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Togean Islands
A paradise beyond eyeing

"I am greatly enjoying my holiday in the Togean islands. The coral reef is in good condition, the aquarium fish gliding on the seabed are colorful and the sunset is incredibly beautiful. Beautiful indeed. This is a paradise for me and I don't have such a beautiful scenery in my own country," Jana (29), a Swiss tourist, told The Jakarta Post earlier this month. Jana was staying at Fadillah Cottage, a tourist hotel owned by a resident of Ketupat village, Jana and six tourists from other countries were sunbathing while reading a book. Other tourists were busy snorkeling, savoring the beautiful colors of the reef fish.

The Togeans are indeed charming. Conservation International (CI) Indonesia reports in its website that the Togeans are a chain of islands in Tomini Bay, Central Sulawesi, part of the Wallace hotspot. The island's land mass and waters span 600,000 hectares. Globally, this group of islands is very important as it belongs to the world's "Coral Triangle", an area with a rich diversity of coral reefs.

CI Indonesia research shows that the Togeans offer unique and diverse maritime resources. There is a vast mangrove forest and stretches of sea grass, which dugong live on, as well as over 35 species of butterfly fish (Chaetodontidae sp.). Clearly, the coral reefs are in very good condition.

The waters of the Togean islands constitute a habitat for various marine biota and offer a great potential for underwater tourism. These waters are home to 262 kinds of coral, among others the endemic Acropoda togeanenssis, 596 species of fish, including Paracheilinus togeanensis and Ecsenius sp., and 555 molluscs and other rare species like giant clams (Tridacna gigas) and scaled clams (Tridacna squamosa)

The group of islands is also home to the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), scaled turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), lola (Trochus niloticus), dugong (Dugong dugong), pilot whale and the Maming (Napoleon) fish.

Various land biota include deer (Cerbus timorensis), Togean monkeys (Macaca togeanus), Togean monitor lizards (Varanus salvator togeanensis) and rare species like the bear cuscus (Phalanger ursinus), spectral tarsiers (Tarsius spectrum), deer-hogs (Babyrousa babirussa), canary Ketang fish (Birgus latro), 97 species of birds, 363 species of flora, among others, meranti (Shorea sp.), iron wood (Intsia bijuga), Palapi (Heritiera sp.), 33 species of mangrove and various amphibious creatures as well as reptiles.

As the Togeans are habitat for many land and marine biota, these areas act as a magnet for tourists, scientists, researchers and non-governmental organizations. Jafar M. Amin, the owner of Fadillah Cottage, said most tourists visiting these islands came from Europe. Beyond the holiday season, only 15 - 17 tourists come to Togean islands to stay for several days at a time. During the holiday season, in August and September, an average of 30 to 60 tourists visit Togean.

Jhon Pahantua, an employee of the Black Marlin Dive Center in Kadidiri, said that tourists generally only came to these islands for snorkeling and diving. The average rates for diving and snorkeling are between US$25 and $650. If you wish to stay in a cottage, the rate is between Rp 75,000 and Rp 110,000 a night, depending on the type of the room chosen.

Nearly all resorts in the Togean islands are open to the public. However, one, namely the resort in Tanjung Kramat owned by Mr. Lucka, an Italian, is very difficult for locals to come close to let alone enter. Acting regent of Tojo Una-Una, Syafri Ali Kadir, said that the resort was only open to foreign tourists and that they were mostly Italians. "You must wear a tie to enter the resort. Fishing is forbidden. In short, it's a very exclusive place," the acting regent said.

In his opinion, the coral reefs at this resort are complete and perfect. You can see corals in the shape of tree branches decorated by leaves or in the form of edible ferns with colors from golden yellow to red. Tanjung Kramat, however, is not the only beautiful site. There are other tourist attractions on this group of islands, among others, Batu Gila, Taipi, Goa-goa, Katupat, Wakai, Kadidiri, Kuling Kinari, Una-Una, Angkaiyo, Karang, Kadoda, Lumpatan, Pasibatang and Dondola.

In nearly all of these islands, the underwater scenery is nearly perfect. Towards twilight, the sunset in the Togeans is very beautiful because as the sun sets into the surface of the sea it goes through mountains. "It is extraordinarily beautiful," said Abdy, one of the locals.

How to get to all these attractions? There are a variety of routes. If you depart from Jakarta by air, you can fly to Makassar, Palu or Manado. Arriving in Palu, you can continue your journey by car in an eight-hour trip to Ampana, the capital of Tojo Una-Una regency. If you charter an automobile, the tariff is Rp 350,000 per trip. If you take a regular bus, or a minivan owned by a travel agency, the cost is Rp 35,000 and Rp 75,000 respectively for a one-way trip.

When you get to Ampana, you must take a regular motorized vessel or speedboat to cross the sea to Wakai. This trip will take between 3 and 4 hours. The fare for a regular motorized vessel like the MV Duta Samudra or MV Puspita, which will take you from Ampana to Wakai, is Rp 25,000. If you prefer a speedboat, you can charter one for between Rp 500,000 and Rp 750,000 for a one-way trip. However, as the route from Palu must go through Poso, where sectarian conflicts are taking place, tourists have to take another route, namely Jakarta-Manado-Gorontalo-Pagimana-Ampana-Wakai. You depart Jakarta by air to Manado or Gorontalo and then proceed from Gorontalo on board a motorized vessel, MV Puspita, to Wakai. If you take a ferry, you must first go to Pagimana in Banggai regency and then proceed on the two-hour overland journey to Ampana.

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