Biak, the new tourism gateway to Papua

Biak Numfor can rightly be considered a piece of Paradise in Papua. Blessed with beautiful and natural underwater sights, the views are much like a painting, with scenic atolls and coral reefs in their natural condition.

Biak Padaido, one of the best scuba diving spot in Papua (source: Our Travel Tip)

Not only is Biak an attractive tourist destination, it is amply supported by infrastructure such as the airport which plays a major role in the region’s economy. Its strategic location and infrastructure support has made it worthy of being named the new gateway to tourism in Papua.

The administrative area of Biak measures 1602 km2 with the surrounding seas measuring 12,522 km2. It is made up of 19 districts with 257 villages and 14 wards. To the North and East lies the Pacific Ocean, while the Yapen Bay is located to the South and Supiori Regency in the West.

The major draw of Biak is its natural beauty, and has many attractive destinations. It is a great destination for marine tourism, especially for divers with its three diving points namely Catalina Wreck, Undi Cave, and Rasi Wreck. In addition, it is also known for its history and culture, making it a draw for foreign tourists.

According to Dr. Ira Adriati, Lecturer at the ITB Arts and Design Faculty and writer of the book  “Perahu Biak”, Biak has a wealth of natural and cultural tourism potential. She adds that when the local government through the tourism office continues developing the unique natural and cultural tourism potential of tourism, it will be draw more foreign tourists to visit.

The area has plenty of nature tourism destinations. In the Raja Tiga Islands at Adoki Village there is a beautiful natural vista, made up of three islands. Another scenic destination is the Samares Spring in Sepse village in East Biak with its blue waters.

In terms of cultural destinations, Biak possesses a unique culture that is preserved to this day, namely the custom of walking on hot stones or Apen Byaren an interesting sight which draws tourists.

Apen Beyeren, walking on hot rocks barefoot in Biak (source: Okezone)

One of the bigger programs slated by the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy is the Sail Cendrawasih 2023, which has designated Biak Numfor as the host of the event In 2023. This certainly will bring more tourists to the area. In preparation, the various supporting infrastructure has been completed by the local government. These include roads, clean water, and others.

Several nature tourism spots have also been prepared including the Old Padwa Cemetery in Yendidori District. The location is a cultural heritage site in the form of limestone cliffs used as graves of the ancestors of Biak tribes even today. Another interesting site is the World War II Monument located in Paray Anggraidi built in 1994. It is a silent witness of the brutality of WW2, with areas  containing relics of the war including flags, and even ashes of cremated soldiers can be seen. 

Another destination is the Bird and Orchid park which are sites for education. It was built in 1984 by the Forestry Office to preserve the many species of birds in Papua which face extinction including Cassowaries, black parrots, and the famous birds of paradise.

Those who prefer to witness natural beauty can visit the Batu Picah beach at Kampung Sor in the north island of Biak with its wonderful views. Other points of interest include the Oridek beach which possesses exotic natural beauty with blue sea waters as well as the Tanjung saruri beach at the mouth of the Pacific which is a draw for surfers. Overall, the growing development of tourism in Biak will impact the hotel and restaurant businesses in the area, along with increasing tourism flows. Many related organizations have made the area a focus of their activities, which in turn will increase the number of tourists and contribute to the local economy.

Exploring Doom Island, a scenic and richly historic destination in West Papua

West Papua has many attractive places to visit, some of which are lesser known than others. Doom island, located just off the coast of Sorong is one of many. It is a worthwhile destination, especially those interested in the history of West Papua.

Community activities on the coast of Doom Island, Sorong City, West Papua, Thursday (6/10/2022). (Info Publik/ Agus Siswanto)

The exact location of the island is about 3 kilometres east of the mainland and can be reached in just 10 to 15 minutes on a boat. Visitors usually come to the island after taking the flight to Sorong, after which they make their way through the busy city centre to a small port here boats are docked, ready to take them to the island.

The island is not very large and only measures 5 km2 and is surprisingly heavily populated, mostly by outsiders. One of the main draws of the island is the scenery. Despite its sinister-sounding moniker to English speakers the island’s name actually translates to “the island where many fruit trees grow” in the local language.

The island’s main attraction is its historical value. It has been used as a settlement since before the colonial era. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the island was part of the Tidore Sultanate. The first Dutch settlers came to the island in the 1800s. In 1935, the island served as the capital of the Sorong government and an economic centre. By then it was already established as a city, with all the necessary supporting infrastructure such as electricity, and other supporting facilities. This is why the island appears relatively advanced compared to others in the area. Even today, the island is known for being visibly brighter than its surrounding areas at night, no doubt due to the long-established electricity grid powering the island’s lights.

The Dutch were not the only ones who dwelt on the island at one time. The Japanese, who ruled Indonesia after the Dutch during the World War II period, had a sizeable military presence on the island during the war and built supporting infrastructure. They dug out caves and built many bunkers for defensive purposes all over the island, based on their military strategy. During this time, the island saw frequent attacks by the Allied forces of the United States and Australia.

This history has shaped the island ever since. This is visible from the infrastructure, particularly the houses. These were designed very differently from those in the rest of West Papua. A few buildings left behind include government offices and places of worship. These structures were well-built, and the fact that many are still being used today is testament to their solid design.

Of course, many visitors will be looking for ways to relax and enjoy their time on the island. They can enjoy the white beaches with surrounding coral reefs. The waves around the island are gentle, making the waters ideal for swimming. Those who want to see the sights can hire pedicabs to take them on a scenic trip around the island.

Overall, Doom Island is certainly an interesting destination, especially for those who want a different atmosphere from the typical attractions in West Papua.

The Time Capsule Monument, Landmark of Merauke

If anything can be considered the landmark in the city of Merauke, the Time Capsule Monument is certainly at the top of the list. The monument, which began construction in 2016 and established in 2018 has since become a popular tourist attraction in the centre of the city, drawing visitors from all over the country. The structure was the brainchild of the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo during the 70th Anniversary of Independence in 2015.   

A special expedition across Indonesia was then initiated to gather messages for the capsule, conveying the hopes and dreams of the younger generation for the country’s future. The expedition began in the west, crossing 34 provinces over the distance of roughly 25.000 kilometres to reach its destination in Merauke, the easternmost point of Indonesia. The messages contained are diverse, but generally convey feelings of optimism for the country’s future. The seven wishes contained within the capsule include for Indonesia to be the centre for education and technology, to uphold ethics, being free from corruption, and becoming an influential country in the Asia Pacific.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of the monument, and one frequently remarked upon by those familiar with it is its shape when seen from above. From the sky, the monument resembles a large letter A, noted to be similar to the logo of the Avengers, superhero characters from the blockbuster films by Marvel studios. The President himself has commented on the resemblance on occasion. The location of the monument so close to the airport also means that passengers approaching the city will have a clear view from the air to see for themselves.

The architecture was apparently designed to be rich in symbolism. The monument is 17 metres wide, 8 metres in height, and 45 metres in length. These numbers are instantly recognisable to Indonesians, as they represent the date of Indonesia’s independence on 17 August 1945. The symbolism also extends to incorporating Papuan culture into the design. The five gates leading to the monument’s centre represent the five tribes of Merauke, the Malind, Muyu, Mandobo, Mappi dan Auyu.

The day we visited the site, the area was quiet. A few people can be seen around the boundaries. A few children were running and others sitting on the grass. Others are seen walking around the edges. The large open field around the monument is frequently used for large open-air events such as concerts.  The site is also located directly across the road from the local government headquarters.

As we walk around the monument, we see stairs leading upwards to the time capsule. After going up a flight of 100 or so steps, the bluish-green sphere of the time capsule comes into view. We pose for photos in front, as many do when visiting this landmark. At the top, a scenic view of the surrounding area unfolds.

The time capsule will be opened in 2085, 70 years after its inception. The opening will undoubtedly be a festive event with much fanfare and celebration. More importantly, it will reveal once and for all whether the best wishes of the young generation for the country’s bright future have come to pass.

Merauke’s Yamai Atib, Wildlife Sanctuary in the City Centre

Papua is known for its natural beauty and variety of its wildlife. Merauke, the easternmost city in Indonesia, is no exception, with various endemic species inhabiting the wilds surrounding the city. For those who wish to see the wildlife without venturing into the forests, wetlands, and other habitats outside of the city, the Yamai Atib Wildlife Park would be a good place to visit.

The small park, located in the centre of the city, was established in 2017 by Frederikus Gebze, the former District Head of Meruke. The name Yamai Atib comes from the language of the Marind tribe, and translates to “gathering place of animals”. It is home to a large variety of animals including deer, wallabies, crocodiles, and a large variety of birds including eagles, cassowaries, and many others. This makes it the closest thing to a zoo in the city centre.

Approaching the park, we immediately see a colourful gate, flanked by pillars topped with faux stag heads. To the left is a row of pendopo, traditional gazebos where people can sit and relax, where a group of people can be seen conversing. To the right is the welcome area leading to the animal enclosures with the Papuan deer, the first animals we see. The park allows visitors to feed the deer, and for a small price, you can buy bunches of spinach to feed them. A couple of kids can be seen with their parents, smiling as they stretch their arms to bring the vegetables to the waiting deer.

Interestingly, the deer is the only animal in the park that is not endemic to Papua and was brought to the region by the Dutch colonial government in the 1920s. They were kept to roam in the parks and gardens before they were released in the wilds outside Merauke, after their numbers increased significantly. The Dutch then allowed for them to be hunted within limits, namely that only the older animals are hunted during a specific period in late December every year. Over the years, venison has become a local delicacy, commonly grilled with skewers or made into jerky. Unfortunately, the excessive hunting has led to large scale migration of the animals to neighbouring Papua New Guinea.

An unexpected member of the menagerie is the wallaby, which is surprisingly an endemic species in Papua. Many would assume that the animal, resembling a smaller kangaroo, is only found in Australia, but they have lived in Papua for a very long time due to the landmasses of Papua and Australia being connected in the past. Much like the deer, the wallaby is under threat from hunting and illegal trading.

As we walk around the enclosure, more animals come into view. Small cages with a variety of colourful birds are seen immediately after. At the further end, we see the large cassowaries and majestic eagles perched on branches. At the end is a cage with small crocodiles, unmoving at the bottom. At the end, we come to a small area with tables and chairs. We are told that this area is frequently used for gatherings by the locals, where they can eat, drink, and sing songs into the night. A small group of people have already gathered, watching the TV screen as it shows a wildlife program.

The park is not large, but contains quite a lot of different animals. After circling the enclosures and taking a few snapshots, we head for the exit. 

A park like Yamai Atib is a valuable one because it allows for conservation of animals, particularly those threatened by hunting such as deer and wallabies. Additionally, it is also a means of educating the public about the wealth of wildlife variety found in Papua, and is well worth a visit.

Raja Ampat Wins Blue Park Award for Marine Ecosystem Protection

Raja Ampat Tourist Area (Elysabeth Chrisye – d’Traveler)

West Papua’s famed Raja Ampat islands, an area of great biodiversity as well as a picturesque tourist destination was recently honoured with The Blue Park Award by the Marine Conservation Institute, which recognizes outstanding marine protected areas (MPAs) all over the world. An MPA is a section of ocean where a government has limited human activity in order to protect it from threats including overfishing, litter, water pollution, and the effects of global climate change.

The Raja Ampat Islands Marine Conservation Area in Indonesia, along with the Apo Reef Natural Park in the Philippines, and Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Park in Colombia received the prestigious honour at the United Nations Ocean Conference, held on 27 June – 1 July 2022.  

The three new Blue Parks, covering a total area of 13,834 sq. km join a growing network of 24 Blue Parks all over the world, recognized for outstanding conservation effectiveness. With their inclusion, Blue Parks now encompass a total of 1,834,171 sq. km of protected waters in 20 countries.

Raja Ampat is located in the heart of the vast Coral Triangle, and is considered one of the most biodiverse locations in the world, with a staggering variety of marine life. Covering roughly 4.6 million hectares of land and sea, 2 million of which make up the Marine Protected Area, the islands are home to more than 1,600 species of fish, 75% of the world’s known coral species, 6 of the 7 known species of vulnerable to critically endangered sea turtles, and 17 known species of marine mammals.

Raja Ampat’s geographical location, sheer biodiversity, and high sea temperatures all year round have made it a magnet for tourists, particularly diving enthusiasts from all over the world. Divers who explore its waters may encounter a number of interesting species including black manta rays, pygmy seahorses, and mantis shrimps, and garden eels.

The success of Raja Ampat as an MPA is due to a collaborative effort launched in 2004 which brought together the local communities, the regional government, and three NGOs – Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund in order to protect the region’s biodiversity, address illegal fishing and secure management for its marine ecosystems. Uniquely, this effort integrates traditional practices including Sasi, a local custom which, in the simplest terms, prevents overexploitation of marine resources by placing limits on fishing in order to allow ecosystem recovery and improve sustainability.

The Blue Park Awards have been given by the Marine Conservation Institute to national governments, non-profit organizations, MPA managers, and local communities who have demonstrated exceptional efforts in the protection of marine ecosystems since 2017. The winners are selected based on rigorous science-based standards for conservation effectiveness. According to the Marine Conservation Institute, the goal of the initiative is to celebrate effective MPAs and incentivize governments, managers, communities and leaders to achieve effective conservation.  

Adapted from:

Marine-conservation.org, Conservation.org, National Geographic, Antara News, and Tribun Papua Barat.

Raja Ampat’s Tourism Infrastructure Development

However, all of this would soon change for the better. With new infrastructure developments in Papua and Raja Ampat in particular, more people would be able to gain access to Raja Ampat. With cheaper costs and better convenience, pricey and challenging travel to Raja Ampat would soon be a thing of history.

With the new developments, beside improving access in Raja Ampat, it can also boost Raja Ampat’s tourism. With better infrastructures, not only will the tourists gain benefit, it would also give benefits to the local people of Papua. More economic boost, and source of income, as well as the direct benefit of better transportation.

So what are these new developments in tourist infrastructure? Lets see!

Marinda Airport

With such a long runway for a local airport (1,600 meters), which is the same as in the big cities of Indonesia, it can accommodate large aircrafts. Marinda Airport will be able to provide direct flight to Raja Ampat. No more long and arduous transits to Raja Ampat. Fly directly to Raja Ampat!

Dominique Edward Osok Airport (Sorong) Renovation

With the renovation of Edward Osok airport, foreign tourists will have better experience during their arrival. This can provide better international access for Raja Ampat. This means better gateway to Papua in general, and Raja Ampat in particular.

Bahari Express Fast Boat

This water transportation provides fast Water transportation from Sorong, as the nearest place of central activities in Papua, to tourist attractions In Raja Ampat. This boat will take you straight from Sorong to Waisai port in Waigeo island, Raja Ampat. Enjoy the water trip with a wonderful scenery along the way.

Waigeo Ring Road

With the distance of 757 km, Waigeo ring road will give way better access to 26 coastal villages in East and West Waigeo. This ring road is expected to give better connectivity between the four Islands of Raja Ampat. Raja Ampat itself means Four Kings, referring to the four islands in Raja Ampat, which are Misool, Salavat, Batanta, Waigeo and Kofiau.

The Waigeo Ring Road route will cover Waisai -Warsambin – Lopintol, Lopintol – Wawiyai, Wawiyai -Kabilol, Waisai – Sapokren – Wawiyai – Waisilip – Saleo – Selpele, Kalitoko – Waifoi – Kopadiri – Kabare, Kabilol – Go – Kopadiri, Kabare – Warmandi – Mnir – Puper – Yenbebaki – Urbinasopen – Yenzner -Mumes, also Yenzner – Kalitoko.

Trans Papua Road

The development of this mega project in Papua and West papua provinces will give better access within these provinces. Moreover, it will make traveling within Papua and West Papua to Raja Ampat easier and faster. With the distance of 4,325 km, Trans Papua road is already 85 percents completed. It will accommodate access and connectivity between central activities in Papua province and West Papua which includes Raja Ampat. These central activities are; Sorong, Timika, and Jayapura in Papua province, and Manokwari, Raja Ampat and Tanah Merah in West Papua province. Trans Papua road will cover two routes in each provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Papua province’s route: Jayapura-Wamena-Mulia, Jayapura-Sarmi, Jayapura-Hamadi-Holtekamp-Perbatasan Papua Nugini, Merauke-Waropko, Timika-Mapurujaya-Pomako, Nabire-Waghete-Enarotali, dan Serui-Menawi-Subeba.

West Papua province’s route: Manowari-Sorong, Manokwari-Bintuni, Fakfak-Hurimber-Bomberay, dan Sorong-Mega.

Tourism Facilities’ Renovation in Painemo Island

For better convenience and better service for tourists in Raja Ampat, currently there are renovations for tourism facilities in Painemo Island. Facilities such as toilets, souvenir shops, local handicraft stalls, and many others are being revamped in this Raja Ampat’s tourist destination. In the future, the renovation will expand to other touristic areas in Raja Ampat.

 

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