Our boat skimmed the surface of the water rhythmically, helping us slowly settle from running the cobalt boards from one vantage point to the next. Multiple cameras at the ready, our group of travel writers was universally captivated by the breathtaking blues that enveloped us. We were on our way from Manado to Bunaken National Park in North Sulawesi. This was the image of Sulawesi I had held in my mind since I first received an invitation to explore the province with the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism. Only, it was much more beautiful in real life.
Bunaken Island, Manado
While a small group braved the biting morning Manado sun, sprawled across the bow, I retreated to the canopy clinging to my camera, wishing there was a way to bottle all those blues. We couldn’t feel further from the highlands. Out on the water, the air was warm but quickly pushed aside by the welcome sea breeze. Buildings on shore appeared to be swallowed up by coconut groves the farther we were from the harbour. Gliding into Bunaken National Park, the shallows shimmered in the midday sun. We were quickly fitted for flippers and masks before heading just off shore again ready for some underwater exploring.
Bunaken Island is part of the Bunaken-Manado Tua National Park and just one of 100 dive sites in North Sulawesi; an underwater haven for snorkelling enthusiasts and divers. We were visiting at the beginning of the peak season (May to August). Home to 13 species of coral and 91 types of fish my hopes were high that the reef was well preserved and a colourful spectacle would be waiting underwater. That’s exactly what we found.
Bounding off the boat GoPros in hand, our group quickly dispersed. The coral was gorgeous, there were plenty of fish and after flirting with the deep drop off a few times, I understood that illusive pull this area has on divers from around the globe. Having been snorkelling in the Gili Islands, Maldives and more recently near Phi Phi Island in Thailand, Bunaken is now up there with the Maldives as the best so far for me.
After a good spell splashing around underwater we made our way back to the island for lunch. We sipped on fresh coconuts and enjoyed grilled fish, chicken curry and vegetables and some welcome shade from the sun, before cruising back to the harbour.
Where: Boats for Bunaken leave from Tourism Harbour of Marina Plaza.
Other recommended dive spots in North Sulawesi province include Manado Tua Island, Lembeh Island, Tumbak Island, Siladen Island and the Mahangetang volcano dive. Locals don’t recommend you travel out to Bunaken in December and January as the weather is too rough.
Tangkoko Nature Reserve
Our day of eco-touring continued as we made our way to Tangkoko Nature Reserve in search of those selfie-hungry monkeys, the crested black macaques. The conservational area covers about 3,196 hectares and is about an hour’s drive from Manado (allow extra time for traffic and navigating the narrow roads). We arrived in the late afternoon, covered every inch of our bodies in mosquito repellant and started the guided walk with a ranger. He lead us down the road, we turned into the trees and wandered in for a few hundred metres. The crested black macaques are endemic to Sulawesi and spend about 60 percent of their day on the ground, foraging for food; so you may not find the stereotypical scene of apes swinging from the trees, you might expect. It was actually quite a peculiar experience walking freely among the group. They seemed completely at ease with us being there; neither threatened nor threatening. As expected, they didn’t mind the cameras, I just took all my shots myself so there wouldn’t be any confusion later on. Losing daylight we quickly made our way back across the main path towards the black sandy beach. Tucked into a tree branch our guide pointed out a Tarsier to us. The smallest primates in the world, you will likely recognise them because of their giant saucer-like eyes.
Where: Tangkoko National Park, about 1 hour’s drive from Manado (depending on traffic)
Cost: A Tangkoko tour costs around Rp. 905.000 (about $AUD 90) per person for a minimum of 2 people. The price includes transport from your hotel to Tangkoko, a local guide, a ranger at the reserve, entrance fee, lunch at a local restaurant, drinking water and local taxes.
What to pack/wear: Wear a lightweight, breathable long sleeved top and pants (in muted colours – no white or red) and comfortable closed-toe shoes. Take a day pack with water, insect repellant, binoculars (for keen bird watchers), a camera and a torch (to see the Tarsiers at dust and to lead you back down to the park entrance. There isn’t any lighting).
I would recommend doing these two activities on different days as the travel time and traffic between both locations adds up quickly.
A pocket guide to help you plan your trip to Sulawesi with contacts and booking information is here.
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.
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller.
She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health.
As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her appetite for adventure.
Read more about Skye’s story here.