I love Bali. I love it so much I got married on a cliff in Uluwatu, a couple of years ago. But joining more than four million other tourists touching down in Bali each year means walking the streets of Seminyak, with its trendy cafes and hipster crowds feels a little like being back in Bondi. So, it might be time to take a closer look at some of Indonesia’s 17,500 other islands. That’s exactly what our group of travel writers was invited to do thanks to the Indonesian Ministry for Tourism. Our trip took us on a whirlwind discovery tour of two beautiful emerging tourist destinations; Sulawesi and Maluku.
Our tour of Sulawesi began in Manado (pronounced Ma’nado), the capital of North Sulawesi. We found ourselves hit by a wall of thick, sticky air as we stepped through the doors of Sam Ratulangi Airport. The humidity was quickly forgotten thanks to an impromptu performance by a local man, his smile wide and infectious as he sang for our growing group. Shuffling on to a coach we began the steep climb inland, up the mountains to the Minahasa Highlands.
I found myself transfixed on the changing landscape through the window. We drove away from the main roads of Manado with its closely set houses, painted in a palette of pastels and topped with rusting corrugated roofs. Soon green flushed the countryside from every corner as we passed fish farms, fruit orchards and fields of rice paddies with farmers covered head to toe to protect them from the harsh sun. The distance between the houses grew; they were simple wooden structures with the same grooved roofs and the jungle cover creeping ever closer to each.
The 40-minute drive from the airport flew and we soon arrived in Sawangan village, home to a Minahasan ancient burial site and the Waruga stone sarcophagi. The stones appeared to battle with the brilliant green grass of the graveyard, some barely visible. Used by the Minahasans since the megalithic age, the stones feature a box-shaped lower portion, topped by a triangular piece of stone. The carvings are unique to each and share the story of the person passed; how they lived, their livelihood and the way their body was placed when it was laid to rest. 144 clans are represented at this particular burial site. The mood of the visit was eased by a group of curious locals from the village, keen to watch us at work. About 7 years old, two girls climbed the fence, happily posing for pictures. They giggled confidently, retreated behind their hands and revealed themselves once again with another grin, as their confidence grew.
Where: Located in Sawangan Village, 40 minutes from the airport or Manado city
Contact: Anton from North Sulawesi Tourism can guide you around the site.
Cost: Entry is Rp10, 000 ($AUD1) per person. The guided tour is negotiable.
We soon reached Lake Tondano. The caldera lake and North Sulawesi’s largest, sits 600 metres above sea level and covers about 4,278 hectares, in the village of Remboken. Stepping off into the slightly cooler mountain air we walked the bamboo stilted walkway to lunch at Astomi Restaurant. The open-air bamboo building sat over the water and served local cuisine with a panoramic view of the lake and the surrounding mountains (Lembena, Kaweng, Tampusu and Masarang). The glassy surface of the water created a perfect reflection of the sky and the clouds above. The beautiful image was only disrupted by passing boats and dense patches of weed swaying gently with the current. We ate grilled Nike fish, corn fritters (Bakwan Jagung), stir fried and steamed vegetables and spicy sambal.
Where: Remboken village, 30 kilometres from Manado.
Cost: Touring the lake by boat is about Rp 50, 000 (about $AUD5). Lunch will vary depending how hungry you are (cash only).
The Hill of Love
Climbing the last steep steps to reach the base of the Hill of Love (Bukit Kasih) feels a little a reveal on a movie set; it’s a surreal scene. The Tolerance Monument rises up, towering over visitors, while a thick mist hangs in front of the hill behind it. Between the clouds an almost whimsical concrete staircase winds its way to the top. Just as you’re taking it all in, hawkers holding birds of prey swoop in and urge you to take a photo with them (for a small fee, of course). I shuffled away quickly.
The Hill of Love is a multi-faith religious site located in the Kanonang village, at the foot of Mount Soputan. It was built in 2002 under the Minahasa motto, ‘Torang Shammua Ba’sudara‘ meaning ‘We are all brothers’. Today, it is both a tourist attraction and a place for people of all faiths to gather together peacefully.
Even for the fit and healthy, the 2435 stairs that guide you to the top will be challenging. Neither of the two routes are for the unfit or those with knee, hip and back problems or heart conditions. You should stick to taking photos from the bottom of the hill. The path is uneven and muddy in sections, the stairs are steep and it is all made tougher by the heat. Ensure you wear appropriate clothing and comfortable shoes and carry water with you. For those who are able, the view is well worth the climb.
We took both routes; one carries you directly to the top where a 53-metre high white cross stands on the peak enjoying a sweeping view back down over the path, the valley and across to the surrounding mountains. On the way up you will also catch a closer look at a giant face carved into the side of the mountain, representing Lumimuut and Toar, the mythical Minahasan ancestors said to come from the area. The second route sweeps around the front of the mountain and is slightly less steep. It takes you past the religious buildings on site (there are 5 in total; a mosque, Catholic church, Protestant church, Buddhist monastery and Hindu temple), in a loop back down to the bottom again.
Where: Kanonangan village, 55 kilometres from Manado
Cost: About Rp5,000 ($AUD 0.50 per person) and parking fee of about Rp 10,000 ($AUD1)
What to pack/wear: Good sneakers is essential if you are walking to the top of the hill. Training clothing including a top, leggings, hat, sunscreen and drinking water are all recommended as it’s a hot climb in the sun.
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.