Maluku Travel Information - Halmahera

Halmahera: Maluku's Largest Island

Halmahera is the largest island in all Maluku, and by far the largest one in North Maluku province.

Strangely shaped with four mountainous peninsulas, its geographic features also include several active volcanoes, scenic lakes, unexplored caves and plenty of pretty off-shore islands.
It also boasts Aketajawe-Lolobata National Park, the first in North Maluku, and one of the most pristine and unvisited in all Indonesia.
Halmahera also possesses the highest number of endemic birds of all Maluku islands, and a fascinating variety of reptiles - with several interesting new species discovered in recent years.

Its native inhabitants are mostly members of unique ethnic groups who speak languages more closely related to those of Papua and the Pacific than to languages spoken elsewhere in Indonesia or even Maluku. These peoples hold onto some fascinating traditions, though like everywhere in the region, you must be lucky enough to happen on a special event to see traditional rituals, costumes and dancing. Over the years, I have been lucky more than once! :-)

Perhaps not surprisingly, I find Halmahera the most interesting island in Maluku, and have been paying repeat visits since 1999. And I still have plenty to go back for!

The pages below are just a quick overview of the various regions of Halmahera - for many of them I have built separate pages where you will find more detailed info on their attractions and culture.

Attractions Off the Track Activities Shopping Local Culture Getting There Accommodation Food
Main Attractions


This once obscure village on the west coast of Halmahera has been chosen, rather controversially, to replace Ternate as the future capital of North Maluku.
Beyond the original, sleepy coastal village it is now just a huge construction site, with wide roads bulldozed into the jungle and huge, lavish government offices being built along them.
Locals agree it will take many many years for Sofifi to become a real city, and government workers must dread the thought of having to relocate here from Ternate.
For visitors, Sofifi is only of interest as the hub of road transport around Halmahera, and thus the best gateway into the island.


Once the fourth sultanate in North Maluku, Jailolo's main attraction today are the beautiful setting of its capital of the same name, and the traditional rumah adat (village halls) in the ethnic Sahu villages north of the town.


A major Japanese base during the 2nd World War, the district of Kao offers some war relics around its capital town of the same name, plus good beaches and snorkelling at Pulau Bobale just off the village of Daru.
It is also the starting point for hiking across the interior to Ibu.


Tobelo is the largest district in North Halmahera, and its capital of the same name is the most frequently visited destination on the island. While the town itself is dull, the district offers fine beaches, off-shore islands, and even an active volcano.


An easy day-trip from Tobelo, but even more rewarding if given more time, the Galela district consists of a dozen villages fringing 3 beautiful volcanic lakes inland from its capital Soasio, plus remote coastal ones along the eastern side of Hamahera's northernmost tip.
There is a lot to see or do here, from climbing North Maluku's most impressive active volcano through exploring WWII relics and remote waterfalls to snorkelling on some of Halmahera's finest reefs.

Off the Beaten Track


The district of Sahu just north of Jailolo in Western Halmahera hosts plenty of traditional "rumah adat", as well as some of Maluku's most colourful traditional festivals.


The west coast district of Ibu has two active volcanos south and east of its capital Tengutesungi.
One of the two, Gunung Gamkonora, is in fact the highest mountain in Halmahera. It is an easy climb from the village of Gamsungi - but check in with the Kepala Desa there first!


Rugged and remote with no roads, the Loloda district, with its capital Kedi, stretches along the western side of Halmahera's northern tip. It has a couple of beautiful, inhabited islands off its northern coastline.


Set on a scenic bay at the foot of forested mountains in the Maba district, Buli is a little town known for nickel-mining on a nearby island.
It is also the major town in eastern Halmahera, but that is not saying much...


The far eastern tip of Halmahera, Patani is a surprisingly developed, historic area looking towards Papua.


The district of Weda, home to the Sawai people, is where the south-eastern and southern peninsulas of the island meet.
The main "town", more like a scruffy village with muddy roads, has recently been chosen as the capital of Central Halmahera.
The only thing of interest in town is the island that is the traditional burial ground of the locals (on the photo), though further afield there is a great cave, waterfalls and a small lake.


Gane is the southern peninsula of Halmahera. It is mountainous, with lots of forest and birds. There are also beautiful islands off the coast, notably the Widi archipelago with its rich coral reefs.
The native Giman (Gane) people are very friendly Muslims, who are now very much outnumbered in the region by migrants from Makian, Tobelo, Galela and Sulawesi.



The Loloda region at Halmahera's northernmost tip seems to have some very unexplored surfing potential. See my Loloda pages for more info.


Not Much Around...

Halmahera isn't particularly noted for handicrafts, though if you look hard and appreciate simple, local crafts, you can find some.
Shields and swords are made for cakalele dance, and women are good at plaiting little betel-boxes and big trays and mats with fine patterns.
Nothing is made for tourists so you will mostly just have to do some asking around in villages, and maybe order and wait for your purchase.
One place where you could get a selection of local crafts is Tobelo, where there is a small craft-shop in the Hibualamo.

Local Culture

The North Halmahera Cultural Festival

Held in Tobelo town yearly on the days before Indonesia's Independence Day on 17th August, this festival offers a rare chance to see a good cross-section of the island's culture, both traditional and more modern. It features many groups and solo performers alike, though obviously only from North Halmahera Regency.
Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, the other regencies of Halmahera don't stage similar events, nor do I know of a similar festival anywhere else in Maluku for that matter.


Perhaps the most popular performances of the festival seemed to be the traditional tide-tide dances. They are performed by mixed groups of boys and girls, and traditionally often accompany weddings. Here at the festival, many of the groups were of young children, representing various schools around town.


The best known traditional dance in all Maluku, the cakalele war dance was also performed by many at the festival. This is usually danced by a single men or boy waving a salawako (shield) and kalewang (sword), accompanied by a female dancer.
In traditional context, cakalele may be performed at some stage of weddings, but is more often performed to welcome important visitors to a village.


The female dancer accompanying the cakalele dancer performs a very different, graceful, but also fast dance called "sisi" in the Galelarese (and Tobelorese?) language.
She is typically more fancifully dressed than girls dancing tide-tide.
This Tobelorese girl was particularly pretty, and was chosen for promotional photos after her performance!


A not-so-traditional, but still typically North Halmaheran art form is the Yangere.
This is performed by a group of men playing on various instruments, most characteristically on that huge, boxy string instrument. It also involves beautiful singing, and slow dancing by the female members of the group.
Yangere is associated with Christians, and is popularly performed at non-traditional festivities like New Year's Eve.
It strongly reminded me of the music played by string-bands in the South Pacific!


This might just be the Muslims' equvivalent of the Yangere.
Qasidah is an Arabic-influenced music style, usually sung by women clad in full cover (almost never worn by Muslim women in Maluku in everyday life) and often playing on small drums.
It gained popularity during the sectarian violence that hit the region around 2000, when Muslim identities were strengthened. Now it seems slightly less popular, but still found its way to this festival, with many of the Qasidah songs bearing local themes, and often urging reconciliation and peaceful living side-by-side.

Local Pop

There were also many eager singers of local pop songs participating in the festival.
They all had to sing a compulsory song about Halmahera, then had a go a a song of their choice. Many of the chosen songs were in the North Malukan Malay dialect, a few in Ambonese, but the most interesting ones in native languages of North Halmahera, notably Galelarese and Tobelorese.
For the final, all pop singers had to don traditional dress, with this Tobelorese girl making a particularly noteworthy appearence!

Getting There and Around

By Air

Three airports in Halmahera are served by private airlines as of 2011.

Buli has flights from Ternate on Expressair and Wings.

Kao has flights from Manado on Wings.

Galela has flights from both Ternate and Manado on Expressair, and from Ternate on NBA, too.

By Sea

From North Sulawesi, there is a weekly boat from Manado to Tobelo on Mondays. Another ship has apparently recently started running from Manado to various Halmaheran ports via Ternate on Tuesdays - let's see if this service lasts!
The odd Perintis cargo ship also comes to Halmahera from Papua.

Within North Maluku, there are regular connections from  Tidore to Sofifi, Morotai to Tobelo, once a week from Gebe to Patani and Weda, and sometimes from Bacan to Saketa on the southern peninsula.
However, most transport to Halmahera starts in Ternate.
Speedboats from there go to Sofifi (for the eastern coast of the northern peninsula as well as for the north-eastern peninsula and Weda), Jailolo (for the north-western coast) and various villages along the southern peninsula.
Larger wooden passenger boats serve the islands of Loloda, the villages of the southern peninsula, as well as Buli and Patani.

Within Halmahera, boats run from Tobelo around the north-eastern peninsula as far as Buli, and from Weda speedboats run to Patani.
Chartering is often necessary to reach the most remote villages.

By Road

The road-system in Halmahera is expanding. Good roads are largely limited to the northern peninsula, where there are regular shared taxis and minibuses between Ibu and Tobelo via Sidangoli and on to Galela.
Roads have now also reached the Weda area in the south and  and Buli and Maba in the east.
The Patani district on the island's south-eastern tip has a surprisingly good road network betwen local villages, though the newly built road from Weda to Patani has as of latest been basically been reclaimed by jungle.
The main centre for road traffic around the island is now Sofifi.


Only in a Few Towns!

Only a few places in Halmahera offer (mostly basic) hotel accomodation: Tobelo, Galela, Kao, Sidangoli, Jailolo, Buli, Saketa and Weda.


Basic Fare

There are basic warungs in several towns, mostly in those which also have accommodation, or are important transport or market hubs.
You'll usually get the standard Indonesian fare.
To sample local food, look around the markets - some, like the one in Galela shown in this photo do sell local food as takeaways.