Despite the near-constant rain during my trip to the Kei Islands in Maluku, the place still charmed me.
Located directly south of Papua’s “bird head”, the Kei Islands encompass a number of small islands with Kei Besar and Kei Kecil the biggest islands in the group. Kei Besar may be bigger in size, but it is Kei Kecil, or Nuhu Roa district, which has the larger population.
Last month, I visited Nuhu Roa, which is bordered by the Banda Sea in the north, the Arafura Sea in the west and the Indian Ocean in the south.
My trip was short, but I had the opportunity to see half a dozen of the islands’ gems.
Situated around 15-20 minutes by motorcycle from Tual city in Maluku, Ohoi Kelanit ('ohoi' means 'village' in the local language) was the first stop on my exciting journey.
The place is a draw for visitors wanting to capture on camera the island’s breathtaking sunrise from the top of Masbait Hill.
Though Ohoi Kelanit serves as a place of pilgrimage for local Catholics, visitors can freely climb the hill and enjoy the area's natural beauty.
Ohoi Dertawun, Ohoi Lilir and Ohoi Ngilngof
Paying a visit to Ohoi Dertawun, around 30 minutes from Masbait Hill, is highly recommended due to its charming coastline.
You can choose to spend a night or two here, or continue the journey to Ohoi Ngilngof, also on the sea, and visit the region's famous Ngur Bloat (literally “long and sandy beach”) to see a stunning sunset.
Ohoi Ngilngof is also home to Lake Ablel, a place of intriguing mythology: a lady called Te Idar who cursed the village, a holy crocodile and people seeking blessings at the lake.
Together with another seaside village called Ohoi Lilir, which is a short distance from Ohoi Ngilngof, visitors can enjoy a holiday free from the crowds and the city.
Heading south, around an hour by motorcycle from Ohoi Ngilngof there’s a cave which will make you forget to draw breath. The locals call it Lian Hawang (“lian” means cave, “hawang” means black magic).
If you’re brave enough, and remember to bring your swimming stuff, you can swim in the gorgeous, turquoise water, then explore the cave and find its exit at the sea.
Situated around 30 minutes by motorcycle from Ohoi Ngilngof, Debut is a small port where you can rent a boat to take you to Ngur Tafur or Tanimbar Ke, small islands around Kei Kecil.
How to get there
Presently, there are only two ways to reach Kei Islands: by air, using any airline that offers flights to Ambon Island in Maluku and Langgur in the Kei Islands, and by sea.
If you choose the latter, you can use any boat service to Tual in Maluku. But do prepare for a true adventure since the journey can take up to five days. If you are travelling with KM Tidar, for example, the five-day route entails Jakarta-Surabaya-Makassar-Bau Bau-Ambon-Banda-Tual.
This long journey may be well worth it for its sights: the spectacular views of the Java Sea, the Makassar Strait and the Banda Sea; the chance to glimpse beautiful maritime dawns and twilights; and, above all, Gunung Api Island (one of East Indonesia's most active volcanoes, rising 656 meters above sea level, which has known eruptions since the 1500s) when the ship arrives at Banda.
Where to stay
There is a variety of accommodation in Tual and Kei Kecil.
If you want to enjoy the ultimate beach atmosphere and get away from the crowds, try Savanna Cottages in Ohoi Dertawun (managed by the lovely couple Lucie and Gerson; http://savannacotages.com); Coaster Cottage in Ohoi Lilir (run by Bob and Ketty;http://www.bestbeachbungalows.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org); and Penginapan DeLima at Ohoi Ngilngof (managed by Beny;+6282238803711).
What to eat
You can expect the freshest of seafood in Nuhu Roa. One of the local species that lives in the reefs around its shallow waters is the goropa fish, also known as grouper or kerapu.
Another fish you can expect to eat here is the momar fish, also known as carangidae or layang.
You should also try embal, a typical food of Southeast Maluku that you can easily find in the area's traditional markets, supermarkets and souvenir shops.
Made from cassava, embal is usually consumed with hot tea, coffee or milk as well as fish and vegetable dishes. Take your pick from flavors such as peanut, cheese and walnut.
- The best time to enjoy the beauty of Kei Kecil is from the end of September until November.
- Mind your health by taking anti-malaria pills before traveling to any region in East Indonesia.
- Prepare for poor phone service due to the unstable signal.
- You don't have to bring a lot of cash -- ATMs of many banks are available.
- Before heading to Kei Kecil, consider purchasing necessary supplies at a large shopping center named GOTA in Tual. Do be aware that the price of several items will be higher compared with Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar and Ambon.
- City transport, though quite rare, is available to reach several villages in Kei Kecil. More practical is to take an ojek (motorcycle taxi). A trip from Tual to Ohoi Ngilngof will cost around Rp 30,000 (US$2.56). A day using ojek to explore Kei Island will cost between Rp 150,000 and Rp 200,000.
- You can rent a motorcycle and explore Kei Kecil yourself if you want, but do remember to bring a map. Alternatively, hire a local guide recommended by your accommodation’s owner. I did this while staying at Penginapan DeLima.
- Don't forget to bring sunglasses, a hat and a raincoat -- just in case.