A glimpse of Indonesia’s hidden paradise
The Spice Islands, Indonesia
I’ll admit it: I’d never heard of Halmahera before my colleague and co-founder, Tom, suggested we visit. Given that we’ve been arranging bespoke holidays to Indonesia since 2011, that’s a relatively embarrassing confession – especially since I’ve personally always flown the flag for this extraordinary and all-too-often overlooked country.
In my defence, there are so many islands in Indonesia that even the Government can’t count them: the latest estimate put the total at between 13,000-19,000. The case for the prosecution might argue, however, that Halmahera is one of Indonesia’s largest islands, being several times bigger than Bali for example, and is comfortably the largest in the Maluku islands.
BE that as it may, I am exceptionally glad we made the somewhat arduous trip from Manado in North Sulawesi to Halmahera. En route we passed through the twin sultanates of Tidore and Ternate, two volcanic cities which you can read about here and with which Halmahera is heavily entwined.
Large though the island is, I saw only a tiny chunk of it – as indeed, only a tiny chunk is easily accessible to tourists. There is only one hotel available and across the rest of the island, there’s little in the way of tourism infrastructure; you get the sense that there is a lot to explore, but it would take quite the intrepid traveller to do it.
That said, the accommodation there is, Weda Dive Resort, is pretty special. It was set up by passionate environmentalists, Rob and Linda Sinke, to go alongside their (slightly) more mainstream dive resort over on the Lembeh Straight – Divers Lodge Lembeh. The location, design, ethos and construction of this low key resort is an inspiration and a tribute to the pristine locale.
The owners also purchased 800 hectares (and growing) of primary rainforest via the charitable body they set up, the Sawai Ecotourism Foundation, to protect it for the future. The reserve is home to two display trees for the bird of paradise found there and birdwatching excursions are a major feature of a stay here.
Off-shore, the pristine coral is a joy to behold, as is the range and breadth of marine life. The owners are dedicated to sustainable diving practices and their commitment is highly admirable.
Outside of the resort, you’ll find well-maintained villages and an abundance of colourful houses, characteristically Mollucan in their style. Locals were friendly to outsiders (in my experience) and they appear unused to inquisitive westerners. We certainly made friends along the way.
The vestiges of previous internal strife are perhaps evidenced by a very clear divide between Christian and Muslim villages, and I was told the population is fairly evenly divided in this respect. To outsiders like us, able to gain only a fleeting impression, everywhere and everyone seemed engaging, fun and keen to talk and share stories with us. English was not widely spoken and we relied on (very) basic Indonesian, smiles and hand gestures to communicate. It was all the better for it.
I now know where Halmahera is, but I cannot say I know that much more. It was a travel experience right at the edge of my comfort zone and all the more wonderful for it.
If you would like to consider whether incorporating Halmahera and the North Maluku Islands into your tailor-made holiday would be right for you, one of our expert consultants would be happy to help. Please contact us on 020 7924 7133 or fill in the form here. If you’d like to speak to me, that can also be arranged once you have had a preliminary chat with one of our consultants. Just let them know!