This post about Morotai Island is going to be a bit strange. Nearly everything of a writeable nature happened in the sea, and so I had no way to photograph or film it, due to last months GoPro® incident in Togean. I dropped it into the sea, whereupon it promptly sank and became a GonePro®. So sad…please make a donation if you share my pain.
Anyway, Morotai Island is one of the most northerly in Indonesia. It achieved recognition during World War Two when it was occupied by the Japanese and then when McArthur used it as a base. Now it’s a sleepy tropical island characterised by palm trees, plenty of forest and unspoilt coral reefs and beaches. Most of the people are a similar ethnicity to the neighbouring Halmahera, but also have some of the Mindanao people coming from Southern Philippines too.
Air Kaca means glass water. It has a long historical magical legend. It’s a natural limestone pool which is said to hold magical properties that you can receive by washing your face in the water. If you do, you’ll get good luck. I need all the good luck I can get, so I was straight in there, but I have a feeling it was quickly used up by our driver on the roads around Morotai island. During the war, it was a place of recreation and swimming, and most of the preservation is to highlight the horror of war.
The beach, the wreck and the resort
I visited a beach and took a few pictures, and then went to look at a recent shipwreck. Then I took the winding road to D’aloha Resort which the driver was enjoying pretending was a rollercoaster.
D’Aloha Resort is a group of about 20 lodges of various sizes in a coconut palm plantation next to the beach. The place seems to have full time electricity and my room had air-con which worked, and a hot shower which didn’t. The coral starts as soon as you get in the water here, and snorkelling is possible from the shore.
The storm and the story.
That night was a great storm accompanied by power cuts, so the team amused each other with ghost stories about the legend of the Moro, a monster from the island. The only reference to this I can find online comes from Mindanao spiritual history, but it’s not clear what the legend is in connection to this island. The spiritual stories continued with a yarn from Bandung, about a bad spirit, a friend in need, the appearance of a keris (sword), some stones, and a spirit guide. This culminated in one of our group attempting to change the flavour of some drinking water using the power of his mind. While I remain open minded to these experiences, I also remain sceptical as well. I have been offered the chance to visit the spiritual homeland of the Sunda people to investigate more, so watch this space.
A banana for the group
The next day was an island hopping dream. Setting off amid a school of jumping dolphins, we landed on a small sandy island, literally about 300m² and nothing on it except for sand, broken coral and some driftwood. Amazing. After that it was alternating with snorkelling and more islands. As well as dolphins I saw turtles, sea snakes, and lots of unusual coral and bright Nemo fish. Much of the coral was still living in some extensive gardens of soft, wavy colour.
We stopped for lunch at the popular resort island of Dodola. Wandering around, I met a bunch of people who had come from nearby Ternate to get away from it all. I’d always considered Ternate to be far from anywhere, and it tickled me briefly that people might want to get away from crowds there. We took a banana boat for a spin in the bay, but it was a twin banana, side by side, so very difficult to tip over.
A particular highlight was a huge shoal of fish, quite close to the jetty. I have never seen anything like it close up. I estimated several thousand fish in a huge circling fish-ball. I quickly donned my mask and snorkel and swam through the ball. Together, the fish made a noticeable wush-wush-wush sound in the water as they moved.
The candidate for world’s worst job and Zum Zum.
Later that day I discovered Morotai’s claim on the world’s worst job. On the face of it, spending your time on the deck of a boat and jumping into the sea sounds great. Then you realise that your job is to assess whether there are any sharks or crocodiles lurking under coral outcrops, waiting to eat unwary swimmers. The people on the boat certainly gained a new respect for the job holder, and were a lot slower to enter the water. If you would like to apply for this job, send me your CV!
Our last call of the day was Zum Zum island. Another place that McArthur used to let off steam and relax. I was left wondering if Zum Zum was the Indonesian equivalent of snoo snoo.
Sunset and seafood
I watched the sunset at the hotel and then went to the Taman at the Kota. It’s the town centre and is mostly populated by kids and families, all parading around and having a good time. I tried to talk to some of them, but it turned out that not only did they not speak any English, they didn’t speak Indonesian either and were incredibly camera shy.
Morotai Island village people
Next day I rose early and set off with the others to visit two more islands.
Papeda and surfing
Later we ate papeda, the East Indonesia curiosity food and went to Batu Lobang. Batu lobang means hole stone, and sure enough there was a promontory with a hole under it, letting the sea sweep through. I went for a quick swim here, but was aware of the currents, the surf and the lack of fishing boats nearby in case rescue might be needed.
Somehow, we had arranged to hire surfboards and go surfing. We pulled up at a small village, and a bunch of local kids could be seen about 150m off shore. One of them came in and handed me his board, and off I went. It’s been about 20 years since I last surfed, and I was glad that this part of the Pacific Ocean wasn’t the dark and forbidding monster that I’ve encountered in other parts of the world, notably “Death Beach” in Mexico. In fact, as I got to the coral reef break, it was almost completely flat, and so after about 20 mins splashing about, with some relief, I called it a day.
Shopping till you’re dropping
I was determined to put some money into the Morotai island community and so I bought a couple of coffee mugs and a t-shirt from a gift shop, and then had a look at the World War Two museum. It is created and curated by a local guy who is busy filling it with things that he has found in various locations around the island, along with some reproduction photographs and a few scale models.
Morotai Island Overview
Well, if Togean is off the beaten track, Morotai Island doesn’t even have a track to beat! If you come here as a foreigner, you won’t attract much attention. Any tourists are remarkable for the locals. The beaches are some of the best I have ever seen in terms of solitude, cleanliness, and contrast of sand, palm tress, and ocean. You SHOULD come here if you like hopping from island to island in small boats, snorkelling, and looking at wildlife. Indeed, the interior of the island is still very much covered in forest. I’m sure several surprises are waiting there, for historians, naturalists, and anthropologists no doubt.
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Have you been to Morotai or any other far flung islands? Tell me your story in comments below or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fact File: Morotai Island
Morotai can be accessed via Ternate or Manado. The airport is small, and public transport is almost non-existant. Boats can be hired by the day and used for scuba, snorkelling or island hopping.
- Jungle exploration
- Unspoilt, trash free beaches