Moluccas Islands holidays, Indonesia
Cloves, mace and nutmeg were a valuable commodity between the 16th and 18th centuries, worth more than gold at the time, and the Molucca Islands the only place in the world where these spices could be sourced. As you can imagine, control over these ‘Spice Islands’ was ferociously fought over by the Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch.
The Dutch developed quicker sailing routes than the Spanish and Portuguese, recruiting the best map makers to chart the most efficient routes and clearing acres of oak forests in Poland to build more ships. They also employed more ruthless tactics: Dutch governor general Jan Pieterszoon Coen beheaded 44 Banda island chiefs in an attempt to keep the spice trade secret and killed any islander who sold nutmeg to anyone other than Dutch traders.
In 1667 in a territory swap that gifted the Dutch the nutmeg monopoly, England traded the island of Run, the home of nutmeg, with the Dutch in return for Manhattan, part of modern-day New York. Unsurprisingly, the Dutch emerged victorious, established a spice trade monopoly, and the Moluccas became an unlikely global powerhouse. However, by the 19th century the spice trade had dwindled and the Moluccas returned to relative peace and obscurity.
Nowadays, the Moluccas attract only a handful of visitors. There’s the historical appeal of the spice trade-era, and the fascinating, other-worldly tribal culture, but it’s the Molucca’s pristine natural landscape that draws most visitors. Expect powdery-white sand beaches, sulphur-spewing volcanoes and lush tropical rainforest. The surrounding coral reefs are home to an impressive diversity of marine life offering unbeatable snorkelling and diving opportunities.
The central Moluccas
Ambon is the most visited and most populated island of the Moluccas, primarily because of its easy accessibility to neighbouring Indonesian islands. The city of Ambon was the hub of the spice trade back in the day and remnants of colonial history are still visible. Ambon is a veritable metropolis in comparison to Saparua island, an hours boat ride away. Time appears to have stood still on this small island, where traffic is minimal and daily life is simple. Base yourself here and enjoy excellent snorkelling around the nearby uninhabited islands. Seram is the largest island of the Moluccas. Its’ main attraction is the Manusela National Park which is home to 120 species of bird and an unimaginable 2,000 varieties of butterflies and moth. Seram’s indigenous tribes are equally fascinating, some of whom continued to practise head-hunting until as recently as the 20th century. South of Ambon, a cluster of ten tiny outcrops form the Banda islands, which were of invaluable worth during the spice trade-era as nutmeg, the ‘queen of spices’ grew here. The fierce battle that was conducted here between the Dutch and the British can still be seen in the remains of several forts. Besides the cultural heritage, the Banda islands offer some excellent diving and snorkelling, and if you’re fit, there’s the opportunity to climb the 656m-high, still-active volcano of Gunung Api.
How do I get there? Direct flights operate to Ambon from Jakarta (Java) and Makassar (Sulawesi). From Ambon there are daily boat services operating to Saparua and Seram. The Banda islands are particularly difficult to reach. A fast boat operates from Ambon twice a week, however the boat is frequently cancelled due to bad weather or minimal passenger numbers.
The southeast Moluccas
The southeast region of the Moluccas, consisting of Kei, Aru & Tanimbar islands, is rarely visited. Tourists have only started to venture here during the last ten years: accommodation is simple and tourist facilities are minimal. However, adventurous travellers who make the effort to journey here are rewarded with palm-fringed, picture-postcard beaches where the only soul in sight is likely to be a local fisherman! The islands of Aru are well-known for being home to the Greater Bird of Paradise: an incredibly beautiful endemic bird species from New Guinea, best spotted between July and October.
How do I get there? A daily flight operates from Ambon to Kei and Tanimbar, and several times a week from Ambon to Aru.
The north Moluccas
The northern islands of the Moluccas, including Ternate, Tidore & Halmahera, are dominated by volcanoes, many of which are still active. The cone-shaped island of Ternate was the world’s main clove producing island, attracting Chinese, Arab and Javanese traders hundreds of years before even the Europeans arrived. Unsurprisingly, the rulers of Ternate were the wealthiest in the region. Much of the island of Halmahera is covered in pristine forest, which is home to a wide variety of endemic bird species including the Standard Wing Bird of Paradise which can be spotted year round. Just north of Halmahera, the island of Morotai was the strategic base for Allied Forces during WWII, housing 60,000 troops at its peak, and is still dotted with war remnants including a statue of General Douglas MacArthur.
How do I get there? There are daily flights from Jakarta, Ambon, Makassar and Manado into Ternate. Boat transfers operate between the islands.
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