East Nusa Tenggara, or Nusa Tenggara Timur, has a reputation as Indonesia’s Little Africa. It has the savannahs, the wild animals, the gorgeous green seas and white-sand beaches, and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.
Text by Grace Solarbesain | Photos courtesy of Indonesia Ministry of Tourism
East Nusa Tenggara is located in the eastern reaches of the Lesser Sunda Islands. The provincial capital is Kupang, located in West Timor. The province consists of about 565 islands, but is dominated by the three main islands of Flores, Sumba and West Timor.
If it is adventure you desire, East Nusa Tenggara is the destination for you.
One of the most exciting destinations in East Nusa Tenggara is Komodo Island, home to the famed Komodo Island, the closest thing the world has to dinosaurs. The island is part of the Komodo National Park and Marine Reserve, a professionally managed world-class nature park and diving destination. Komodo is a unique destination, with a stretch of dry forest and savannah combining with the hilly terrain and the infinite blue sky overhead, a sprinkling of white clouds making for an incomparable painting.
The legendary ancient dragon is naturally the main draw, but the park also provides refuge for many other notable species such as the orange-footed scrub fowl, an endemic rat and the Timor deer. Below the water there are about 1,000 species of fish, hundreds of species of coral and 70 species of sponge, not to mention the whales, dolphins, dugongs, sharks, sea turtles, mangroves and seagrass beds that call the area home or are frequent visitors.
There is so much natural beauty in the park and so many animals to spot, but the main show of course is watching for the Komodo dragon, an ancient animal that has survived for more than 300 million years. The Komodo is the world’s largest lizard species with an average length of 3.13 metres while it can reach up to 165 kilograms in weight. There are about 2,500 Komodo dragons on Komodo Island and a couple of other smaller islands, including Rinca and Padar islands.
When you go in search of the dragons, take care and always go with a park ranger, who can show you the best areas for dragon spotting and can keep the creatures at bay if they try and get frisky.
In a region of incredible sights, few top the mysterious Kelimutu lakes. The three coloured lakes are located in the crater of Mount Kelimutu, a volcano near Ende on Flores Island. The lakes change colour over time due to the volcanic activity that started millions of years ago. It is believed that the Kelimutu lakes are the only lakes in the world that change colour like this.
The lakes were at one time red, blue and white, but in 1969 an eruption occurred and the lakes changed to brown, green and black. Locals consider the lakes sacred, where the souls of the dead dwell. According to legend, the souls of young people go to the warmth of Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai (green lake), the souls of the old go to the cold of Tiwu Ata Mbupu (brown lake) and the souls of thieves and murders go to Tiwu Ata Polo (black lake). But after an earthquake in 1992, all of the lakes turned green. Who knows what colour they will take next.
To get to the top of Mount Kelimutu, start in Moni, a village at the foot of the volcano. It’s about 12 kilometres to the peak, but you can drive 11 of those and then park and walk the last kilometre, which takes about 30 minutes. Morning is the best time to witness the beauty of the lakes. Starting around midday a thick mist descends over the lakes, blocking the view. On sunny days, the peak of Kelimutu affords sweeping views over Flores’s hilly topography. And Kelimutu National Park is alive with the chirping of birds and the screeching of the long-tailed monkeys.
Take the Plunge
Perhaps the best way to explore East Nusa Tenggara is from under the water. And the best snorkelling and diving can be found around the Alor archipelago.
Alor is a hidden paradise for marine biodiversity. Diving allows you to appreciate all the richness of the underwater world, but with just your snorkelling gear, you can enjoy the incredibly rich and lively coral reefs. Several dive sites in particular are renowned for big fish, including schools of big-eye jacks, dogtooth tuna, sharks, giant groupers, Napoleon wrasse, eagle rays and the occasional mola-mola. There is also an impressive concentration of invertebrates, anemones and hard and soft coral. In the Pantar Strait, you can also see pilot whales and dolphins. Pods of whales will also pass through the islands on their way to the Pacific Ocean.
If you are looking for first-class diving or a more authentic setting than the regular tourist haunt, come to Alor and explore the stunning sea life and coral gardens.
Easy Does It
All that adventure can be tiring, but luckily there are plenty of places in East Nusa Tenggara that are all about the relaxation.
First on your list should be Pink Beach in Flores. It seems there are only seven pink-sand beaches in the world, and one of them is in East Nusa Tenggara. The pink sand is formed from fragments of red coral. Or you can go to the most famous beach in Kupang, in West Timor. Lasiana Beach, about 14 kilometres outside of Kupang, is an ideal spot for some rest and relaxation. It is a popular weekend destination for locals, and you will find friends and families on the shore grilling fish, playing guitar or knocking around a volleyball. And it’s the best place to catch the sunset.
Bloody Good Time
A visit to East Nusa Tenggara would not be complete without taking in the unique culture. The most famous cultural event is probably the Pasola Festival. Pasola is a war game played by Sumbanese men to celebrate the rice planting season. It involves throwing wooden spears at opponents while riding a horse. It is played by two different groups of men from different clans or tribes and it requires a lot of skill at horse riding and spear throwing, and it goes without saying that it is dangerous and blood is spilled. The Sumbanese believe the spilled blood will fertilize the land and increase the rice harvest.
Pink beaches, thriving reefs, coloured lakes, dragons, and flying spears. Only in East Nusa Tenggara will you find such a thrilling combination of sights and sounds.