History, landscapes await in Ternate

As published in The Jakarta Post and Asia News Network
Mon, April 25 2011

As published in The Nation (Thailand’s Independent Newspaper)
Mon, Sept 5 2012

The natural allure of Ternate Island is rarely experienced.

Alongside with its neighbor of Tidore, the island was renowned as a source of nutmeg and cloves during the age of colonialization.

Mount Gamalama towers over the small island, creating a dramatic scene when seen from the sky. Located off the west coast of Halmahera Island, Ternate has a long experience with spice seekers from Europe, India, the Arab world and China. Today, Ternate is a developed, busy city that offers numerous of historic sites and an unspoiled landscape for adventurers and those looking for picturesque vistas.

Tolukko Fort, one of a trace of colony era that was buit in 1540.
Tolukko Fort, one of a trace of colony era that was built in 1540

It is not difficult to reach Ternate. Sultan Baabullah Airport hosts a number of flights to other large cities around Indonesia on several airlines. The airport is named after the 24th sultan of Ternate, Baabullah, who triumphed in battle and banished the Portuguese colonizers in 1575.

For the traveler looking to visit nearby islands, Ternate also has several jetties and boats.

The conventional wisdom holds that visitors can explore Ternate by car or motorcycle in only an hour – without stops. I wanted to prove that, but not really, as I wanted to stop and enjoy all of the attractions on the island on the way.

A view of Tolire Besar Lake
A view of Tolire Besar Lake

I spent a day driving and strolling around the island.

Starting from the busiest district in Ternate, I saw the island’s one and only shopping mall nearby the Great Mosque jetty. A friend and I continued our road trip over the island’s straight, smooth roads that were punctuated by only a few traffic lights.

The first major sight was the Sultan’s palace, which lay at the foot of Mount Gamalama, a volcano that faces the Maluku Sea. Visitors are free to enter the colonial-style palace built in 1813, which has collections of royal memorabilia. Unfortunately, at that time the palace was closed so I couldn’t see inside.

My friend said Ternate was ideal for mountain climbing and trekking. Cone-shaped Mount Gamalama overshadowed – literally – the tourism attractions that we were about to experience. We stopped at Batu Angus, which was positioned to the left and right side of the main road.

Batu Angus, the scorched stones, is a magma flow spawned by an eruption of Mount Gamalama 300 years ago. It runs along the island’s northeast. Its hard, black stone now attract tourists, who can climb and take pictures of it.

On our way, I noticed some areas that were hit by cold lava during the most recent eruption of Mount Gamalama. The 1,715-meter volcano recently spewed cold lava that destroyed several homes and bridges in the city. Since 1538, Mount Gamalama has erupted 60 times.

Traditional boats are parked in the Saomadaha Bay, the western side of Sulamadaha Beach.
Traditional boats are parked in the Saomadaha Bay, the western side of Sulamadaha Beach

Tolire Besar and Tolire Kecil (Big and Small Tolire Lakes) are other charms, located 10 kilometers from Ternate. The lakes were naturally crafted by the eruption and lie 200 meters apart.

Tolire Besar looks like a big crater while Tolire Kecil is a pond close by the sea. Once upon a time, according to myth, a father married his own daughter, infuriating their village and forcing their quick exit.

As they left, the ground where the father and daughter walked became cracked by their fury, forming the lakes.

I was also told the depth of Tolire Besar can’t be measured and that it is protected by hundreds of white crocodiles that only a few can see. Another bizarre local legend is that the rocks that you throw into the lake will never touch the surface because of a mystical exception to the law of gravity over the lake. Rocks are sold to visitors to prove (or disprove) the myth as they enjoy the remarkable scenery.

The island’s colonizers left seven forts in Ternate, build to stave off local residents and their European competitors in the spice trade. I visited Tolukko Fort, 3 kilometers from the town center; the others were not open at the time. Built in 1540 by a Portuguese, the fort originally featured underground tunnels that headed to the sea that were filled in during renovations in 1996.

Although the entrance to the fort was free, a tip for the guide is expected. Other forts worth a visit are Oranje Fort, built by the Dutch in 1607, and Kalamata Fort, built by the Portuguese in the 1500s.

Beyond its historical sites, don’t forget the exquisite beaches in Ternate. One of them is Sulamadaha Beach, 14 kilometers from the city. Sulamadaha is a black-sand beach that faces lush Hiri Island, across from Ternate.

The beach is popular amongst local as it has lines of small warung (traditional cafes) to hang out at with friends. There, you can try local snacks, such as mulu bebe fried bananas with dabu-dabu chilli sauce and drink a ginger coconut milk sarabba concoction with nuts.

On the west side of the beach lies Saomadaha Bay. The white sands and crystal clear waters can be enjoyed in Saomadaha. The coral is still preserved so you can enjoy the undersea beauty by snorkeling. It’s suggested to bring your own equipment as there are no snorkeling set to rent.

Maitara Island is seen as the icon of Indonesia’ rupiah of one thousand.
Maitara Island is seen as the icon of Indonesia’s rupiah of one thousand

My road trip ended with a look at Maitara Island, positioned between Ternate and Tidore. Mount Maitara is the icon on obverse of the thousand-rupiah banknote. It was a fun finding for me, actually, as I used to pay no heed to the iconography of the nation’s currency.

As the night emerged, I knew it was time for culinary treat. I walked down towards the Great Mosque area and found the pavements adorned with pillars. Here are the places of street foods that always load with people. I tasted pisang lumpur (muddy bananas) that surprisingly has more than 30 variations. The “muddy” part comes from the chocolate, cheese and nuts that are poured on top of fried bananas that are rolled in brown sugar beforehand.

The sweet, crispy banana was the ultimate part of my striking one-day trip to Ternate.



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