When Alfred Russel Wallace, that paragon of English endeavour and observation, toured though this region in the 1850s, he noted that “the little town of Menado [sic] is one of the prettiest in the East…To the west and south the country is mountainous, with groups of fine volcanic peaks 6,000 or 7,000 feet high, forming grand and picturesque backgrounds to the landscape.”
Manado city is the provincial capital of North Sulawesi and the starting point for exploration of the Minahasa region’s many attractions. Fun-loving and extroverted, the Minahasa people live in neat wood frame houses, with fences and flower gardens, giving Manado a European feel. Those with an adventurous palate should try the famously hot and spicy Minahasa cuisine. Inland from Manado, a trip through the Minahasa Highlands will take you to intriguing prehistoric above-ground burial sites, volcanoes, hot springs, the highland lake Tondano and breathtaking panoramas of lush mountains, coffee and coconut plantations, orchid gardens and terraced hillsides. From Manado, also be sure to visit Tangkoko National Park , home to birds and other wildlife unique to Sulawesi, such as the Tarsier – the smallest monkey on earth, cus cus, Hornbill etc.
Those fine volcanic peaks that he talks of are the Minahasa highlands. North Sulawesi is the only part of this strangely sprawling island that has volcanoes, and they are magnificent smokey beasts to behold. Nestled as it between two active volcanoes (one of which, Lokon, is given to erupting every few years, the last one was in May, 2001, showering Manado and surrounding areas with ash) it’s little surprise that the name of the village means “people who pray”. Even the most casual observer will notice that North Sulawesi has a proliferation of churches, many of them seemingly stuck at various stages of construction. Given their precarious situation though it’s no surprise that the people of Tomohon were given to praying more than most.
For energetic travellers a trek to the top of either of Tomohon’s two adjacent peaks, Lokon or Mahawu, will both challenge and reward you with spectacular views. On a clear morning from the rim of Mahawu’s steaming crater we got a bird’s eye view of the whole region right down to the city of Manado and Bunaken island to the north and as far as Bitung and Mt Duasaudara to the east. The fertile soils of the Minahasa highlands have made them some of the most productive for agriculture, and it seems everywhere you look up here are neat rows of cabbages, carrots, spring onions and other vegetables that eventually find their way to the Tomohon market, and later onto dining tables around the region.
Being volcanic highlands you might also expect to see some highland lakes, and you won’t be disappointed. Lake Tondano is the largest and most well known, with its colourful restaurants built on stilts over the water for a fresh seafood lunch. Then there’s the remarkable Lake Linow fed by a steaming volcanic spring, on a hot day it is famed for its colour changes from deep blue to turquoise, green and sulfur yellow. Also nearby is Kali waterfall. Just a short drive from Tomohon, from the carpark it’s a moderately energetic walk along a narrow path which winds through some luxuriant rainforest. The waterfall itself has a charming fairy tale quality to it with an arched bridge having been put in place and the rock walls around are covered with beard moss blowing in the breeze and spray from the powerful falls. Best to take a raincoat and something cover your camera.
How to get there
To explore the attraction rich Minahasa Highlands, best is to stay in Tomohon, about 25 km away from Manado.
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