Seeking paradise in Manokwari, West Papua

Fringed by alluring beaches, Manokwari in West Papua is the gateway to mist-clad highland forests filled with the singing and dancing of birds of paradise. Fatris MF of Colours explores its natural wonders – and the area’s spiritual significance.

More than a century and a half ago, British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace arrived at a small settlement on the Bird’s Head Peninsula of Papua. Dorey was the name of the village mentioned in his writings. There, he huddled up inside a cabin, daydreaming about the dense forests of inland Papua and all the species of fauna living there.

Manokwari is a culturally rich place with over twenty-four different tribal groups living here, each with its unique language and culture. You will likely spot their traditional Honai (rounded houses made of wood and grass), alongside wooden sculptures of masculinity and beauty they are famous for. Manokwari has also become one of the sacred historical places for the Christians in the Papua region.

Situated south of Manokwari, Arfak Mountain harbors all the secrets of Cenderawasih Bay’s fascinating geological past and tectonic evolution. Tropical rainforest blankets most of the surrounding Arfak Mountain range. It is home to cuscus possums, paradise kingfishers, riflebirds, and the king bird-of-paradise. Set against an indigo sea, Arfak Mountain conjures the feeling of a place where time stood still.

These majestic views, cool air, and striking valleys of Arfak Mountain range fit for inspiring treks, birding and wildlife watching – exist alongside exotic beaches of Manokwari. Visit the coal-black Amban Beach, and Bakarao Beach – where fishermen summon their catch using a whistle made of shells. A surging landscape of white beaches continues with waving palms, imposing coral limestone cliffs and thick mangrove swamps, embracing a remarkable, wedge-shaped Cenderawasih Bay.

Did you know that the Cenderawasih area was the place where major WW2 battles took place? The entire bay is filled with wrecks, and the most popular sites are around Shinwa Maru and P40 Tomahawk planes. The former is right offshore from Manokwari. The best way to experience all diving sites across Cenderawasih Bay is by chartering a yacht or booking a private sailing holiday with Islander.

Today, the small settlement Wallace visited has transformed into a municipality known as Manokwari, the capital of West Papua. Wallace was dreaming about  a forest filled with the chirping and prancing of the heavenly birds he called ‘birds of paradise’.

Manokwari is a town that is blessed; messages regarding God’s blessings are found on signs at crossroads, on school walls, and in homes. This is the place where Christianity was introduced to Papua, as a result of the work of German missionaries Carl Wilhelm Ottow and Johann Gottlob Geissler, who arrived in 1855. “Im Gotes mName Tu Betraten (In God’s name we set foot in this place),” were their exact words, now engraved on a monument on the beach of Mansinam Island, a popular destination for religious pilgrims. As you would expect, looking for a house of worship in this part of the world is an easy undertaking, whether you’re Protestant, Catholic or Buddhist.

Source: Colour Indonesia and

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