Ternate is gorgeous, swathed in jungle and wild clove trees. However, when you first land here, in the looming shadow of Gamalama, with several more volcanic islands dotting the deep blue channel beyond, you may be shocked by its frenetic pace. Traditionally the bureaucratic heart of Malut, Kota Ternate is grudgingly relinquishing some kantor to the new capital, Sofia on nearby Halmahera. It’s the transport hub of the region, but it’s worth a visit in its own right for its 16th-century forts, thronging markets and superb seafood.
North Maluku has rich volcanic soil that supports semievergreen dipterocarp rainforest. The densest forests are found in northern Halmahera and on Morotai. Areas with poorer soils are usually covered with shrubs and other low growth. The fauna of North Maluku includes both Asian and Australian species, as well as a great number of animals—particularly birds—that are endemic to the region. Among the most notable of the endemic birds is the white cockatoo. Typical terrestrial birds include doves, pigeons, parrots, and cuckoos, while sandpipers and terns are among the most common waterbirds. Common mammals include bats, civets, deer, babirusas (a type of wild swine), and numerous varieties of mice and rats.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the islands of North Maluku were the original “Spice Islands”. At the time, the region was the sole source of cloves. The Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, and local kingdoms including Ternate and Tidore fought each other for control of the lucrative trade in these spices. Nutmeg trees have since been transported and replanted all around the world and the demand for nutmeg from the original Spice Islands has ceased, greatly reducing North Maluku’s international importance.
In North Maluku the land makes up just 15 percent of the area’s total surface. In many places the surrounding seas could be thousands of meters deep. North Maluku is in a transition zone between the Asian and Australian fauna and flora, and also between the Malay-based cultures of western Indonesia and those of Melanesia.
A great variety of endemic plant and animal species are found in the rugged forest-covered and mountainous hinterlands of most of the islands. A few of the best known are the Rucker-tailed Kingfisher, the Red-crested Moluccan Cockatoo and various brilliantly colored lorikeets and parrots.
North Maluku sits astride one of the world’s most volatile volcanic belts. The region has known more than 70 eruptions in the last 400 years. Tremors and volcanic eruptions are by no means rare events at present. Many islands, in fact, look from a distance like volcanic cones rising right out of the sea.
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