Ambon Island in Maluku was the final stop in our action packed Indonesia itinerary and there were some wonderful surprises in store for us when we arrived in Maluku’s capital. From cultural shows, to historic sights, stunning scenery and plenty of local characters, there is a raw charm to Ambon, Indonesia. For the intrepid, it might be time to put Indonesia’s Spice Islands on your list before the Bali crowd discovers the untouched beauty of destinations like Maluku.
I was still clouded by a pre-caffeine haze when we landed in Ambon, Indonesia in the early hours of the morning. Climbing into the back seat of a four-wheel drive, in convoy to Ambon town from the airport, I found myself surrounded by Hello Kitty and Sponge Bob decorations. Suddenly, I was singing top-40 hits with two fellow travel writers and our guides, Wiwin and Riski. We giggled and danced all the way to breakfast. It was one of those fun, quirky travel moments that still makes me laugh today.
During that journey, I took advantage of my window seat and the anonymity the tinted glass afforded me to watch the people caught up in the buzz on the city streets. Scooters, lime green bemos and becaks all fought for room on the road amid the morning crush. Seemingly unaware of the chaos around him, a man strolled down the side of the road carrying two large cane baskets full of birds; a woman riding side-saddle on the back of a bike caught me through the glass and gave me a coy smile; and I became mesmerised by an elderly woman perched on the steps of a convenience store, methodically stacking pieces of fruit for sale.
Namalatu Beach, Ambon, Indonesia
Namalatu Beach has a rugged beauty about it. A palm fringed white sandy stretch, a solo sea wall and clear waters make the protected bay a popular spot for snorkelling, but we were there for something entirely different; a performance of a Saureka-reka dance framed by the backdrop of the Banda Sea.
The Saureka-Reka is a traditional dance from the Maluku Islands, performed by boys and girls. The group of boys split off; a few played the tifa (drums of different sizes) and the Totobuang (a collection of small gongs set up a little like a xylophone), while others held the gaba-gaba (a long piece of wood from a sago palm tree), placing the pieces horizontally with the group and tapping them in time. The girls jump and dance, aiming to avoid the gaba gaba.
It reminded me a little of playing elastics in the playground when I was in primary school. However, this dance has a much greater significance. It’s said the dance was first performed by sago farmers during the harvest to celebrate friendship. It was also later used as a way to unify the farming and town communities.
In another part of the performance the girls held small, hour-glass shaped drums and created beautifully choreographed shapes to the music using their hands and feet. An orchestra of young conch players soon sat in front of us dressed in rich red costumes, blowing the shells, and tapping a small drum.
This performance was one of the highlights of our short time in Ambon. The boys and girls performing for us took their job very seriously; they appeared to be proud to be sharing a part of their culture with us. After the performance, they each took out their mobile phones, snapping selfies with us and exploring the rock wall still dressed in their costumes, just like kids back home would after a concert. Today, performances like these are only put on for special events, cultural festivals and for visitors like us.
Where: Namalatu Beach, Maluku is near Latuhalat village, about 30 minutes drive from Ambon town.
Cost: Entry to the beach is about Rp 5,000 (about $AUD0.50).
Contact: All information and tour bookings for Ambon can be made with Haical at Ilmi Tour.
A private Sahureka reka performance can be arranged with advanced notice for about Rp 4,000,000 (around $AUD400) for a group (minimum 10 people).
Ambon has a rich and colourful history that is profoundly linked to a number of countries around the world, including Australia. There are a number of historic monuments around Ambon town that are worth adding to your sightseeing list if you have time during your stay.
The Martha Christina Tiahahu memorial is a must-see. Tiahahu was a female Moluccan freedom fighter from the 19th century who fought the Dutch alongside her father. After she was captured by the Dutch, she went on a hunger strike and sadly, she passed away at just 18 years of age but she is still considered a national heroine. The statue sits at the top of the hill at Karang Panjang in a beautiful little park with a panoramic view of the city down to blue Amboina Bay.
Where: The Martha Christina Tiahahu memorial is on Karang Panjang hill.
Cost: Entry by donation
The Commonwealth War Cemetery is a place where some 2,000 fallen soldiers from Australia, The Netherlands and Britain are remembered. The site was used as a prisoner-of-war camp known as Tan Touy, during the Japanese occupation in World War II. I was impressed to see the brilliant green manicured lawns, colourful tropical shrubs and carefully spaced bronze plaques at the memorial. We visited shortly after ANZAC Day, so I can only hope this is how the memorial is always maintained; a stark contrast to the dark and painful era the site represents.
Where: The Commonwealth War Cemetery is north-east if Ambon town, Maluku.
Contact: The cemetery is open 24 hours. Entry is through the front or side gate.
Cost: By donation
The World Peace Gong in downtown Ambon is a symbol of peace. The monument is a large golden gong featuring flags from around the world. It was unveiled in 2009 as a reminder of the importance of peace. It seemed fitting that we would arrive at the monument at the same time as some locals school groups. The boys boldly came up to us asking for their pictures to be taken and posing in preparation, they were such characters.
Where: The World Peace Gong is in located in Pelita Park (Taman Pelita) in downtown Ambon.
Cost: By donation
Other sights around Ambon that we didn’t quite have time to see were:
- Siwalima Museum. The museum houses an ethnographic exhibition of artefacts charting Moluccan history and agricultural development. Entry is Rp 5000 (about $AUD0.50). The museum is about ten minutes from Ambon town and it is closed on Monday.
- Hila Village – Located on Cape Leihitu, about 45 minutes drive from Ambon town. It is where you can see Fort Amsterdam, Immanuel Old Church and Wapauwe Mosque.
Liang Beach, Ambon
Arriving at Liang Beach (also known as Hunimua Beach) on our final day in Ambon was exactly what we needed. It wasn’t until we walked between the trees that we saw the water. A blur of blues stretched as far as the eye could see; the aqua shallows appeared to melt into a deep navy band where boats were speeding past in the distance. It was paradise. It was a typically warm day in Ambon, so we couldn’t get in the water fast enough; hiring some tubes and riding the current down the beach and paddling back again. A banana boat splashed around just off shore sparking shrieks and laughs from its passengers as they fell into the warm water.
The midday sun was scorching so we soon sought cover and a quiet seat under the trees. I took my camera for a walk to check out the small wooden stalls selling snacks and the locals enjoying family time in the shade. A machete sat freely on a log next to a pile of young coconuts, women walked around selling Pisang Goreng (fried banana and spicy sauce) and people whispered ‘Halo’ as I passed, some asking where I was from. We were the only foreign tourists that I could see at the beach.
A pair of women, bounced up to us beaming. They introduced themselves as Ani and Jiharn. They were locals from Ambon, having a picnic with their kids, but they couldn’t resist a chance to practice their english. Ani had been teaching herself using YouTube and hoped to travel to Australia, one day. They were bright, bubbly and so friendly and I’m so glad they came over to chat to us. We’ve now even connected on Facebook.
As the heat of the sun eased, the rest of our group pulled into the sand after spending a day on Saparua island. We gathered together to watch another cultural performance, the Bambu Gila Dance. The ‘Crazy Bamboo Dance’, is an ancient Moluccan dance. A group of up to seven men (historically, they called on the strongest in the village), hold a 2.5 metre long piece of bamboo (the wood is selected and prepared in a specific manner and blessed by a shaman). The men appear to dance with the bamboo, that is thought to be possessed by spirits. It’s their job to hold it while a shaman chants and uses a flame (incense) to calm the spirits. As men fell off, weary from the fight, members of our own group tried their hand at controlling the crazy bamboo. From their facial expressions it seemed like pretty hard work.
Where: Liang Beach is just over an hour’s drive from Ambon town or 30 minutes from Natsepa Beach.
Cost: Entry to the beach is about Rp 5,000 per person ($AUD 0.50), plus parking. It is about Rp 10,000 ($AUD1) to hire a tube and Rp 150,000 ($AUD 15) to ride the banana boat.
A Bambu Gila dance performance can be arranged at a cost of about Rp 4,000,000 ($AUD400) for a group (minimum of 10 people).
Contact: Payment for the beach is made at the gate on entry. To book a Bambu Gila dance performance contact Ilmi Tour.
What to pack/wear: Wear swimmers, a conservative cover up, sandals, a sun hat, sunscreen, a towel, insect repellant (if you’re staying later in the day), waterproof camera, snacks and drinking water and cash for entry and activities.
Scuba Diving in Ambon, Indonesia
Divers from around the world have long kept the beauty of Ambon a secret. It is a mecca for muck diving with sites that will woo coral divers too;
- Laha Village is considered one of the best spots in Indonesia for muck diving. It is also conveniently located near the airport and there are several dive shops in the area. Lembeh Island in North Sulawesi is another popular spot. Banda Island also has several muck diving sites.
- Banda Island, Ora Beach on Seram Island and a group of other islands nearby are all known for coral diving. Our friends at Liang Beach, Ani and Jaharn also recommended Ora Beach as a beautiful destination for a beach day.
The Fit Traveller was a guest of the Indonesian Ministry for Tourism for this trip to Sulawesi and Maluku. As always, the opinions, imagery and words are authentically our own.