After having our breakfast at the Gardenia Country Inn in Tomohon, and awaiting the arrival of my family, we departed to the Tangkoko National Park (its full name is the Tangkoko-Batuangus Dua Saudara national reserve) in North Sulawesi. The car ride took about three-and-a-half hours, and so we arrived at the park in the afternoon and right on time to start our first walk through these amazing forests.
We stayed at a simple homestay named Tangkoko Lodge, which was located nearby the entrance to the national park. It was a very simple and basic stay. Our rooms had a bed and a bathroom with cold water and that was it. It was a simple accommodation, but comfortable enough for one night. And as we were there during the transition of the dry season to the wet season, an extreme wind blew constantly throughout the day.
The lodging was a stone throw’s away from the entrance to the national park. The entrance fee to the park was IDR 100.000 for foreigners and IDR 5.000 for Indonesian citizens. Yes, the huge difference in fees is something you’ll see all over Indonesia. Foreigners often pay a lot more. The fee includes the guide, a ranger from the park, who will accompany you on the trip. You are not allowed to enter the park by yourself.
Entrance tickets to the Tangkoko National Park; foreigner and domestic visitor.
The Tangkoko National Park is a wild park in the northern regions of Sulawesi. It is a wild area and home to several endemic species of animals. It is a very important place for natural conservation in Indonesia and the world.
The Tangkoko National Park is a large protected area that is approximately 50-100 kilometers wide and has a length of about 450 kilometer. In 1919, the Dutch Colonial Government declared the area of Tangkoko a natural monument and with it came a protected status. The famous explorer and biologist Alfred Russel Wallace also visited the park in the 19th century to research the island’s unique wildlife (mostly birds).
The national park is quite diverse in its offerings. 27% of the 328 bird species found in the national park are endemic to Sulawesi, and of the 127 species of mammals, 62% is endemic. There is also a large range of vegetation found in this tropical evergreen forest, because the national park covers an area from the coast up to several mountains namely Mount Tangkoko, and the twin mountains of Duasudara. It covers an area from sea to sea. In the park you can find beach forests and a coastline dominated by large lianas and various other trees. There are three levels of rainforest found in the park, each with its unique vegetation and wildlife: the lowland rainforests (< 600m), the submontane rainforests (> 600m), and the elfin cloud forests, the high peaks of the three mountains that are filled with ferns, various orchids, and many other species of plants.
One of the most interesting trees found throughout the Tangkoko National Park are the strangler fig trees. These trees grow by wrapping itself around a host tree and slowly strangling the host. The reproduction of this tree is quite interesting as well and involves the fig wasp. It’s quite a complicated process, but it is well explained in the amazing documentary series by Sir David Attenborough, The Private Life of Plants.
We had planned to have two walks through these rainforests: one in the afternoon after our arrival with the aim to see the endangered and extremely cute spectral tarsiers, and one walk the next morning that was more focused on bird-watching and finding several bear cuscus.
The Tangkoko National Park is famous for a certain number of animals: Spectral Tarsiers (Tarsius spectrum), Crested Black Macaques (Macaca nigra), Bear Cuscus (Ailurops ursinus), Red-knobbed Hornbills (Aceros cassidix), Kingfishers, and the very rare Babirusa Pig-Deer (Babyrousa babyrussa). Since these are wild animals, spotting them is not always guaranteed, but we did manage to see a lot of different kinds of animals during our walks.
Afternoon Rainforest Walk
Our first walk through the Tangkoko National Park started in the late afternoon, at around 16:30. We walked from our lodging to the entrance of the park first, where we had to buy our tickets. From there, the actual forest is another solid 30-minute walk. All in all, we were quite surprised how far it was. I think it would be much more convenient if you take a car to the furthest car park and walk from there. It will save you a lot of time.
On the way to the starting point of our rainforest walk, we actually spotted a kingfisher on a far branch. It was beautiful to see. What was not as nice, were the very rude professional photographers who just pushed us aside and stood in front of our views without saying anything. Having a USD 30.000 dollar lens does not entitle you to be a jerk.
Continuing our walk, we spotted a large group of Crested Black Macaques (Macaca nigra) nearby the parking lot. These macaques, which are easily identified, are endemic to the northern rainforests of Sulawesi and are endangered as well. They are entirely black except for their butts, which are red. The older males sometimes have a grey back, while their big red butts that become larger and redder during their menstruation cycle, distinguish the females. We observed the macaques for a while, taking extra caution not to startle them nor looking them in the eyes (as that can be seen as an act of aggression). It was amazing seeing these animals in the wild and especially observing the young monkeys clinging to their mothers.
After a break, we began our walk through the rainforest. The sun was already beginning to set, and the light became much softer. We were there during the height of the dry season, so the forest was quite dry in itself. The ground was covered with a deep layer of dry leaves.
A tiny Sulawesi Scops-owl between the leaves.
Along the way to the tree where some of the Spectral Tarsiers (Tarsius spectrum) live, we spotted several Bear Cuscus (Ailurops ursinus) sitting high in the treetops. From afar they resemble little balls of fur, but observing them through binoculars brought out their interesting features. We saw a few of them in varied places. We also saw a few tiny Sulawesi Scops-owls (Otus Manadensis) hidden on branches. These tiny owls were really cute, and our guide Mensur also said they can be found sitting on the ground sometimes.
Our walk through the forest, which lasted about an hour, ended up at a large tree. This tree was home to a family of Spectral Tarsiers. They are nocturnal animals, and only come out at night. This was the reason why we started our walk in the late afternoon; we wanted to get to their tree when it was dark. We were quite lucky as there was a tarsier sitting inside the large open body of the tree when we arrived. It moved its large eyes around and was still adjusting to the setting light of the sun. Once the sun was almost gone, our guide Mensur lured the tarsier out of its home by using insects. The tarsiers would jump from its home to the grasshopper and back again. This gave us some time to see the animal and it was really fascinating. Its large fingers, eyes, and tail are quite something to behold.
Once the sun had set, and once our guide had ran out of insects, we started to make our way back to the lodge. At this time, night had settled, and the rainforest had become completely pitch-black, with only our flashlights illuminating the darkness. Experiencing the jungle forest in the dark is an adventure on its own. The sounds you hear are both fascinating and alarming. It was hard to pinpoint their locations. But slowly, we returned to the lodge and happily took a rest, had some dinner, and prepared for our trip the next morning.
Morning Rainforest Walk
The walk in the following morning was a bit different. We almost took the same route, except we stopped nearby a beautiful beach-forest area where we observed the Crested Black Macaques foraging in the trees and through the beach. When we arrived at the parking a lot, the macaques were sitting behind a car observing themselves in the reflections of the metal. I thought this was really neat and it showed how intelligent these animals area. The guide told us they would also often look at themselves in mirrors of cars, bikes, and the shiny chrome parts of vehicles.
The macaques come to the beach in the morning to play and forage for food. During the day they retreat to the cooler parts in the forests and sleep and groom themselves. When dusk comes, they once again start looking for food.
After observing the black macaques we made our way deeper into the rainforest, and once again spotted more bear cuscus sitting in the trees. We also saw several kingfisher birds, cockatoos, and even the very rare Maleo (Macrocephalon maleo).
A kingfisher on a branch.
A rare Maleo on a branch.
Our walk took around two hours. We saw many varied kinds of animals, mostly birds. We were quite satisfied with the result and when we made our way back, we noticed that a forest fire had started nearby. Moreover, a fallen tree had blocked our path that blocked our car from passing through. Luckily, a big car from the Ministry of Forestry arrived at that same time from the opposite direction and helped us getting the large tree out of the way. They were on the way to extinguish the fire in the forest. All the nearby rangers were called upon to help combat the fire, because during the height of the dry season the forest is very susceptible to fires. With a bit of delay we made our way back to the lodge, we changed our clothes and prepared to go the harbour of Manado where a boat would take us to the island of Bunaken.
Depending on the season you will have to prepare accordingly. Long pants and long shirts are recommended as the rainforest can have a lot of ticks and other insects. We were quite lucky as it was the dry season and there were not many insects, but I assume this will be quite different during the wet season. Good, comfortable, and sturdy walking shoes are also recommended.
If you are in the area of Manado with a few days to spare, I would highly recommend visiting the Tangkoko National Park. I found it a very interesting park filled with animals, and the chances of seeing them are quite good. I think one night in the area is more than enough to see the place as you can do two walks in a short time.