Halmahera, Morotai

Morotai

Morotai

A minor Japanese base during WWII, Morotai leapt to prominence when it was captured by the Allies and used to bomb Manila to bits. That was the sadly destructive fulfilment of General MacArthur’s ‘I will return’ pledge to retake the Philippines. Among the Japanese defenders who retreated to Morotai’s crumpled mountain hinterland was the famous Private Nakamura: only in 1973 did he discover that the war was over. A WWII US amphibious tank still lies rusting in a hidden palm grove, a five-minute ojek ride behind Morotai’s village capital Daruba. There are attractive palm-backed fishing beaches along the narrow Nefelves Peninsula, stretching south from Daruba. But for better beaches explore the array of offshore islands in Morotai’s sparkling turquoise waters. With a decent longboat (400,000Rp to 750,000Rp) you can make a great day trip combining Pulau Zum Zum, Pulau Kolorai, and the idyllic and uninhabited Pulau Dodola.

Speedboats leave Tobelo (Halmahera) for Morotai (100,000Rp, two hours) at 8am, 9am and 10am, and there’s a kapal motor at 1pm (50,000Rp, four hours). They return at the same times.

Halmahera, Tidor, Soasio

Halmahera, Tidor,  Soasio

Click to Enlarge !

Soasio-800

Above the southernmost edge of Tidore’s capital, Soasio, lies the sparse, overgrown remnants of Benteng Tohula, Tidore’s 17th-century Spanish fort. This is exactly what you want from a ruin – overgrown, crumbling fortress walls and spectacular views of Halmahera and Soasio. You’ll have to navigate the reasonably sturdy wooden and bamboo ladder to get to the top, but it’s well worth it. Around 200m north the Sonyine Malige Sultan’s Memorial Museum displays the sultan’s throne and giant spittoons, plus the royal crown topped with cassowary feathers. The crown is considered as magical as Ternate’s mahkota. To enter the musem, you’ll have to first find the curator, Umar Muhammad, who works at the DIKNAS office in the Dinas Pendidikan dan Kebudayan building, 2km north. Umar has been known to demand rather hefty entry fees of up to 100,000Rp.

A block inland from the museum, sturdy whitewashed base bastions are all that remain of the original kraton royal citadel (Istana Sultan), which now contains an unfinished contemporary palace-villa with a garish blue roof. There’s a new BNI branch with an ATM here too; the island’s only place to get or change cash.

Seram

Seram

Seram

Some Malukans call Seram ‘Nusa Ina’ (Mother Island), believing that all life sprang from ‘Nunusaku’, a mythical peak ambiguously located in the island’s western mountains. The best known of Seram’s indigenous minority tribes, the Nua-ulu (‘upper-river’) or Alifuro people, sport red-bandana headgear and were headhunters as recently as the 1940s. The tribe lives in Seram’s wild, mountainous interior where thick forests are alive with cockatoos and colourful parrots. Seeing them usually requires a masochistic trek into the remote Manusela National Park, for which you’ll need guides and extra permits. Seram’s greatest tourist attraction is dramatic Teluk Sawai on the northern coast.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/pulau-seram

Halmahera, Tobelo

Tobelo

Tobelo

Humble Tobelo is northern Halmahera’s only real ‘town’. Its bay is fronted by a pretty jigsaw of islands, many ringed with golden sandy beaches, though they feel a world apart from this otherwise grotty little backwater. The most accessible isle is Pulau Kakara, where there is now a government-run fishing and diving resort that is Halmahera’s only consistent draw.

The main Kao–Galela road (Jl Kemakmuran/Jl H Simange) is bisected just north of the market by Jl Pelabuhan leading 300m to the main port.

Seram, Masohi, Namano & Amahai

Seram, Masohi, Namano & Amahai

Click to Enlarge !

Masohi_tonem-800

Neat, if slightly dull, Masohi is the spacious purpose-built capital of central Maluku, a short jaunt from the Amahai harbour. It’s only really useful to travellers as a transport interchange. The main street, Jl Soulissa, heads southwest from the terminal, market and Masohi Plaza shopping mall. It becomes Jl Martha Tiahahu in the Christian suburbs and then continues 6km through Namano to Amahai. Here, just before Amahai’s main port, the larger road turns 90 degrees, heading 1km to the airport.

Masohi has a warnet and several ATMs. Friendly, if far from informative, the Central Maluku Tourist Office is where you’d start the three-stage application process for Manusela National Park permits. Very few choose to spend more than one night here. If you are stuck in town, grab one of the relatively quiet garden rooms at Penginapan Irene. It’s worth spending the money for one of the nicer rooms. The ‘Executive’ rooms at Hotel-Restaurant Isabella may not satisfy your inner Posh Spice, but at least they have windows and hot showers. Grab dinner at Afsal, a clean, ever so slightly upscale, pick-and-mix joint.

Halmahera, Sofifi

Sofifi

Sofifi

For most travellers this market village is just a connection point on the Tobelo–Ternate journey. However, Sofifi is now officially the capital of North Maluku (Malut) province. Numerous government departments have relocated to Sofifi – a rather grand and hilly perch over the pristine mangroves (no plastic in sight) and placid bay, with Ternate views. The new governor’s office is, well, unmissable. There’s a Bank Mandiri ATM here.

North Maluku’s main visitor centre for the remote Aketajawe and Lolobata National Parks had recently opened when researching this book. Don’t expect miracles, there’s very little in the way of information – just some Indonesian language brochures and one basic English speaker on staff when we visited. However, some of the park staff are English-speaking. If you’re an ornithologist seeking the exceedingly rare burung bidadari (Wallace’s standard-wing bird of paradise), you should ask the park staff for a lift to the park, and a letter granting entrance to the conservation area. The North Maluku Tourist Office is located on the 4th floor of the Kantor Bupati Halmahera, but staff often leave criminally early. Thankfully, the Kantor Pariwisata Halmahera Utara (North Halmahera Tourist Office), on the 2nd floor, is fabulous, with drums and handicrafts on display. Here you can expect warm, engaging English-speaking staff who can arrange guides for overland tours to deserted white-sand beaches and spectacular waterfalls (per person 300,000Rp to 350,000Rp), as well as plenty of literature highlighting the best of Halmahera.

There are two hotels in Sofifi, though unless you are organising a tour deep into the interior, there’s no reason to sleep here. Simpang Raya is the only legitimate restaurant in Sofifi – a clean and decent pick-and-mix warung, with Padang food. It’s across the road from the sea.

Sofifi–Bastiong speedboats (40 minutes) cost 50,000Rp for fast-filling 12-seaters, and 30,000Rp for bigger versions that might take an hour to fill up. Kijangs bound for Tobelo (100,000Rp, 3½ hours) and Weda (150,000Rp) wait by the dock till early afternoon.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/sofifi

Ambon, Saparua

Saparua

Saparua_to-a

A sprinkling of offbeat accommodation can be found amid Saparua’s shaggy forests and friendly villages. Here, spiny, football-sized durian are piled in the streets right in front of concrete homes brushed in soft pastels. And crystal-clear waters lap or crash the shore depending upon the season. Dugongs reportedly appear in Teluk Saparua and you might spot dolphins en route to uninhabited Pulau Molana, where you don’t need Hollywood riches to have a desert island all to yourself. In the wet season it can be torrential; in the dry it’s something like paradise.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/pulau-saparua

Halmahera

Halmahera

Click to Enlarge !

Halmahera-800

Maluku’s biggest island is eccentrically shaped, like a starfish, with four mountainous peninsulas, several volcanic cones and dozens of offshore islands. As it’s sparsely populated and hard to get around, the island’s potential for diving, birdwatching and beach tourism remains almost entirely untapped. In the riverine interior, the nomadic, seminaked Togutil people still hunt deer with wooden spears, but change is coming with gold mining at Buli and the Weda Bay nickel-mining concession near Kobe. The creation of new regional capitals at Sofifi (North Maluku province), Weda (Central Halmahera) and Jailolo (Western Halmahera) is also stimulating local building booms. The movement of big bureaucracies out of Ternate and Tidore may finally reverse a history throughout which Halmahera has been largely dominated by those tiny islands. Halmahera has a predominantly Muslim population, with Christian villages in several areas of the more developed northern peninsula.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/pulau-halmahera

Kei, Ohoidertawun

Kei, Ohoidertawun

Click to Enlarge !

Ohoidertawun_ton-800

The charming village of Ohoidertawun surveys a lovely bay that becomes a vast, white-sand flat at low tide when craftsmen sit in the palm shade carving out canoes. An elfin church and pyramidal mosque coexist harmoniously. A ‘holy tree’ on the waterfront beside Savana Cottages is believed to enforce peace or bind relationships. And it seems to work an intangible magic on visitors who are frequently mesmerised by this wonderfully peaceful little place. A footpath and stairway leads north to Ohoider Atas village. At low tide you can splash across the sand flats past small caves cut in the limestone cliffs (some contain human bones). After around 25 minutes you’ll begin to notice red-and-orange petroglyphs painted on the cliff faces. Although some designs look new, many are ancient and their origins baffle archaeologists.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/ohoidertawun

Kei, Pasir Panjang

Kei, Pasir Panjang

Click to Enlarge !

Pasir-Panjang-800

The Kei Islands’ most famous tourist draw is Pasir Panjang, 3km of white sand so powdery it feels like flour, fringed with swaying coconut palms. And despite the brochure-cover beauty, the beach is almost entirely deserted – except at weekends when a couple of karaoke outfits crank up the volume near the beach’s access points: Ngur Bloat (south) and Ohoililir (north).

At the beach’s reputedly haunted north end, 700m beyond Ohoililir village, Coaster Cottages comprises a range of accommodation. We like the four, spacious new rooms. Think white-tiled concrete constructs with twin beds and mosquito nets, wooden table and chair inside as well as on the shared patio out front, where you’ll have audacious beach views. Oh, and those startling clam-shell mandis are well worth a photo op. Old rooms are actually closer to the beach, have brick walls and double beds and are a bit cooler, but have older basic mandis that are a touch slimy. The grand villa has character to spare with vaulted ceilings, an ornate sitting room and two bedrooms with a double bed in each, but it’s not necessarily worth the price jump unless you’re going family style.

There are also two wooden government houses for rent in the shady north end of the village, which you can rent through the kepala desa (village head). Other than Coaster Cottages, these are the only accommodation we can wholeheartedly recommend on this beach, though there are two bungalow properties on the south end, along with a handful of snack kiosks in Ohoililir proper.