Archive for the ‘Sulawesi’ Category

Diving and the dreamy Manado islands is as akin to the North Sulawesi as Kleenex is to tissue.  In fact, in deciding to explore the North Sulawesi, it was with profound difficulty that anyone was able to contact anyone who knew anything about butterflies within the region (at least not online anyway).

Vindula dejone celebensis.

The beautiful Indonesian province of North Sulawesi is perched right at the northernmost tip of Sulawesi island, reaching into the rich Celebes sea and hugged by several islands, amongst which include Lembeh and Bunaken, which boast (and rightly so!) of popular diving sites.

Tagiades trebellius trebellius

Any attempt made at gleaning information about the diversity of butterfly life on the island was almost philosophical.  Very little documentation, online and in libraries, appear to have been made about butterflies specific to the North Sulawesi region (although there is a butterfly research facility and studies done for the South of Sulawesi – Bantimurung (

Rapala ribbei

Rapala dioetas (female).

Lasippa neriphus tawayana

Jamides fractilinea

Our first attempt in booking an agent online met with disaster.  After paying the agent, we were initially told that the trip would cost much more.  When we objected to the increase, we were unable to contact the agent.  To date, we don’t really know whether we were ripped off (I can hear the sceptics roaring yessss).

Ironically, we only managed to get the adventure in order through a Manado agent ( specialising in scuba diving adventures at the Asia Dive Expo, who had the right connections to the right and legitimate agents/registered guides operating within the Nature Reserves.

If you are attempting to conduct a similar adventure through North Sulawesi, it is strongly advised that you ask around for contacts from friends who have travelled with the agent before.

In spite of this initial unpleasant experience, we were not unconvinced that the province of North Sulawesi was truly “The Land of Smiling People”.  Wherever we went, locals were more than willing to help look for “Kupu-Kupu” (Bahasa Indonesian for butterfly).  More than once, we chanced upon a farmer whilst wandering through seemingly borderless country lands and forests who had stopped and attempted to help us find or direct us to where we might find our favourite subjects.

Our local guides impressed us greatly by having conducted recces and research on the best butterfly spots even though they had humbly insisted they were much better at spotting birds and most of their groups had been more interested in Indonesian avian life.  Most of their recommended spots were hits than misses, with an impressive amount of butterfly life.

To date, the adventure in North Sulawesi can be said to be one of the most memorable trips to date.

Polyura cognatus cognatus [Sulawesi Blue Nawab]

Nani-Bogani Wartabone

Our first stop in the adventure was Nani-Bogani Wartabone National Park.  The national park is the furthest away from the northern tip from the rest of the planned sites and was formerly known as Dumoga Bone National Park.  Apart from what you can read about Wartabone from online sources, it must be said that it is no walk in the park, no matter what people think about it being increasingly commercialised or overlogged.  Just take a trip there and experience Wartabone for yourself and you will know firsthand deep down that this forest paradise is truly worth protecting.

Parthenos sylvia saltentia

Unless you are one of the local guides who seemingly glide through the thickets of the forest with nothing but a short parang in hand, be prepared that it takes more than a good pair of shoes and tough pants to get you through this trek.  And leeches are the least of your worries!

Pareronia tritaea tritaea (male)

The forest was so unlike anything I’d ever experienced (even compared to Bako Reserve in Sarawak), that I can’t imagine how the Orang Asli ever managed to navigate this paradise or teach their children to do so in turn.  It seems as if we’d taken a path in evolving backwards since people became increasingly urbanised.  For people depressed that they might never get to see something like the scene in Avatar, please make your way to Wartabone and live there.

Parantica cleona luciplena

Unfortunately, primary forests tend to be more difficult for short photographers with their short 180s to get any acceptable photographs.  More than once, where the thick impenetrable forest cover broke to allow small patches of sunlight, we were treated to sights of butterflies we’d never seen in our lives basking just out of reach of the camera on steep rocky cliff or right in the middle of thick foliage, a great topic to talk about around campfires to our friends but with no photographic evidence to show of.

Lamproptera meges [Green Dragontail]

Under such circumstances, the butterfly photographer’s best friends, Stealth and Balance, stand by with arms akimbo, waiting for the photographer to slide down the algae rocks right into the butterfly or step on just the branch to send all nearby bushes rustling in indignation (and the butterfly flying away with glee).

Melanitis phedima linga

Junonia hedonia intermedia

Jamides celeno optimus

It turned out we had better luck with exotic snakes and frogs which showed no perturbation at our presence, lying quietly in the wet mud biding our lenses and then just watching us trudge ungainly by.

Ideopsis vitrea vitrea (male)

The Streams With No Name

After having seen us slip and fall and having been grasped and grabbed by every falling member of the group in turn, the local guides had just about seen enough and they also  noticed that unlike them we had not learnt to walk on tree roots without our eyes glued to our feet (and thus not be able to see even if the rarest butterfly flew past our foreheads).

Idea blanchardii blanchardii

We decided, upon recommendation, to skip Gunung Ambang and go in search of puddling grounds around Wartabone.

Hypolycaena sipylus giscon

Hypolycaena erylus gamatius

At this point, I must mention that we were having some grand dreams about Tante Mien being right smack in the middle of the forest where it is forever dark because of the forest cover and we had to drink out of a well (well… actually yes we would have loved to drink out of a well and be right smack in the middle of the forest).  However, Tante Mien is situated right in the middle of a local community close to the forest.  It even has electricity, hot water and I must say, very very good food (makanan Tante Mien yang sedap sekali!).

Hestinalis divona

The lodge is really the home of the landlord and lady (who is a very good cook!).  I love the wall where the landlord and lady have put up photos of themselves from the enchanting black and white ones on their wedding day to the colourful ones with guests on present day.

Hestinalis divona

Around and about the roads leading to and away from Tante Mien and Wartabone are many streams worth checking out.  Most of the rarer butterflies photographed at Wartabone were encountered at the sunny sand banks of these streams instead of within the forest cover.

Graphium rhesus rhesus

Again, please do yourself a big favour and get yourself a registered local guide.  These streams are not the ones you can traipse around by yourself like the ones in Singapore where you can haul yourself a few metres to the main road and flail around for help if you’ve been bitten by a snake and suddenly the good citizen living in a nearby HDB will stick his head out of his window and get you help.

Graphium androcles androcles

In fact if you have a penchant for tempting death by snake bite, these local guides are very good at spotting dangerous and poisonous snakes, after which they will stand back and watch first hand the extent of our urbanised degeneration by frowning and asking us to be careful when we get too close to the subject.  These are really dangerous snakes you crazy people with cameras! Tourists! Tsk!

Graphium agamemnon comodus


Graphium anthedon milon.


Graphium eurypylus pamphylus.

Tangkoko-Duasudara Nature Reserve

Euploea hewitsonii hewitsonii.

From Wartabone, we travelled up north to Tangkoko-Duasudara Nature Reserve.  Needless to say, a lot of people we met at Tangkoko were there to come face to face with the bright eyed tarsier.  What was surprising was that there was a lodge right in the middle of Tangkoko which serviced scuba divers and when you walked around the reserve, you can hear waves sweeping the black shores.

Cyrestis thyonneus celebensis

Cyrestis thyonneus celebensis

Tangkoko reserve is an open forest with wide trails and black sand mangrove beaches.  They are home to a large number of Black Macaques.  These are 3 times bigger than the Macaques who steal food at MacRitchie Reservoir and they don’t steal food.  They are more interested in guarding their territory against groups of small wild dogs that go hurriedly zipping through the reserve.

Cyrestis strigata strigata

Unless disturbed, these Black Macaques sit thoughtfully on their interesting bright red behinds by themselves minding their own business.  We were told not to look them straight in the eye.  It seemed as long as your eyes were covered by a large camera in front, no matter how close members in the group got to them, they showed no fear (didn’t run away) or aggression (they simply stared disinterestedly at us).

Cyrestis heracles heracles

If you haven’t yet seen a tarsier that is not peering at you out of a jpeg on Google images, I have to say that seeing a tarsier has to be one of those things you’ve got to do before you expire, next to seeing a Great White Shark.  These tiny shy yoda-like creatures are amazingly quick, flashing in and out of their little hole in the tree trunk faster than you can blink your eyelids.  And who can resist that endearing gaze?  It will instantly turn you into a champion of conservation, make you sign on with Greenpeace or join the anti-whaling movement with the Sea Shepherds.

Charaxes affinis affinis

Tangkoko is very commercialised.  Large tour groups traipse in and out daily.  It was easy to wander around to look for butterflies on our own within the reserve.

Most of the butterflies encountered were not surprisingly, mangrove species.  The local guide found an off-trail spot where butterflies like Nymphs and Tigers were no numerous we didn’t know where to point our lens.  Everybody found their own little spot and angle and sat/squatted/stood there on the black sand.

Cepora celebensis celebensis

It was interesting to see numerous butterflies puddling on the black sand mangrove beach.

The local guides brought us around the trails outside the Reserve which mainly led through small villages.  These allowed us to encounter several more butterflies.  However, not as much as the ones encountered outside Wartabone.

Hasora quadripunctata

This I can’t explain just based on one or two days in Tangkoko.  Perhaps more exploration needed to be done.  Ironically, we got to encounter more butterflies at Dove Villa ( where we put up during our time in Tangkoko without expending any effort.  Although the food there can’t compete with Tante Mien (but then there are very few people I can think of right now whose cooking can compare to that of Tante Mien), it was here that we photographed our haul of Awls.

Hasora leucospila

Butterflies fed off the sweat of wet clothes hanging outside the houses or perched themselves on the walls outside.

Bibasis iluska iluska


Anthene lycaenina


Appias hombroni hombroni


Appias zarinda zarinda


Our last stop in the journey was the Minahasa-Highlands.  Strangely enough, the last stop of our journey yielded nothing on our treks outside our lodge in Gardenia Country Inn.  It seems that the next nearest Nature Reserve was pretty far from where we were accommodated.





However, it was with the greatest surprise that 3 of the species of Sulawesi’s Delias could be found in the same place.

Indeed, we spent almost all of the shooting time exploring every inch of Gardenia Country Inn instead of trekking outside.


The Gardenia Country Inn ( was said to have been designed with Malaysian Royalty in mind and indeed it was the most luxurious and beautiful lodge we stayed at during our entire time in Sulawesi.


Contacts and Things to Remember

One of our group had the unfortunate experience of discovering his luggage ripped open upon arrival at Manado International Airport.

Apparently, you cannot claim for another luggage while at the airport and will need to claim from the airline that you are travelling with from the location of your departure.

If you discover that your luggage has ripped open, please do not touch the luggage and inform the airport authorities to inspect it first before touching its contents.  This is just to be safer than sorry.

Be ready to have to buy yourself another luggage and have emergency cash on hand.

Here’s a list of contacts you can use to get in touch with the agent that we hired for the Sulawesi Adventure:

Gracia Posumah
Jl. Sam Ratulangi 178
Manado, North Sulawesi – INDONESIA
Phone: 0062 (0)431 857637
After Hours:  0062 (0)431 3313907


Caleta caleta.