Get out and explore
Published/Last edited or updated: 20th April, 2017
If you’ve got a loose day to spend exploring some of Alor and are looking for a mix of attractions and distractions, motorbiking around the northwest “head” of the island makes for a fine and very full day out in the countryside.
While Google Maps clearly marks a road all the way around the northwest, in practice this doesn’t exist, with the central section along the north coast of the island being little more than a glorified goat track. It is not passable by bemos and it certainly isn’t passable by cars, so if you’re on four wheels rather than two you’ll need to do two trips, one as far at Pantai Bota in Kokar (heading clockwise) and the other as far as Batu Putih (heading anti-clockwise)—and you’d need two days.
We did the lot on an ojek travelling in a clockwise direction, so we’ll follow that routing. It is advisable to take a guide with you as the goat track section of the route has no signposts and you’ll probably get lost—and there isn’t always someone around to ask for directions from.
Heading west from Kalabahi, the first town you’ll reach is Alor Kecil—you’ll know you’re there by the enormous tree by the side of the road and the views out to Kepa and Pura Islands. This is also where you get the boat to Kepa Island. Unless you’re heading to Kepa, there’s little reason to slow down, other than to take a few pics.
Next stop, a little further up the coast, is Alor Besar, which of course is actually smaller than Alor Kecil but whatevs. The town is known for its mosque, which is home to a Koran made of bark brought to Alor from Ternate in the 16th century. It is kept in a glass box in the building beside the mosque and, for a small donation (we popped 20,000 rupiah into the box), the caretaker will happily wheel it out for you to take a look. Photos are allowed, but no touching.
From pretty much in front of the mosque there is some spectacular snorkelling along a drop off running along the coast, petering out to a sandy pinnacle at Sebanjar, which is the next village up the coast. Confident swimmers could snorkel from here all the way along to Sebanjar; the drop off is rich in soft corals and the visibility is crystal-clear.
If you don’t feel like swimming a few kilometres (we didn’t), instead ride up to Sebanjar. Out by the sand pinnacle a series of salas are built right by the brilliantly white-sand beach, and you can go snorkelling straight offshore. We saw a moray eel almost immediately upon getting in the water and further out there were plenty of brightly coloured reef fish. The reef was in far better shape than we expected given that this is a popular weekend spot for locals.
If you’re not planning on riding the whole way around, Sebanjar lends itself to a long, slow day snorkelling, swimming, laying on the beach and relaxing in a sala. You could bring some food and cold drinks from Kalabahi to keep you going. It would make for a fun and relaxing day out.
If you are pushing on, next stop is the Hula, which is very well regarded for its ikat weaving. Led by Ibu Sariat Libana (who has travelled to The Netherlands to showcase the work—ask her to show you the pics), the Gunung Mako weavers group showcases some excellent samples of traditional ikat weaving. All dyes are natural—the black comes from squid ink, for example—and everything, including the cotton (you can see the cotton trees behind the showcase), is grown locally.
You’re able to see the whole process here, from cotton growing to dye cooking, to weaving, to sale. The weaving centre is signposted on the main road as it passes through Hula and the centre is on the off-beach side of the road. If you’re looking for a memorable gift from Alor, this is the place—and you’ll be supporting traditional artisans while you’re at it.
Continuing up the coast you’ll eventually reach Kokar, a fairly nondescript market town and fishing village, and not far after that lies very attractive Bota Beach. A gently curving white, smashed coral beach, the water was a bit murky the day we passed by, but it was still a lovely spot and with plentiful huge shade trees, it makes for a good alternative to Sebanjar for a beach break. You will need to bring your own food and drinks. The beach is down a turn-off from the main road, but curiously it’s well signposted, including a “Welcome to Pantai Bota” sign.
From Pantai Bota onwards the road deteriorates considerably as you wind your way back up into the heights and make your way slowly east. At times the “road” is little more than a trail and it does split a few times with no obvious indicator of which way you should be heading. You’ll pass through forest, bean and corn farms and some dry rice cultivation.
Then, all of a sudden, you’ll get a glimpse of the crystal waters out from Batu Putih and you’ll begin the steep switch-backs as you make your way down the steep slope to the extremely white sands of Batu Putih.
Backed by a towering sheer cliff, the beach runs a gentle curve from the village heading west, finishing with a bare whitish rock cliff. The setting is just sublime, and of all the beaches we saw on Alor, this was undeniably the most spectacular. The water is crystal-clear and the beach, particularly towards the west, has great shade trees to drop your bags under and lose an hour or three.
From here, the road slowly improves and you’ll eventually reach the turnoff to the airport, where, if you had the energy, you could take a left and head out to the small island that sits beyond the end of the airstrip. You need to be there at low tide to be able to comfortably wade out and, to be honest, you’d be pressed to fit this into the day time-wise. Homestay accommodation is also available here.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.