The Archipelago Journal: West Papua
Last September, Garuda Indonesia launched a new route to Nabire in Papua, providing unprecedented easy access to some of the most remotely luscious emerald islands in the entire archipelago. Colours explores Nabire and the network of nearby West Papuan destinations for a look at the finest untouched natural exoticism in the region.
Words and Photography by Tim Rock
And there, not far from Nabire City, I was watching as this huge creature, swimming with grace and ease, headed straight towards me. Whale sharks have lots of tiny teeth. They also have a tiny throat. So I knew this one wasn’t interested in me. I watched in awe as the giant shark swam by me and headed for a meal of small baitfish. They are so graceful and pretty. The dot pattern on the shark’s body has led Indonesians to call the fish hiu bintang or ‘star shark’. And they have become a star in the minds of visitors who travel to far southeastern Indonesia just to see them.
Garuda Indonesia offers flights to some of the most fascinating and interesting remote Indonesian cities, which can be used as bases to explore some pretty special areas in the Papuan region in the eastern part of Indonesia. Plenty of regional and Second World War history can be found above and below the sea here. It is lightly developed and offers natural beauty rarely found elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific, or the world. Plus, the special cultures showcased in each
destination make an aerial swing around eastern West Papua a ‘can’t-miss’ experience.
Starting in the north, the rugged island of Biak is the major island in the archipelago, lying at the northern end of vast Cenderawasih Bay. There are a couple of good, small hotels, nice seafood, local restaurants and easy access to
beaches. Biak was the scene of a major battle between Japan and the USA, and a collection of vehicles, guns and war remnants are housed at a small museum that sits near the massive Gua Binsari, or Binsari Cave. The cave was the
site of a fierce battle and many casualties, but today it is overgrown with vines, greenery and jungle. A huge, winding
staircase allows visitors to make their way down into the bowels of the cave, past the yawning, greenery-covered ceiling to the floor. The beaches near town and hikes to ancient bone caves outside of the city are also Biak options.
There are 30 dive sites along the western shore and in the nearby Padaido Islands. War remnants like a sunken US Catalina flying boat sit just off Biak’s shore. Covered in beautiful soft corals and fairly intact after 70 years below the sea, it is a fascinating plane to explore.
With a population of roughly 45,000, Nabire City has a claim to fame that caffeine lovers revere: it is known as the second-biggest producer of coffee after Jayawijaya district. It is also known for a rich abundance of seafood.
The Cenderawasih Bay is a huge body of water that holds reefs, wrecks, atolls and sea mounts, and the largest marine park in Indonesia is situated over a vast part of the southwest corner of the bay not far from Nabire. The Cenderawasih Bay National Marine Park includes land and coastal areas, islands, reefs and pristine seas covering a total area of 1,453,500 hectares. Here fishermen use large floating platforms with bright lights and generators to fish at night. These platforms, or bagans, are hauled from the port in Nabire to areas along the southwest coast of the bay as far north as Kwatisore village. The bright lights are used at night to attract small fish that are hauled up in large nets that hang from the platforms and are rigged to bring in large hauls.
Whale sharks, which are mostly plankton eaters, discovered this bonanza and would suck at the nets to get the small fish. As it turns out, the fishermen considered the sharks good luck. Instead of killing them, they would feed them
along the side of the bagan to keep them away from the nets. A couple of divers from a resort near Nabire discovered this about a decade ago, and the rest is history. People (including me – many times) now come to see the world’s largest fish, snorkel with them, scuba-dive with them and take photos.
But the area is both protected as Indonesia’s largest marine park and still very much off the beaten track. The coastline along the way to Kwatisore from Nabire is largely undeveloped. One must use a powerboat or stay on a diving live-aboard. Thus, as amazing as it is to watch these rare and graceful sharks swim, feed and dive, the site remains largely uncrowded and a very meaningful experience. Whale sharks are fish and sharks (not whales) and very little is actually known about them. Thus, scientists have tagged a number of sharks here to learn more about these amazing fish.
There are also other reefs in the area that produce everything from mating mandarinfish to the occasional visit by a regal sailfish. Tourism in Nabire is truly just taking off and only bound to get more exciting as the area gets a bit more discovered by visiting pioneers.
In somewhat of a contrast to the marine havens along the waters of Cenderawasih Bay, Timika sits over the famous Baliem Valley far to the west of Nabire. Mountains rise above this city, and mining fuels the economy. But the adventurous are now taking advantage of this remote location to see the incredible natural and rugged beauty of the region.
Timika is also the jumping-off point to see remote cultures. The Asmat (Nakai), Dani and others all call this region home. These tribes go back thousands of years and still follow a semi-nomadic lifestyle with hunting supplementing basic agriculture. Agats in the Asmat area has a great treasure trove of local art, while the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress in Agats contains superb traditional woodcarving and artefacts. The Asmat is the most famous (former)
cannibalistic tribe on Papua. Today, collectors still seek Asmat woodcraft art.
Last but certainly not least, the northeastern city of Jayapura sits not too far from the border of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Jayapura is the largest and probably most developed city in Papua. The city also has its war history, and there is a monument to US Army General Douglas MacArthur commemorating those past struggles. Even if you’re not into war history, it is worth visiting the memorial for the view.
For a great freshwater destination, Lake Sentani outside Jayapura city (roughly a 30-minute drive) is a large freshwater lake surrounded by steep mountains and part of the Cyclops Strict Nature Preserve. A small number of restaurants and guesthouses are located on the edge of the lake. It has a major claim to fame as home to endemic rainbow fish.
The vast West Papua area, even though serviced by modern airlines and sporting some major cities, is still one of the most untouched regions on Earth, with lots to see for the bold and adventurous. Linked with unprecedented connectivity by Garuda Indonesia, this region awaits exploration by those with a pioneering spirit.
Reaching the untouched natural beauty of the once virtually remote Papuan islands has never been easier thanks to this unprecedented connectivity provided by Garuda Indonesia. Flights to the airline’s new West Papua destination with connections to Timika, Biak and Jayapura can be accessed through several of the country’s main cities, including Jakarta, Makassar, Surabaya, Manado and Denpasar.
For further information, please visit www.garuda-indonesia.com
Biak to Nabire
Flight Time 50 minutes
Frequency 5 ﬂights per week
Nabire to Timika
Flight Time 45 minutes
Frequency 5 ﬂights per week
Nabire to Jayapura
Flight Time 2 hours
Frequency 5 ﬂights per week
From Colours October 2016
5 Senses – Touch
The noken is a bag made by hand and used for carrying everything from coconuts to babies. Noken may also be worn. Making them is hard and complicated, so if you get the chance, try it. The number of people making and using traditional noken is diminishing, however, so just helping to make one is a special experience.