Exploring Takabonerate, a Hidden Gem in Eastern Indonesia


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Growth is the only sign of life (Tanri Abeng, from Selayar Islands)

One morning when I was busy digesting the content of my business email inbox, a notification from a colleague popped up on my desktop screen. It was an offer to join a trip to National Park Takabonerate in South Sulawesi.

I had no clue about Takabonerate. As a matter of fact, it was the very first time I heard the word ‘Takabonerate’. I googled it to demystify what it was about and was subsequently in an awe-moment to see what I had discovered.

Takabonerate was indeed such a beauty. It looked like Bora-bora in Maldives, with crystal clear blue sea, stunning underwater scenery, fascinating corals, distinctive marine ecosystem, pristine beach and so forth. It was a gem! I might not know the islands before but I knew that it was indeed worth to visit. It did not take so long for me to decide it: I would go and was so excited to join the trip. To add the excitement, it was my first trip to eastern Indonesia!

Literally, Takabonerate is derived from three Bone words: ‘taka’ (rock), ‘bone’ (sand), ‘rate’ (on), which constitute a meaning ‘rock on the sand’. Takabonerate is the 3rd largest atoll in the world, after Kwajalein Atoll (Marshall Islands) – close to Honolulu, Hawaii and Suvadiva (Maldives). Its sized is approximately 220,000 ha. The islands are located south of Makassar, the capital city of South Sulawesi. Takabonerate has been declared a UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves in mid-2015, along with Bromo-Semeru, my other to do list.

As part of the preparation, I sat with another colleague who came from Makassar to discuss this. Despite of being native to Makassar, he himself has never been to Takabonerate. He heard that it was beautiful though. However, the islands were such a virgin, which means that there was no proper basic infrastructures, such as water, electricity, let alone stable telecommunication networks. He warned me that only people with adventurous soul who would like to go there. Aha, it was even more interesting!

This was how the trip was planned:

  1. Jakarta – Makassar, by Garuda flight, 2 hours 15 minutes.
  2. Makassar – Selayar Islands, by WingAir flight, 45 minutes
  3. Bantaeng, Selayar Island – Tinabo Besar Island, by a traditional engine-driven boat, 6 hours. It is advisable to rent and share with other people because there were no official arrangement from government. Speed boat is not yet available.

Return route used the same means of transportation.

On the D-day, the journey was begun with a Garuda mid night flight from Jakarta to Makassar with my colleague. I slept during most of the flight, off course 🙂 We arrived early morning the next day at Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport. We did not have time to stroll around the so-called metropolitan city in eastern Indonesia because we soon had to take a continuing flight to Selayar Island with Wing Air. In fact, Makassar would be visited at the very end of our trip.

The plane used for this flight was an ATR type. It was my first time to get on this plane and I was quite nervous. The plane was so small so that even small-velocity wind could cause a turbulence on the plane. The 45-minute flight felt like forever to me….

Eventually the plane landed on H. Aroeppala Airport in Selayar Islands. The small airport was just reactivated in early 2015. I could instantly feel fresh air and sense relax vibes, far away from hustle bustle Jakarta. We planned to have sightseeing in the island, spend one night there and depart to Takabonerate early in the next morning.

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After collecting the luggage, we continued the journey to a restaurant in Kota Bantaeng. The menu was rice and grilled fish. The taste was lovely. And little did I know that for the next 5 days, I would only have fish, fish and fish on my meal plate, haha.

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The beginning of the ‘fish festival’ 🙂

Having the lunch finished, we went for a small day trip to a beach in the other side of Selayar Islands. I forgot the name, unfortunately. However, all the beaches were beautiful.  The beach we chose was reached within 1 hour by a small traditional boat from Kota Bantaeng. The trip took only a couple of hours during which we spent time for having sightseeing, drinking coconut water, snorkeling exercises, and getting to know each other with other trip members. However, there was no toilet, not even a traditional one. Out of shame, I did not manage to do my ‘nature-call business’ by pretending to squat by the beach, even though it was a common practice there.

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Pristine beach in Selayar Islands

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Around Selayar Islands

We stayed in a hotel near alun-alun of Kota Bantaeng. My room was a very modest one with ‘so-so’ maintenance and not all provided facility was working properly. However, I just thought it was part of the challenging experience. When we came back from Takabonerate later, we also checked-in at the same hotel and I thanked Allah that I got a much better room in every possible way.

Lesson learned: please do complain and compare what you have with other’s. The neighbour’s grass looks greener because sometimes it is indeed greener, haha.

Next morning at 4 am, we left for Pelabuhan Pamatata, from which we sailed to Tinabo Besar Island. It was no an easy journey. I did not mind with the traditional boat, but it was well below adequate safety standard. As a safety-adherent professional, it was quite something to me, haha. A life vest was provided to each person. However, there was no instruction given that the life vest shall be donned during the trip. An emergency response was not set up either. All right, that was the best available technology to reach Takabonerate at that time. So I only thought that I should cherish the moment, take away my vigilant attitude a bit, keep calm and enjoy the ride :P. I believed it would be an unforgettable experience.

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Left: Pelabulan Pamatata, Kota Bantaeng; Right: A solar cell installed on a boat.So it was not that traditional 🙂

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From Kota Bantaeng to Tinabo Besar Island

The journey took about 9 hours, 3 hours late than the plan. It was quite nice, actually. There were several times that I observed that we were the only living objects on the sea and there was nothing seen on the horizon. There was no toilet provided, only a small hole at the rear of the boat. My travel fellows were cool persons and good at cracking jokes so the long trip was not even boring a single bit. They were professionals, students, and travelers.

We arrived at the Tinabo Besar Island in the afternoon. It was a tiny island. We had sunrise at the back of our house, whereas the sunset from our terrace.

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Sunrise and sunset

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Left: You can participate on biodiversity preservation program; Right: Another sunset

There were several guest houses for visitors. Electricity was available only from 6 pm to 11 pm. PLN grids have not reached the island. Solar energy is practicable for such a place, I would say. There was barely telecommunication network. Being exaggerating, I felt being stranded here 🙂

There was only salty water in the house; freshwater was only for drinking. There was a fresh water well that could be reached by walking distance nearby our guest houses. It was in open area so I still had to put my cloth on during the shower, haha. Provided the amazing experience I would acquire during my stay here, I did not mind at all.

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Relax lives in other islands in Takabonerate complex

For the next 3 days, our days would be filled by snorkeling, swimming, spoiling our eyes with beautiful stuff, and eating fresh sea food. By the way, the food provided here was extremely tasty!

Baby sharks were one of the main attractions in Takabonerate. Their length was about 40 cms in average. Once in a while, they came in a group to the beach, waiting for the island caretaker to feed them some leftover raw food. Mama and papa sharks must be somewhere in/around Takabonerate, but I did not see any trace of them, not even in the snorkeling area.

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Left: One of guest houses; Right: Baby sharks, they were so adorable! However once they get older, you should mind your safety

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Left: Jetty, Right: Baby sharks playing around in the beach. They were not dangerous yet 🙂

Snorkeling and diving were the signature activities here. I could not dive, so I would only do snorkeling. I did not have good camera to capture what I saw down there, but I would always keep it in my memory.

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Camera effect :(, the real scenery is more beautiful than this

Three days passed so fast. Although I missed fresh water to wash my hair, it was hard to leave the islands. We traveled back to Kota Bantaeng in Selayar Islands, flew back to Makassar and spent some time in the city.

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They liked having visitors!

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