Indonesia (December 2018): Five days in Ternate and Tidore


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Ternate and Tidore are two small islands in the Molucca (Maluku) Sea, located in the north of the Maluku archipelago, a short distance west from the much bigger Halmahera island. Two ancient Islamic sultanates founded in the 13th century (Ternate) and the 15th century (Tidore), they were once the largest world producers of clove. For centuries, clove was an extremely valuable spice used to preserve and flavor foods and beverages, prevent and treat various medical ailments ranging from toothache to arthritis, manufacture cosmetics... It is even said that visitors to the Han Dynasty court in China were only permitted to address the emperor if their breath had been sweetened with cloves! Their dominance in clove allowed Ternate and Tidore to become the most powerful sultanates in the region. At the peak of their power near the end of the 16th century and during the 17th century, they had influence over a large geographical area including parts of Sulawesi, Halmahera, Ambon and Seram, and parts of Papua. However, they also have a long history of bitter rivalry and they spent much of their wealth fighting each other.


The first Europeans to establish a settlement in the area were the Portuguese who were permitted by the Ternate sultan to build a fort (Benteng Kastela) in 1522 on the southwest coast of Ternate. But souring relations between Ternateans and Portuguese led to the killing of Sultan Hairun by the Portuguese in 1570, which then caused the rebellion of the Ternateans and finally the expulsion of the Portuguese from Ternate in 1575. Then the most active colonial powers in the region (Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands) played one sultanate against the other to extend or maintain their influence, while each of the two sultanates played a similar game by exploiting rivalry and competition between these powers, with the Dutch eventually prevailing. The existence of the two sultanates continued almost un-interrupted until today. Although the current sultans have little actual power, the sultanates remain well-respected institutions.


Ternate is an almost perfect volcanic cone, the Gamalama volcano culminating at 1715m. Tidore has a slightly more complicated geography, but the island is also dominated by a volcanic cone, Kiematubu (1730m). Gamalama is still active. Since the early 16th century over 70 eruptions have been recorded.


Ever since my first trip to Indonesia in 1972 (see here) I had wished to visit Ternate and Tidore, mostly because of their rich and unusual history. I finally did this trip in December 2018 by combining it with another trip to Taiwan. I spent 5 days in Ternate, including a day ascent of Gamalama and a day trip to Tidore. Looking back, I should have planned a slightly longer trip so that I could have spent more time in Tidore, especially in highland villages, and climbed Kiematubu.


During my stay in Kota Ternate my ″home″ was the very friendly Kurnia homestay (photo below). The owner, Aty, was a great source of help to find a guide to climb Gamalama and a reliable ojek (motorbike taxi) driver to drive me around Ternate and Tidore.



To see photos of this trip click on the links below.


Ascent of Gamalama (day trip)

Tidore (day trip)












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