Maluku Travel Information - North Maluku
North Maluku: The Land of Four Mountains

The Land of Four Mountains, or Bumi Kie Raha in the native Ternatese language, is what many proud locals call Maluku's smaller, and today less visited province. The four mountains in question are those that rise over the historic sultanates of Ternate, Tidore, Bacan and Jailolo, once the seats of mighty empires whose territories stretched far beyond the boundaries of today's Maluku, with a wealth based on the tiny, dried buds of a certain tree growing only here: cloves.

Indeed, these were the "original" spice islands, the search for which prompted Magellan's historic first circumnavigation of the Earth. Portuguese, Spaniards, English and Dutch all fought over the control of the four tiny islands that were then the only source of that precious commodity which was worth its weight in gold. Much of their legacy remains to be seen today, in the form of old fortresses overlooking the coasts, presents of ancient armour that the European rulers sent to the local sultans, Portuguese loanwords in the local languages, and a far richer body of literature devoted to these islands than to any other in Maluku. The European overlords might be gone today, but the sultanates remain, and the chance to visit their palaces or perhaps to catch one of their ceremonies is one that can only be had in this corner of East Indonesia. History apart, North Maluku also has a lot to offer for those more interested in its scenic beauty, diverse flora and fauna, or singular ethnic cultures.

All but one of the original four Spice Islands are of volcanic origin - in fact a greater concentration of impressive volcanoes, many of which are still active, rising straight out of the sea can not be found anywhere else in Indonesia, making for a very impressive skyline. The combination of fertile volcanic soil and the province's location right on the Equator has resulted in an extremely lush vegetation covering these islands, whether it is primary rainforest or spice plantation. The forests themselves, particularly on Halmahera, Maluku's largest island, are alive with colourful birds, butterflies and reptiles, in fact a surprising number of new species have been described from here even in the last 10 years. Famous naturalist Wallace chose Ternate as his base during his voyages around eastern Indonesia. The native people of these islands, though mostly Muslim and Malay-looking, speak languages more closely related to those of Melanesia than to the rest of Indonesia, and traditional music, dance and way of dress are more easily seen here than in central or southern Maluku.

For those aloof to all the above, the usual pleasures of sun-sea-sand can be had too, although it must be admitted that with the main focus being on history and nature, beach-oriented tourism has only started to be developed in the province very recently. Certainly those looking for established travellers' hangouts with a wide range of beachside accommodation, entertainment and restaurants catering to western tastes had better stick to neighbouring North Sulawesi. But those who prefer finding their own stretch of unspoilt, white sand or largely unsurveyed coral reefs while mingling with friendly locals instead of fellow travellers may just find the setting perfect!
I myself certainly do - which is why you will find greater detail on North Maluku on this site than on any other part of Indonesia. ;-)