.
“I’m sure this target can be reached,” he said. “In 2006, the target of Rp 1.25 billion was reached and I believe the real income was far above this figure.”
Meanwhile, Owabong manager Hartono said that only a few Purbalingga residents visited the facility, perhaps because they had become bored of the place.
“I’m sure the ticket price is not the reason why so few of them come here. Perhaps locals are used to water so they don’t see anything special about this site,” Hartono said.
On Saturdays and Sundays, he said, Owabong saw an average of 3,500 tourists. “On other days, only about 500 to 700 people come here,” he added.
There is usually a boom of between 10,000 and 13,000 tourists a day during extended holidays, and in just 10 months, Hartono said, Owabong was able to attain the revenue target set by the local administration.
“The remaining income is for the management and we will use it for renovation and for installing new facilities. We plan to add two new games or entertainment facilities every year,” he said.
The management plans to introduce a new game this year, in which players must deal with the challenges of a tsunami.
Some of the recreational facilities that can be found at Owabong include a 13-meter-high water slide and an Olympic-size swimming pool, as well as water therapy and a wave pool, complete with kayaks and life vests. In addition, a go-cart circuit is provided for more earth-bound, automotive fans.
One facility to watch out for is a giant pail that dumps water on passersby every three minutes — especially if they walk under it.
Owabong also offers fishing — with bare hands — as well as water see-saws, water-slide races, banana boats, water-cycles, a game pool and a sheltered rest area where visitors can sit or lie down to relax.