Only recently (October 2009), after having searched extensively the web and read all info (very few indeed, see my previous post) found on the area, I had the opportunity of doing this long wished trip.
It’s a unique chance for those wanting to cope their love for nature diversity with curiosity for fairly known layer of Indonesian ethnics, in the cultural and social richness of the periphery of the empire. All dressed by an indispensable even basic bahasa (no English here).
My itinerary starts from Luwuk (eastern portion of Sulawesi Tenggah), reaches the southern part of the Banggai Archipelago and ends in the Natural Reserve of Morowali, but can be easily done in reverse. Luwuk is reached by means of a daily flight from Makassar (Batavia Air, 12.00-13.10, 800.000 rp OW) that gives you plenty of time to reach the harbor (Kijang from airport, 30.000 rp), buy the boat ticket (2 boats on this route, EKLESIA and SALVADOR, 21.00-6.00, 9 hrs, 80.000 rp + 50.000 rp one berth, no food on board) and have few hours for visiting the town hiring an ojek (motorbike with driver, 10.000+ for a tour; dine grilled fish and local sauces at RM Nelayan, 50.000+ rp).
BANGGAI is the bustling capital of the homonym island (once of the kabupaten Banggai Kepulauan, now moved to Salakan, island of Peling) and a good starting point for exploring this part of the archipelago. 3 losmen: DON MERY (next to the harbor, 50/100.000 rp, bft 15000 rp), BARATA (similar price, next to the Raja house) and WOLIO. Rent an ojek to tour the island and bath in remote white beaches. I found AMBO a very kind and good hearted young guide. Reach him through his cousin SUHARTI (hp 081 245119548) who will also help you visit more remote islands, such as BANGKURUNG and the nearby secluded paradises of GALULA, LOMUNAN and TOLOBUNDO (many Banggai Cardinal fish here, at the KEBUN BUTU BABI spot).
Take the boat to Bangkurung (at least 2 boats ply this route, daily 10.00-15.00, 30.000 rp, roofed deck only, no seats) and get out at LALA village, where Banggai ethnic lives. Stay with the extremely friendly Suharti’s older sister family (pak JERIAN and ibu SUHARTI); expect to give some 50.000 rp/d for a fullboard (better bring some food). They can organize a day-tour to the outer islets and atolls nearby (50-100.000 rp for fuel + something to the fishermen who will host you and grill truly fresh fish on the beach - true gourmets or curious will try the local delicacy, ONDOON, raw fish dressed with lime and chilly). The return boat to Banggai leaves Lala at 6.30 and sometimes arrives in time to hop on the bigger boat to Luwuk (12.30-21.30).
In Luwuk there are few decent losmen (DYNASTY, EBONY, IMPERIAL all at 120-150.000 rp w. bft) and new hotel (IGORA at 250-500.000 rp, and ROSALINA). To BATURUBE, the eastern entry point to the Natural Reserve of MOROWALI, there is a kijang every 2nd day (at 7.00, 80.000 rp, 5 hrs) and a daily bus (at 9.00, 60.000 rp, 6+ hrs) from the terminal at kilo 9. A very scenary road, partly washed out by frequent floods. In Baturube stay at penginapan NUR (50.000 rp, no bft, just in front of the jetty, with warung nearby) or WANTI, just after the new harbor (looks more pleasant). A nice and interesting day excursion is by ojek to TARONNGO, a secluded hamlet at the end of the road to the mountains, on the banks of the SOLOTO river. Here you can experience the “modern” situation of the WANA people, where rows of new huts are offered in the myopic effort to relocate then out of their forest, and have a first contact with their shyness and way of living and, at the end, enter the forest, their true home. A good guide could be ALMON (081.245283498) who for 100.000 rp will bring you there on the rear of his motorbike. He knows also a Bajau man, pak HAMBDULLA HADJI, who knows plenty about MALEO nesting grounds along the black sandy beach near the PEO river mouth. Arrange a short perahu ride (100.000 rp) and a wishfully rewarding haunt for this unique bird, led by pak Hadji (50.000 rp for his strong concern to protect these birds; beware of the forest flea, or KUTU MERAH).
From Baturube catch one of the 4 boats that ply the route to the fascinating Tomori Bay and Kolonodale (11.00-16.00, return 2.00-7.00, 40.000 rp, only deck). Few losmen in Kolonodale: UJUNG PANDANG (50-130.000 rp, dusty), LESTARI (60-180.000 rp, big private house with airy backyard), SEDERHANA (old and rundown). The NGO Friends of Morowali has closed down and books and maps are in the hands of its founder Jabar LAHADJI, who now works for the local government. Meet with ALI (081.241340150), a former member of the NGO who still acts as a guide and can arrange 1 to 3 days trekking into the jungle and visit the Wana people. Expect to pay 500.000+ rp for the boat (bargain) and 250.000 rp/d for the guide, plus the porter and food if needed. Even a 1 day sample of the exciting lowland forest and closest Wana hamlet (such as MARISA)can be highly rewarding. The forest is home of dozens of endemic plants and animals. At Kolonodale eat at various warung near the market or sample the grilled fish at RM AROMA LAUT (50.000+ rp).
From Kolonodale you may head west to the common route to Poso and Palu, or the Trans Sulawesi to Makassar via Parepare (but check actual situation in the Poso-Tentena-Pendolo area first). Or head southward to Soroako via the MATANO lake (the Indonesia deepest). Catch the bus at 10.00 (the Mega Mas is convenient since its 90.000 rp ticket include the lake crossing) to NUHA on the Matano shore. The road is nearly impassable but the scenery is of great beauty and interest: virgin forested hilltops, vast caoutchouc plantations, “balinese” ricefields, unhopeful forest clearings. Pass the lake over an odd all-wooden catamaran and you’ll be in time to catch the night bus to Makassar (Liman VIP, 170.000 rp, reclining seats, ice cold AC, snak, wc). SOROAKO is where a huge nickel mine is under exploitation, vanishing vast area of the forest. Mining rights are being given by local government to exploit patches of the Morowali Reserve too. In town, waiting for the night to come, expect to cross your first westerner and cold beer since long.