Superb coral gardens and array of tropical marine life defend coastlines of virgin white beaches in the north of the island of Sulawesi. Mountains and volcanoes dominate the scenery with over 50 summits, some of which are still active, reminding the islanders and the world of the potential power of one of the earth's most tremendous forces. The people of North Sulawesi can be classified into four groups; Minahasa, Bolaang Mongondow, Gorontalo and the Sangir Talaud. The Minahasans are cantered around the city of Manado, but the entire region has a strong tradition of trade and contact with the outside world. The Sangir-Talaud islands, to the north of the mainland, form a natural bridge to the Philippines providing a convenient route for peoples and cultures to easily move between Indonesia and the Philippines, and many traces of Filipino culture can still be found here. First contacts with European traders came in the 16th century with the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese and with them they brought Christianity. It wasn't until the arrival of the Dutch, however, that Christianity became the predominant religion of the area with the western parts of the province of Bolaang Mongondow and Gorontalo remaining as small Muslim principalities until the turn of the century.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Manado is a booming city of some 400,000 inhabitants, on a bay of the same name near the tip of Sulawesi's northern peninsula. Differently than most major cities in Indonesia, Manado is an overwhelmingly Christian town, a gift of colonial times. Manado's main interests for the traveller are its convenient location as a base for exploring the Tondano region, and the splendid underwater scenery of Bunaken.
Bunaken Marine National Park
The marvellous coral reefs of Bunaken are known worldwide as one of the leading dive sites in Indonesia, itself renowned as being among the world's most significant regions for marine biodiversity. The national park's 790 km2 are estimated to support over 2,500 species of fish, and form an important protection zone for fisheries recourses. Most of the park consists of six continental islands off the north coast of Sulawesi near the provincial capital, Manado. All the islands of the park are surrounded by a fringing reef with a narrow reef-flat and steep external slope. There are lagoons around Nain Island, along the northern coast of Montehage Island, and the southern coast of Bunaken Island.
Bitung is set fabulously beneath the mountains of the northern peninsula's tip, on the western shore of the Lembeh Strait. Lemeh Island to the east shelters the town's natural harbour from the full force of the weather, making it a perfect hub for the region's commercial fishing industry. The town itself is tidily laid out with wide roads, and boasts a strange replica of the Eiffel Tower with an anchor on the top.
The Minahasa region south of Manado, including the cool and salubrious highlands around Tomohon and Lake Tondano, the area around Kotamobagu, and the coastal area around Inobonto and Lolak, provides relaxing retreats from Manado. Mount Klabat, dormant volcano is the highest peak, stands at 1,995 metres above sea level. It offers fine views from the summit across the entire northern end of the peninsula.
Gorontalo, a port city on the south coast of Sulawesi's northern peninsula, is the access point for Lake Limboto, and the Togian region. Gorontalo escaped bombing during World War II, and that is why its architecture has retained a certain air of pre-war Indonesia, there are still some 50 colonial style houses.
Tangkoko Dua Saudara Nature Reserve
The nature reserve of Tangkoko Dua Saudara has become the most popular wild terrestrial area of Sulawesi because of the ease of seeing some rare, significant and interesting animals. It lies at the eastern tip of the northernmost of Sulawesi's attenuated limbs, its 8,867 hectares encompassing a variety of habitats, from coral reefs, mangroves and coastal forest to savannah grassland and lowland, submontane and cloud forest. This is the best place to see the Sulawesi black macaques and the spectral tarsier and some endemic birds. The reserve is named after its two highest peaks: Gunung Tangkoko, at 1,109 metres and Dua Saudara, at 1,350 metres.
Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park
Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park was established to protect the water-catchments area of an important rice-growing region and to decrease flood damage to the nearby major town of Gorontalo and the inhabited area which surround it. Comprising 2,870 km2 of northern Sulawesi, the park contains a good variety of vegetation types: lowland primary forest, lowland vegetation on alluvial soils, lower montane forest and moss forest. The park is also exceptional for bird watching, with most of Sulawesi's 96 endemic bird species being present here.
The Togians are a group of islands clustered in the Gulf of Tomini, a huge bay which is formed by Central and North Sulawesi on three sides and the open to the Maluku Sea to the east. Dotted about in an area of 1,000 km2, the islands are quite craggy, with steep-sided limestone hills reaching 548 metres at the highest point. Island are important because of their status as one the last refuges of the endangered coconut crab, their endemic wildlife, and the variety of coral reefs.