Project Description





Highlights: Geology & history of Northern Moluccas / High elevation flora & fauna / Mangrove ecology / Endemic birds / Wallecia / Service project / Coral reef ecology / Survival skills

Islands Under The Volcanoes – 8 Days

Once the center of world focus and rivalry for the coveted spice trade, the northern Moluccas is but a quiet backwater today and a mere footnote in the history of exploration. Almost completely off the tourist radar, this region of Indonesia is still one of the least visited regions of the world, which is strange considering the stunning beauty, wealth of history, and natural wonders it has to offer.

Students on this trip will delve deep into the ancient geological history of the region, retracing the steps of the earliest settlers and explore the remains of Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch forts during the island’s turbulent 15th to 17th century history as the epicenter of the world’s spice trade. They will explore seven islands few visitors have ever set foot on, traverse the slopes of a volcano, snorkel over reefs with the greatest diversity of life on our planet and come face to face with rare and endemic birds – including a bird of paradise – found here and nowhere else.

Community service projects will form an important component of this trip. Working together with village children, visiting students will engage in tree planting programs to expand habitat for critically endangered birds, clean sea turtle nesting beaches of trash and create educational murals as a lasting testimony to conservation.

Looking for a learning destination, rich in subject material and as removed from the tourist crowds as you’re likely to get in today’s world? Look no further.

Study Focus: geology and human history of the northern Moluccas

  • Students arriving on direct flights from Jakarta or via Manado will be greeted at Ternate Airport and transferred by bus to a pier where we will board a launch for the short trip to Ternate’s neighboring island – Tidore.
  • We now transfer by local vehicle to the mountain village of Gurubunga, perched 800 meters up the slopes of the stunningly symmetrical and towering (1,730 m) Kiematubu volcano.
  • Gurabunga village is the center of ancient “adat” traditions of Tidore Island. Local legend claims that when the sultan of Baghdad sent his four sons to rule over the clove islands, the one who formed the Tidore dynasty vanished into thin air once his task was completed. The spot where he disappeared is Gurubunga village, marked by a spirit house set in the forest where ancient animistic practices still take place in this largely Christian region of Indonesia.
  • We will be welcomed into the house of the headman in this delightfully cool mountain village and treated to a wonderful home stay experience our first night.
  • After a delicious home cooked dinner, students will have a study session on the fascinating natural history of Indonesia and the human history that brought ships from around the world to Tidore, Ternate and three neighboring islands of Moti, Mare and Makian that were, at one time, the world’s sole source of cloves.
  • This rare spice first arrived in Europe via Arab traders. Later, countless ships were launched from Portugal, Spain, Holland and England in search of it. This created bitter rivalries from the 14th to 17th centuries and put little Tidore and Ternate islands on the world map. Students will learn how the search for the mythical “spice islands” inadvertently led to the discovery of the New World.

Overnight: Headman’s House, Gurubunga, Tidore Island

Study Focus: high elevation flora & fauna / mangrove ecology

  • Everyone rises early this morning to take in the breathtaking views of sunrise over the Maluku Sea. There should be many high elevation birds active at this time of the morning so we will set off to spot, identify and photograph birds before breakfast.
  • Nourished with good food we set off along a footpath on a 6km hike along the flanks of Kiematubu Volcano.
  • As we skirt the base of the volcano from Burubunga to Ladike and then descend to the coast at Jaya, we will have traversed the entire island of Tidore. Views of Maitara and Ternate islands seen along the way will be magnificent.
  • There will excellent opportunities along our hike route to lean about the unique flora and fauna of the Moluccas as well as have intimate glimpses into the daily lives of the people.
  • Arriving on the coast we will enjoy a picnic lunch and then transfer by boat to some excellent snorkeling sites on the northeast side of Maitara Island. From Maitara Island we transfer back to Rum. If we arrive in Rum on a Sunday we can also take in the color and fun of the weekly market.
  • A launch from Rum will take us across to the largest island of the Moluccas – Halmahera. The village of Sofifi is our destination. Here we will board sampan (outrigger) boats to explore a beautiful mangrove lagoon in the warm glow of the setting sun. Lessons in mangrove ecology will be the study focus during this sun set cruise.
  • Perched on a hillside above the mangrove lagoon is our lodge for the night with views of the twin volcano islands of Ternate and Tidore that can only be described as breathtaking.
  • After a delicious dinner and a group sharing session we will retire from a very full day of adventure.

Overnight: Gosale Hotel, Halmahera Island

Study Focus: village eco-tourism initiative / endemic birds / Wallecia / constellations

  • Sunrise this morning from the vantage point of our hillside hotel should offer another amazing spectacle.
  • Right after breakfast we set off by bus on a 1.5-hour drive to the village of Daru located along a deep bay on Halmahera Island.
  • From Daru we take a launch across the bay to the charming village of Foli where local villagers are supporting an eco-tourism venture to protect rare endemic birds in the nearby forest.
  • After setting up camp in a large field on one end of the village we will sit down with the young village headman to share a cooked lunch and learn more about Foli’s eco-tourism initiative.
  • Later in the afternoon we will trek into the forest in search of some of the rarest birds on the planet. Certainly a highlight of our quest will be sighting the “standard wing bird of paradise.” The spectacular male of this species flashes brilliant green, breastplate feathers like a second pair of wings to attract the attention of females.
  • Several species of hornbills, cockatoos, lories and other birds found here clearly demonstrate how this region supports species from both sides of the Wallace Line.
  • The great naturalist Alfred Wallace spent 8-years living here in the 1850’s and greatly influenced Charles Darwin in developing his theory on evolution. Wallace was the first to recognize a distinct biological boundary that separated animals and plants between Australia/New Guinea and the Sunda Shelf. To this day the region is referred to as Wallecia.
  • It will be nearly dark as we return from the forest hike to our camp, but a glowing campfire and a delicious hot meal prepared by the villagers will welcome us.
  • The large open field where we camp will offer wonderful opportunities for star gazing and learning about constellations this night, if the sky is clear.

Overnight: Camping, Foli Village, Halmahera Island

Study Focus: community service project / coral reef ecology

  • This morning we enjoy breakfast and a visit to the village school to engage in a project together with the students that supports conservation and Foli’s ecotourism efforts.
  • This might take the form of painting murals on outdoor walls depicting the many endemic and endangered birds of Halmahera Island, or planting fruit trees favored by birds in a buffer zone surrounding the national park in order to increase habitat and food availability.
  • Following lunch we will break camp and board a launch to the nearby island   Bobale Island where we will re-establish our camp right on the beach.
  • Bobale offers a gorgeous white sand beach with superb snorkeling and fishing right at our doorstep. The island and nearby Christian community rarely receives visitors so we should have this paradise isle pretty much to ourselves.
  • Lessons in reef ecology will come alive for students here as we explore the richest coral region in the world. The northern Moluccas sits at the pinnacle of the “coral triangle” a region of Indonesia with the greatest biodiversity of any tropical seas in the world and now the focus of a global conservation campaign by the WWF.
  • We will share our dinner on the beach with the village headman so we can learn more about life on Bobale and to discuss our service projects the following day.
  • Gathering around a beach bonfire this night, we can enjoy songs and games with the village children to better bond us for the community service projects we will undertake together the next day.

Overnight: Beach Camp, Bobale Island

Study Focus: community service project, island ecology

  • Sunrise from our beach camp should be spectacular and there will be wonderful opportunities for a quiet stroll along miles of unspoiled beach before breakfast for any student wanting to immerse him or herself in the magic of this place.
  • This morning we will join together with village children to undertake a litter clean up along the beach and to paint murals on the walls of a few buildings near the village pier. Unlike the bird conservation murals we painted in Foli, these paintings will depict marine themes, like the need to protect sea turtles by not eating their eggs, or throwing plastic bags on the ocean that can be mistaken as jellyfish, the sole prey species for the critically endangered leatherback turtle.
  • After enjoying a good lunch on the beach we will break camp and take a launch back to Daru where we will board a bus for the 1-hour drive north to Tobelo.
  • Nearby Tobelo is Cuscus Guesthouse set in a lovely grove of coconuts where we will stay for the night. Private rooms with showers and flush toilets will offer a nice reprieve from our camping days.
  • After dinner this night students will hold an open forum discussion on conservation strategies for the Moluccas and what they can do personally and as a school group to become part of the solution.
  • They will then be challenged to recall lessons learned during the trip thus far in order to win a program t-shirt.

Overnight: Cuscus Guest House, Halmahera Island

Study Focus: survival skills / fishing

  • Just offshore from Tobelo lies a miniature archipelago of unspoiled islands that will be our home for a final night of beach camping.
  • Right after breakfast we board boats that will transfer us from Tobelo to nearby Kakara Island where we will set up camp at the Kakara Dive Center and enjoy snorkeling in the beautiful surrounding waters.
  • Later in the day students will take part in a “Survivor Moluccas” exercise on a deserted island in the archipelago. Here they will divide into two or three groups that will be challenged to build a shelter, start a fire using a bow drill and forage whatever edible foods they can find from the forest and tidal zone. It will be a fun as well as highly educational exercise.
  • Towards evening, students will have an opportunity to try their hand trolling or jigging for fish under the instruction of expert local fishermen. With any luck they will return to camp with fresh fish for dinner.
  • After dinner this evening, students will have a lesson in island ecology, comparing island size and degree of isolation with levels of biodiversity. They will also learn about islands throughout the world that display tendencies toward dwarfism or gigantism in their flora and fauna.

Overnight: Camp & Lodge, Kakara Island

Study Focus: past, present and future of the northern Moluccas

  • Our last full day in the northern Moluccas will be a full one as we break camp after breakfast and depart beautiful Kakara Island by launch.
  • Arriving back in Tobelo we then drive south along the Halmahera coastline (2-hours) to Sofifi. Near Karo we will see the remains of a half sunk Japanese destroyer, a stark reminder of the days when the Moluccas were a Pacific battlefield of WWII.
  • Crossing by launch from Halmahera to Ternate Island the history lessons will go back many more centuries in time as we visit a Portugese fort built in 1521 to control the lucrative trade in cloves.
  • We will stop at a Cliffside restaurant for a delicious lunch overlooking the towering volcano of Tidore Island where we spent our first night of the trip. From this vantage point we can see fishermen in small outrigger boats netting fish in crystal clear waters while sea eagles soar overhead.
  • Not far from our lunch stop is Danau Lagoon that is set like a jewel in the lush landscape with the twin volcanoes of Maitara and Tidore islands lending a dramatic backdrop. Here in the cool shade of this beautiful setting students will reflect on the turbulent history of this region and the challenges it faces today through a group discussion or creative visualization exercise.
  • If time permits and students are interested, we can climb the slope above Ternate Town to view the world’s oldest clove tree. The tree is called Afo, named for the man who planted it more than 400 years ago in defiance of the Dutch ban. In its prime this tree produced 600 kilos of cloves each season, but today it is slowly dying from old age.
  • After days of camping and “roughing it” students can pamper themselves tonight at the luxurious, 5-star Bela International Hotel. A large wrap-around swimming pool under the shadow of Gamalama Volcano will offer the perfect place to relax at the end of an adventurous trip.
  • Following a farewell feast, students will be awarded certificates of achievement this night and share highlights of their trip in a special candlelight closing ceremony.

Overnight: Bela International Hotel, Ternate Island

Study Focus: 16th century Portuguese fort / 18th century lava flow

  • Following a large buffet breakfast this morning, students will be transferred by bus to Ternate’s Babullah Airport for the return flight home.
  • If the flight time is later in the day the group can relax at the poolside with a late check out, or take in some additional sights like Fort Toloko that is perched on a hill of upraised coral and still bears a 16th century Portugese seal at its entrance.
  • Another sight worth seeing lies just beyond the airport at Batu Angus (“Burned Rock”). Here a lava flow from a disastrous eruption in the 18th century has transformed the landscape into a moonscape.
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