A journey to Ternate is a visit to the remnants of a formerly thriving spice trade, a current look at volcanic beauty and a future promise to see something special from this month’s spectacular solar eclipse.

Words and photography by Tim Rock


Located in the North Malukas off Halmahera, Ternate is known visually for its stunning seaside mosque and the dominant geographical feature of the volcanic Gunung Gamalama.

The islands were once the world’s major producer of cloves, a commodity that allowed their sultans to become the wealthiest and most powerful in the Indonesian region, and clove and nutmeg groves still line the roadside to add more sensory charm to this volcanic isle.

Ternate sits on the west-central side of the vast Halmahera Island (also called Gilolo, or Jailolo), the largest of the Maluku Islands, and is a fascinating destination for Garuda Indonesia travellers to discover. Beautiful bays and a plethora of nearby volcanic islands add more layers of geographic beauty, and with tourism on a gentle rise the island is still relatively uncrowded.

One can hire a vehicle with a local driver and see the sights as a good road circles the entire island, which is shaped like the letter ‘k’. Start at the old Dutch Kalamata Fort, which holds an important place in the history of the spice trade. First built by the Portuguese in 1504, and re-built by the Dutch in 1610, it is located right on the water facing Tidore Island (an image of which is featured on the Rp1,000 note). The fort is designed to resemble the four compass points, with a bastion at each point, offering scenic views of Tidore and Mount Kei Matubu. Other forts to see include Fort Oranye and Fort Tolukko.


The capital city of North Maluku province, Ternate has a population of some 200,000, about two-thirds of the island’s population, so for shopping, the business district is an interesting place to take a walk. Jewellery sellers vie for trade next to fashion, tech, souvenirs and music stores. There are many small food stands (warungs) offering Indonesian treats and some good restaurants. The warungs at Dufa-dufa harbour offer tasty delicacies in the unique Ternate style. The pick of the upmarket eateries tend to be located outside the city in Terau and Ngade.


Ternate was once home to famed biologist Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace’s role, along with that of Charles Darwin, on the discovery of evolution by natural selection is well known. His former home with a columned porch in the heart of Ternate, also near the shopping district, is a stopping point for many town tours.

The volcanic landscape of Ternate has given the island its fertile soil and beaches with black glittering sand. Leaving the city and heading past the airport lies Burnt Rocks, a lava flow worth venturing to. Rugged but quite clean thanks to local student groups, the flow runs right into the ocean. Small plants have begun to grow in the flow, which is here as a result of Gunung Gamalama’s huge eruptions that have taken place since the 1980s.

D5EW97 A man hands showing nutmeg in The Air Tege-Tege village, North Maluku.

A good stop on a road trip is Sulamadaha Beach; the main beach area has warungs serving mainly noodle dishes and cold drinks. The vibe here is relaxed, and the beach is popular with locals. One can also get adventurous and hike along a rocky path to a great swimming and snorkelling spot.

Farther down the road sits the crater lake of Tolire, said to be filled with magic crocodiles. At the deep crater, brisk winds roll up the cliffs of the walls and it is said if you throw a rock in the direction of the lake, the winds will bring the rock back up the wall. As one can imagine, rock sellers abound. Also visit the spice-growing slopes of the island. Cinnamon, cloves and vanilla are found here, as well as nutmeg. The freshly picked spices create a wonderful aroma and are a real bargain for spice lovers.


Across the strait, islands stretch off in the distance. Black lava-sand beaches are commonplace and offer the promise of interesting scuba diving. Divers should definitely head to some of the nearby islands, including a seamount at Teluk Jailolo not far from Ternate. Rich corals and shoals of copper sweeper fish call this place home. Sloping reefs in the same area hold clown anemonefish, while blennies can be seen laying eggs on blue tunicates.

Ternate city is the area’s modern base for commercial activities with its business centres, transportation links and tourism services. By contrast, just across the straits, lush Tidore is lightly developed and dotted with small villages. One can take a ferry to Tidore and catch an ojek to tour the hills, valleys and local beaches.

As people await the spectre of a full eclipse here in March 2016, the dominant Gunung Gamalama will continue to loom over the bustling city. At sunset, the red halo of the setting sun makes for a postcard picture. From spice-trade history to hiking the spice fields of today, Ternate is a special place to visit in this historic Malukan sultanate.

Jakarta to Ternate

Flight Time 1 hour, 25 minutes

Frequency 63 flights per week

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From Colours March 2016


5 Senses – Scent

A somewhat easier hike than tackling Gunung Gamalama is to drive high up the mountain roads and then take a short trek into the spice fields where cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and other fragrant spices grow.
At one time during the island’s great spice wars, crops and trees were all wiped out, but now they thrive and hikers can stop at homes near the plantations and get freshly picked sun-dried spices at below pasar prices that burst with flavour and aroma.