Visiting Bintuni

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(Photo: Freddy Wally)

IO – As the largest province in Indonesia, with an area covering 316,553.07 km2, Papua not only has its uniqueness but also offers a variety of exciting destinations that we may rarely find elsewhere, some of which are even challenging to explore more intimately. Papua is also listed as the second largest island in the world (when combined with Papua New Guinea, which is on the eastern side of the large island of Papua).

The province of Papua previously during the Dutch colonial period was named “Nederlands Nieuw Guinea”. Then after the independence of the Republic of Indonesia, on the advice and research of local hero Frans Kaisiepo, whose figure was immortalized in the IDR 10,000 bill, the name Irian was chosen to name the easternmost region in Indonesia.

During the Old Order government, Papua province had the name of West Irian, modified to Irian Jaya during the New Order era. Since 2003, Papua Province has finally been divided into two provinces, with the eastern part still using the name Papua while the western part adopts the new name, West Papua.

Papua offers not only amazing natural destinations that tend to be pristine  but also attractive marine tourism to be visited by travellers who are hungry for adventure adrenaline. One of the highlights to be explored more deeply is Bintuni Bay, which is located in the province of West Papua. When viewed from a map of Papua, this place itself is right in the area of the iconic bird’s head.

Bintuni Bay is a district with an area of 18,637 km2. Mining is still the main sector that supports the local community, apart from fisheries and agriculture. Even though it is not the main tourist destination in Papua offered by the government of the Republic of Indonesia, as is the case with Raja Ampat, Baliem Valley, Asmat Village, or Merauke, the tourism potential of Bintuni Bay is promising.

To visit Bintuni Bay, current access can only start from Manokwari City; usually, travellers from outside Papua or around the Papua region will go by air and get off at Rendani Airport, which now serves passengers from various regions in Indonesia such as Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, and Sorong. Bintuni Bay has an airport in the city center, but only serves smallscale charter flights with flight frequencies that can change from time to time.

The journey from Manokwari to Bintuni Bay will usually pass through the Mount Botak area. Located on the Manokwari  Bintuni route, Mount Botak Ransiki, as the locals call it, is a hilly area right on the edge of the ocean that offers a landscape panorama. Here we can see first hand the expanse of the Pacific Ocean which is blue and sometimes turquoise with the waves rolling fast because of the wind.

Interestingly, to accommodate local travellers, several points on Mount Botak have also been designed to make travellers stop and feel at home, such as comfortable seating and vehicle parking areas. 

Mount Botak Ransiki not only offers aerial views from the top of its yellowgreen hills but also has a beach that is no less beautiful than the charm of white sand beaches. The seawater is blue and the waves are not too big, making tourists who come feel tempted to just soak their feet or play in the water.

The beach conditions that are considered pristine and close to local fishing settlements make this place a hidden paradise that should not be missed on the way to Bintuni Bay.

Overall, Mount Botak, which is located right in South Manokwari Regency, is not like its name. Botak means bald or completely bare. Here there are still large trees towering along the side of the road also spreading over the hills, combined with the bush and weeds that cover the hillsides harmoniously.

A perfect location to hunt for sunrise or sunset situations, of course. However, you need to be careful when standing or taking a selfie near the edge of the cliff, because most of the cliffs here are not fenced and are allowed to naturally protrude facing the open sea.

The journey from Manokwari to Bintuni Bay used to take 7 hours because the road conditions were quite damaged at several points, especially when entering the forest area in Mameh District, which during the rainy season will turn into a muddy sea.

In 2020, after the asphalt road construction which was accelerated on the Trans Manokwari route, the journey from and to Bintuni Bay via Manokwari City will only take 56 hours.

When arriving at Bintuni Bay, where the city development extends and each area is marked with the designation “Kilometer”, the main destination of tourists is of course lodging, after quite a tiring journey.

Even though it is considered quite advanced as a district, the condition of Bintuni Bay itself is still not widely equipped with general standard lodging facilities but only a few accommodations. One of the most recommended and the oldest is Hotel Steenkool.

You could say Steenkool is the first hotel with a star hotel standard that was built for the first time in Teluk Bintuni Regency. This hotel is also one of the offices for a world oil company that is conducting exploration activities for liquefied natural gas (LNG) around Bintuni Bay.

Interestingly, the name Steenkool is taken from Dutch which means coal. This naming was inseparable from the role of the Dutch colonialists, which had long since made Bintuni Bay an oil and coal mining area.

Steenkool was built in 2007 and inaugurated on 9 June 2008 by the Governor of West Papua and the then Regent of Teluk Bintuni. The location is strategic in the city center and also close to Bintuni Harbor which is 4 Km away and Bintuni Airport which is 3 Km away.

Adventures in Bintuni Bay usually start from visiting a mangrove reserve located in the east of the Bintuni Bay waters. This nature reserve area occupies a forest area of 124,850 hectares, 90 percent of which is a natural mangrove forest.

One of four regions in Papua that will become a Special Economic Zone. Three other areas that have been included in the list are Raja Ampat, Sorong, and Merauke.

Interestingly, the Bintuni Bay nature reserve area is said to be home to various endemic fauna of Papua such as estuarine crocodiles, 39 types of mammals, 17 marsupials, and 160 species of birds. It is not surprising that here we will find various animals whose patterns and postures are different from other regions in Indonesia.

This area, which is still very beautiful, really offers a thrilling adventure because the mangrove forest is very tight and blends with an estuary that goes straight to the sea.

To go to this nature reserve area, we can rent a wooden fishing boat that is at the Bintuni Bay Harbor whose price varies. Traveling through each mangrove forest maze and sometimes seeing endemic animals that are still roaming freely is an adventure in itself that should not be missed.

Usually, a trip to visit the mangrove forest area around Bintuni Bay is covered with a visit to Babo District, one of the historical islands that were once the base for defense by the Japanese army during World War II against allied forces in the Pacific region.

Babo is the secondbusiest city in Teluk Bintuni Regency after Bintuni City. In Babo, we will also find a special airport that serves flights for employees of world oil companies who are exploring for liquefied natural gas or LNG in Bintuni Bay.

There are many interesting things in Babo that tourists can find while visiting, including seeing the busy activities of workers and LNG carriers passing through its vast pier, enjoying Babo’s beautiful and white sandy beach, and what is quite exciting is tracing historical traces. World War II on this island because there are still many wrecks of  Japanese warships scattered in several areas; one of the areas where there are many scattered warship wrecks is not far from Babo airport.

Unfortunately, due to the actions of reckless individuals who have been stripping down the wrecks of the warships for nearly 70 years, the condition is now alarming because it is like a pile of scrap metal in a large grass field.

Babo Airport, which is also a legacy of World War II, is open to travellers who want to simply walk around to see every detail. The waiting area, which is similar to a small train station on the island of Java, makes this place even more unique. It is said that this airport runway is still a relic of the war, you know! Currently, Babo Airport serves commercial flights only to areas around Papua, such as from and to Sorong, Kaimana, or Manokwari.

Although Babo is the second bustling city in Bintuni Bay, this place does not yet provide adequate accommodation facilities for visiting travellers. Usually, tourists will choose to return to Bintuni City using a chartered boat.

Last but not least, don’t miss the afternoon session when you arrive back at Bintuni Bay Harbor to wait for the sunset while seeing the unique silhouettes of mangrove trees that are lined up and sometimes we can also see young swimmers from the villages around the port who swim and play freely in this bay. What an enlightening and impressive sight.

If you want to bring home a typical Papuan souvenir in the form of noken, which is a knitting bag from a unique tree root and strung by local mothers (called “mamamama”), the merchants can be found right at the entrance to this port.

In closing, don’t miss to taste the typical Bintuni Bay cuisine which highlights mangrove crabs, by buying and choosing the fresh ones directly in front of the port. (Freddy Wally)