Natural Beauty

From Sabang to Merauke, Indonesia boasts a range of more than 50 conservation areas. The best ten have been selected here.

1.       Kerinci Seblat National Park

Covering 1.3 million hectares, this national park is the largest in Sumatra Island. Its area spans four provinces—West Sumatra, Jambi, Bengkulu and South Sumatra—and it lies along the South Bukit Barisan chain of mountains.In its dense jungles live rare animals, such as the Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran elephant and the Sumatran rhinoceros. The largest flower in the world—Rafflesia arnoldii—and the highest—amorphophallus sp—also bloom on its soil. Another highlight of this national park is the highest fresh water lake in South-East Asia, which is located 1,900 metres above sea level. Kerinci Seblat is named after two high mountains, which are collectively known as the roof of Sumatra. Since 2001 the Danau (Lake) Kerinci Festival has been held in this area on a regular basis, and has been attended by various performance arts groups from Sumatra. This enjoyable celebration usually takes place in February.

How to get there: Due to its location, which spans four mountains, this national park is accessible from many places. Fly to Padang, Jambi, Bengkulu or Palembang, and continue travelling to the park overland. Information on Kerinci Seblat can be found at www.kerinci.org.

2.       Baluran National Park

This national park can be found in East Java and is often referred as “Africa van Java”. The landscape here is indeed similar to that of Africa: a wide savannah that is home to flocks of birds and animal herds, including Javanese bulls, Timorese deer, wild water buffaloes, wild pigs, wild dogs and leopards. Some of these animals are protected and their numbers are already down to just a few dozen.

Birds are the easiest creatures to find. In total there are 179 species listed as having settled in the park’s 25,000 hectares. To make watching them easy, the management has published a bird watching guide book completed with a distribution map for each species. Baluran was officially declared a national park on 6 March 1980.

How to get there: Baluran is located in Banyuputih, East Java and is bordered by the Madura strait to the north and the Bali strait to the east. It can be reached from Bali and Surabaya. Information about Baluran including its wildlife can be found at www.balurannationalpark.web.id.

3.       Komodo National Park

Regardless whether it is voted one of the New7Wonders of Nature, the Komodo National Park is surely one of the wonders of the world. This 180,000 hectare conservation area is the habitat of the world’s most gigantic, ancient lizard, namely the Komodo dragon, whose population is at present estimated to be around 2,700.

Located between Sumbawa and Flores, this national park encompasses three main islands—Komodo, Rinca and Padar—and several smaller ones. UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site in 1991.

The Komodo dragon is a killing machine equipped for just about anything. This thick-skinned lizard can run at up to 20 kilometres per hours. It can climb trees, swim and even dive! The motto for hunting Komodo is, “You cannot run and you cannot hide”. Unlike other predators that rely on incisors or poison, the Komodo relies on its saliva to knock out its prey and there are no less than 57 types of pathogen in its mouth! The bitten prey will die within two to four days, the Komodo will then track down its dead body using the smell sensor located in its tongue. For safety reasons, visitors are always escorted by rangers while Komodo watching on the island.

In addition to watching these fearsome dragons, visitors may enjoy trekking and diving in the national park and a relaxing session on the island’s famous Pink Beach and its pinkish white sand.

How to get there: Komodo National Park is located in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). Fly to Labuan Bajo and then continue your journey by boat. A more interesting option is to enjoy a liveaboard programme on a cruise ship—for two to nine days—starting from Labuan Bajo, Bali or Lombok. Information on Komodo National Park can be found at www.komodonationalpark.org.

4.       Tanjung Puting National Park

Did you know that orang-utans and humans are, genetically speaking, 97 percent identical? Indeed, Kalimantan’s native Dayak people named this animal the orang-utan because the primate bears characteristics similar to those of humans (‘orang’). Orang-utans are also very intelligent and are able to navigate their way through life by making use of things around them. For example, they use leaves as umbrellas to keep them from getting wet in the rain, use small sticks to fish out ants, utilise leaves as drinking cups, and make nests out of leaves and tree branches. Orang-utan is the largest species to live in trees and is endemic to Borneo Island, although their fossils have been found as far afield as China.

The Tanjung Puting National Park is the best place to see these endearing animals, and one of the tasks of this conservation area is to protect orang-utans whose existence is increasingly endangered due to the dwindling forests. In Tanjung Puting there also live Bekantan (proboscis monkey) whose profile is used to emblem of Dunia Fantasi, a theme park in Jakarta. Various insect-eating plants, such as the tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes sp.), known locally as kantong semar, can also be found in the park.

How to get there: Tanjung Puting lies in the interior of Central Kalimantan (Borneo). The easiest way of getting there is to fly from Semarang to Pangkalan Bun, and then drive to Kumai. A traditional boat called kelotok will then enable you to explore the national park area and take you to Camp Leakey, a site for breeding and raising young orang-utans. Information on orang-utan and Tanjung Puting can be found at: orangutanfoundation.wildlifedirect.org and www.orangutan.org.

5.       Lorentz National Park

Of the seven Indonesian locations listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Lorentz National Park is the one that initially seems the least popular, and yet it contains an absolutely phenomenal wealth of flora and fauna. With an area covering 2,3 million hectares, Lorentz is the largest conservation area in South-East Asia and is home to various types of ecosystem, ranging from coastal, wetlands, lowland forest, sub-montana, montana, and sub-alpine to alpine environment that stretch all the way up to  5,000 metres above sea level.

Lorentz is also the only site in South-East Asia which has all-year-round snow on its mountain peaks, although its glacier has now shrunk from twenty to two square kilometres thanks to global warming. Natural music is provided here by the 350 bird species that live peacefully in the branches of the park’s gigantic trees. Sir David Attenborough, the legendary BBC documentary maker, has visited the park a number of times to film its amazing bird of paradise. Take a look at “Attenborough in Paradise” for an idea of what you can expect at Lorentz.

Lorentz extends for 150 kilometres, from the mountain chain in the north to the Arafura Sea in the south. This national park is also now inhabited by humans, after 24 million years of isolation.

How to get there: The Lorentz National Park is located in Papua. Fly to Timika, then continue your journey in a small plane to the national park, or take a boat heading south from the harbour at Sawa Erma. Stamina and a lot of anti-mosquito cream are necessary to conquer this wild Papuan environment.

6.       Bunaken National Park

Bunaken National Park was the first diving spot in Indonesia to go global and Bunaken is, in fact, the name of one of the islands in the 79,000 hectare marine park. The other islands in the chain include Manado Tua, Mantehage, Nain and Siladen.

This national park offers exceptional underwater scenery, especially in the straits that separate the five islands. Officially declared a national park by the government in 1991, Bunaken is home to around 3,000 species of fish and 300 different kinds of coral reef. At its diving points divers can find marlin, tuna, manta rays, barracuda, reef sharks of both black tip and white tip varieties, and hammerhead sharks. One of the park’s main icons is the ancient so called “King of the Sea”, the coelacanth fish.

In his famous journal, Alfred Russel Wallace, the British explorer who embarked on an expedition to the islands of Nusantara (what is now known as Indonesia) between 1854 and 1862, wrote that Manado is one of the most beautiful places in the eastern hemisphere.

How to get there: Bunaken is one of the most easily accessed national parks. Its islands are even visible from the main road connecting Manado and Minahasa. To get here, fly to Manado, and then continue your journey by taxi to the diving operators’ base camp. Information on Bunaken can be found at www.bunaken.org.

7.       Raja Ampat Marine Protected Area

Raja Ampat is a paradise for lovers of underwater marine life. The one million hectare area is a habitat for 1,318 species of coral fish (27 of which are endemic), 533 species of  coral reef (representing 75 percent of global coral reef species), 699 species of molluscs, 15 species of marine mammals and five species of turtles. It’s surely no wonder that this site is nicknamed “The Amazon of the Sea”.

With such an impressive portfolio of wildlife, this conservation park offers diving and snorkelling as its main tourist attractions. In addition to acquainting oneself with a wealth of sea creatures, one can also dive on the wrecks of airplanes and other war material at several points.

For non-divers, the main attraction here is island hopping. Viewed from above, Raja Ampat is a cluster of 610 islands scattered across the blue ocean in a manner similar to that of the “dragon back” islands in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam or Phi Phi in Thailand.

Towards the end of last year, Raja Ampat organised its first ever Marine Festival and the local government plans to turn the festival into an annual event in order to promote a side of the region that has, until now, been under-exploited, namely its culture and cuisine.

How to get there: Raja Ampat is located in Papua. Fly to Domine Edward Airport then continue your expedition on the Marina Express boat, which departs every day at 2pm from Pelabuhan Rakyat (the People’s Harbour). Information on Raja Ampat and its various tourist attractions can be found at www.gorajaampat.com.

8.       Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park

“The Kingdom of Butterfly” is the nickname Alfred Russel Wallace gave this place. When visiting the area in 1857, the British adventurer saw 300 species of butterfly living in the verdant Bantimurung-Bulusaraung area. The findings of his explorations were then written up in an iconic book entitled “The Malay Archipelago”, which was published in 1869. This was then used as the basis for establishing the imaginary Wallace line, a line of climate demarcation that run between the islands of Sulawesi and Kalimantan.

The presence of a number of caves with paintings on their walls is another unique phenomenon to check out in Bantimurung-Bulusaraung, and research has concluded that the caves were used by prehistoric humans. The 43,000 hectare national park also contains the Bantimurung Waterfall, which has become a popular weekend destination for the people of Makassar.

How to get there: Bantimurung-Bulusaraung straddles two districts in South Sulawesi namely Maros and the islands of Pangkajene. To get there, fly to Makassar then continue your journey overland for 40 kilometres. Information on Bantimurung-Bulusaraung can be found at www.tn-babul.org.

9.       Kelimutu National Park

The main attractions here are the lakes that sit at the top of Mount Kelimutu (1,700 metres above sea level) which have waters that mysteriously change colour. The lakes are named Tiwu Ata Mbupu, Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai and Tiwu Ata Polo. The exact moment when the lakes change colour cannot be predicted, but it is claimed that the changes are the result of a combination of the refraction of the sun’s rays, the presence of micro biota in the water and chemicals on the walls of the lakes.

In addition to the lakes, the national park also boasts various plants and animals, some of which are endemic to the area. Fauna here includes Wallacea owls, Florenese eagles, bulls and anteaters.

How to get there: The National Park of Kelimutu is located in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). Fly to Kupang, then go to Ende and then continue your journey overland for the last 100 kilometres. The Kelimutu National Park Office has constructed an access road to make it easier for tourist to enjoy the beauty of the lake. Information on Kelimutu can be found at www.tnkelimutu.com.

10.   Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park

Photographs of the mountains of Batok, Bromo and Semeru, arranged—as they are—in an almost straight line, perhaps feature in the collection of every travel photographer who passes through Indonesia. These postcard perfect photographs are generally taken in the morning, and watching the sunrise over the peaks here a mass ritual attended by hundreds of people each day.

On the 5,000 hectare expanse of sand in Bromo’s ‘courtyard’, stands an old Hindu temple, which every year organises a ceremony known as Kasada. The local Tengger people often prayers here, and then walks in a procession towards the lip of the caldera to throw in their offerings.

For those in prime physical condition, climbing Semeru, the highest mountain in Java, is an experience too good to miss. On the way to the top, climbers will pass three beautiful cold-water lakes which offer superb camping areas and a cool mountain atmosphere.

How to get there: The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park can be reached from Malang or Surabaya. It is recommended that you set off for Bromo at midnight, so that you can arrive at the top just before sunrise. Bromo has also recently started to host an annual jazz festival featuring Indonesian’s top musicians. This year’s “Jazz Gunung” will be on 9 July 2011.

Note: A modified article from Garuda Indonesia’s magazine.

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