The group of islands in the southeastern corner of Indonesia is known to the locals as Maluku. The Portuguese attempted to render the Malay term in plural form by calling her ‘Malucas’, which later became to be known as Moluccas. In English, it is widely known as the Spice Islands, as a tribute to the two renowned spices native to Maluku: cloves and nutmeg. Despite being home to valued commodities which were the reasons for conquest, the present day Maluku is the lesser known wonders of Indonesia, waiting to surprise travellers.
Tour de Molvccas 2017
I arrived in Ambon, the main capital of Maluku province as the city was preparing for the inaugural Tour de Molvcass 2017, a road cycling event following a 770-kilometre route through the eastern part of the islands. The event attracted 120 cyclists from 30 countries. In the spirit of sportsmanship, I joined the locals cheering for the cyclists at the starting point. After the flag off, I began my journey to explore Ambon and two most famous islands in Maluku: Seram Island and Kei Islands.
Museum Siwalima & World Peace Gong
Travellers who arrive in Ambon for the first time should visit Museum Siwalima to understand the history and culture of the 14 kingdoms that ruled over Maluku from north to south over the centuries and witness the magnificent World Peace Gong that symbolises the reunification of Ambon from civil unrest and violence. Travellers are bound to realise that Ambon is a thriving city that increasingly receives visitors from all over the globe.
Ambon War Cemetery
Located on the opposite bay from the airport, Ambon War Cemetery was designed by Ralph Hobday and constructed on the grounds where the camp for prisoners of World War II comprising Australian, American and British soldiers during Japanese Occupation. The prisoners buried in the cemetery were Australian soldiers who died during the Japanese invasion of Ambon and Timor, including those who died in many camps constructed by the Japanese throughout Maluku and British prisoners who were transferred from Java. The cemetery has over 2,000 graves, marked with bronze plaques.
After exploring Ambon, I travelled to Seram Island, which is the largest island within the Maluku archipelago, approximately 15 times larger than all of Hong Kong with a population of 170,000. From Liang Port, travellers need to take a two-hour ferry ride to Waipirit Port. A car transfer is needed to bring you to Saleman Village, only 10 minutes from Ora Beach. It is also possible to bring your car to Seram Island. Against the backdrop of the blue sea and mountain, the Saleman Village is painted in rainbow colours.
The treasured destination of Seram Island is Ora Beach, a heavenly paradise often likened to the Maldives or Bora-bora in the Pacific Ocean. Set in a kaleidoscopic glitter of the blue waters, Ora Beach is an ideal base to enjoy the ocean. Standing against the background of the lush green jungle of Manusela National Park, Seram Island packs a lot of activities from snorkelling to mangrove tour.
Besides swimming and snorkelling at Ora Beach, there is also an opportunity to indulge in adrenaline rush by jumping off from Hatupia Cliff. Today, the vertical cliff is becoming more popular for travellers to jump into the crystal clear water.
Travellers should follow the mangrove tour on Pulau Raja, where they will learn about the significance of mangroves and the need to conserve them. Then proceed to Sawai Village to see how lobster and napoleon wrasse are cultivated to meet the demands of seafood lovers.
Another unique attraction of Seram Island is Air Belanda, named after the discovery of the point where salt water from the ocean converges with fresh water from the stream by Dutch soldiers. A cruise along the estuary provides a glimpse of fauna where they congregate to feed, find refuge and migrate. The estuary is the top spot for bird watching due to the nutrient-rich waters due to the mixing of the lighter fresh water and the heavier salt water.
Said to be a combination of Bali, Lombok and Raja Ampat, Kei Islands are located at the southeastern part of Maluku, amid Seram, Banda and Arafuru seas. Two of the largest islands in Kei Islands are known as Kei Besar and Kei Kecil. Dubbed as ‘the most popular hidden gem in Indonesia’ by the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia in 2016, Kei Islands are lesser known compared to destinations such as Wakatobi and Alor.
To reach Kei Island, one has to take the one hour and a half flight from Pattimura Ambon Airport to Karel Satsuitubun Airport in Langgur on Kei Kecil Island. Kei Islands can be visited all-year round, but it is advisable to avoid visiting during the month of January and February due to the rough seas. The best times to visit are April to May and from October to December.
Travellers should take a stroll on the coastal area of Pasir Panjang Beach renowned for its long white and fine-grained sandy beach. With only 300 travellers visiting Kei Islands in 2016, you can expect to enjoy the pristine beach all to yourself. The accommodations for Pasir Panjang Beach can be found at the two villages located at its southern and northern ends, Ngur Bloat and Ohoililir respectively. Ohoililir Beach is popular for picnic, but the beach turns into a white mudflat during low tide.
Snorkelling around the waters of Kei Kecil and hopping to the Bair, Adranan and Ngurvatur islands are a must. Equated to the world famous Raja Ampat, the turquoise water of Bair Island is surrounded by sea stacks, mangrove vegetation and rocky cliffs. Despite its small size of 500 meters squared, Bair Island has two beaches that are divided by a sandy bar. You can swim or enjoy yourself basking under the sun at one of the floating gazebos, besides indulging in kayaking and jet-skiing.
Next on the list is the Adranan Island where the current is not as strong that beginners can easily enjoy snorkelling to see the beautiful corals and reef fishes. If you are lucky, you may also spot the black-tipped sharks. Even if diving and snorkelling are not your cup of tea, you can just relax by the beach or have a picnic with friends and family. Better still, master the art of perfectly doing nothing but enjoying the moment.
Goa Hwang or Hwang cave is situated at the west coast of Kei Kecil Island in Letvian Village. Some believe the cave is haunted by ghosts. Others believe the myth that a local man and his dog were cursed and turned into stones when they entered the cave while hunting for pigs and drank the water from the pool. However, the mystical cave does not shun people away from visiting the natural pool within the cave. From your boat, you will need to swim to enter the cave chamber that is surrounded by large stalactites hanging between 10 and 20 metres from the water surface. The reflection of the sun rays creates sparkling blue crystal clear water below.
To visit Bair, Adrana Island and Goa Hwang for a day trip, you need to charter a boat. The small boat that can fit up to 10 persons costs IDR1,000,000, while the larger boat that can accommodate up to 20 persons costs IDR2,500,000.
Most overseas travellers will arrive at Ambon by air from Jakarta or Makassar. From Ambon to Kei Islands, it is possible to take either flight or ferry.
Where to stay:
Swiss-Belhotel Ambon Jl. Benteng Kapaha No. 88, Uritetu, Kota Ambon, Maluku 97124; swiss-belhotel.com; doubles from RM279.
Maluku Resort & Spa Jl Waititiri, Suli, Salahutu, Central Maluku Regency, Maluku 97582; doubles from RM309; malukuresort.com.
Grand Vilia Hotel & Restaurant Jl Telaver, Tual, Langur, Kei Kecil, Southeast Maluku Regency, Maluku; doubles from RM219; grandviliahotel.com.
Tips | Souvenirs can be bought from Ambon Manise Shop.
Must Try Food |Papeda – the sticky porridge-like food made from pulpy flour extracted from mature sago trees.