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Morotai, a Magical Pearl at the Tip of Indonesia

Morotai is an untapped tourist destinations, with rich history and marvelous beaches

Dodola island in North Halmahera Indonesia with a white sand beach and decayed wood on the beach. (c) Shutterstock
Dodola island in North Halmahera Indonesia with a white sand beach and decayed wood on the beach. (c) Shutterstock

Morotai is one the one of the outermost place in Indonesia. It is the northernmost tip of North Maluku Province. Indeed, Morotai share its borders with The Philipiness in the north and directly borders with The Pacific Ocean to the east.

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Dodola island, Morotai, North Halmahera, North Moluccas, Indonesia (c) Shutterstock
Dodola island, Morotai, North Halmahera, North Moluccas, Indonesia (c) Shutterstock

Morotai is a rugged and forested tropical island, with several smaller islands nearby. It has long history, some of them are very dark, especially during the World War II. Morotai was the one of the biggest battlefield in Pacific Theater in which the legendary general Douglas McArthur fight the Japanese Force. Even before that, Morotai was already a prized asset to the Ternate Sultanate.

Morotai, however, is much more than just a historic piece of land. This tropical heaven is littered with beautiful beaches, secluded smaller islands, and wonderful diving spots. The Central government has made Morotai as a designated top priority tourist destination. Apart from that, fishery, trade, and service centers at Morotai will be massively developed.

Pantai Army Dock, Morotai
Pantai Army Dock, Morotai via Instagram/Fangarerinto

Morotai is not the easiest island to reach. Daruba, the biggest town in the island is mostly accessible only with boat. Nonetheless, once you get there, you might not want to leave. Morotai offers the best island-hopping experience you can get in Indonesia.

Daruba, The Gate of Morotai

Daruba is the largest settlement in Morotai, with accessible port (Pelabuhan Daruba) and an airport (Frans Wattimena Airport also known as PITU Airport). Daruba is the sole gateway to explore the whole Morotai. Consequently, Daruba is also the center of economic activity in the area.

Daruba, Morotai, Maluku Utara.
Daruba, Morotai, Maluku Utara via Instagram/riza11doa

Compared to other tourist destinations in Morotai, Daruba is nothing special. However, keep in mind that this is the place where you can get most of the best amenities on the island. If you want to just enjoy Morotai casually, Daruba is the place where you can do so comfortably.

Daruba is not devoid of beautiful places either. Dehegila Beach, also known as Tanjung Panjang, is located on the southern tip of the town. This small cape reaches the sea with colorful rocks, creating a captivating colors gradation.

Daruba, Morotai, Maluku Utara.
Daruba, Morotai, Maluku Utara via Instagram/fdianasari

Daruba, as well as all of Morotai, is an unfinished project. In fact, the government just started to build infrastructure to attract investments, especially in tourism sector. Roads are being build, the airport is developed, and Daruba is the center of it all.

Army Dock and McArthur Island

Zumzum (McArthur) Island, Morotai, Maluku Utara.
Zumzum (McArthur) Island, Morotai, Maluku Utara via Instagram/ladysharkkkkk

During the World War II, General Douglas McArthur managed to seize Morotai from Japanese Army’s hand. McArthur then build his temporary military base there, rebuilding the airport and build a naval base.

The Army Dock Beach was, as the name suggests, the place chosen by the General McArthur to build his base. At the peak of the occupation, there was 60.000 Allied Forces army in Morotai, along with a hospital with almost 2.000 beds.

There was a bridge connecting Army Dock Beach with Zumzum Island. These places were crucial for the Allied Force, especially to transfer their logistics to support the battle in The Philippines, East Borneo, and Western New Guinea.

Army Dock Beach, Morotai, Maluku Utara
Army Dock Beach, Morotai, Maluku Utara via Instagram/amrilrivai

On top of those historical importance, Dock Army beach is also a very beautiful place. A long white sand beach with charming scenery offers serenity in its seclusion. The Zumzum Island is known as McArthur Island for a simple reason that there are lots of monuments of the General in this Island. It also has a lovely beach, shallow with crystal clear water, ideal for relaxing swimming in the afternoon.

The Vanishing Bridge of Dodola Islands

Dodola Islands, Morotai, Maluku Utara.
Dodola Islands, Morotai, Maluku Utara via Instagram/exploredolan.id

Dodola Islands consist of two island, Dodola Besar and Dodola Kecil. This is the most fascinating place in the area, with a ‘vanishing bridge’ between them. The two islands is connected by a very unique white sand pathway that only appears when the tide is low.

The islands themselves are located to the west of Morotai Island. This place is a classic tropical islands heaven. White sand beaches, secluded places, great snorkeling spots and even better diving areas.

Despite their violent past during The World War II, Dodola Islands are otherwise still untouched. Everything is as natural as they can be. The beaches are clean, the sea are pristine blue, and the land are virtually unchanged except for few homes.

Diving to The Past

Diving in Morotai, Maluku Utara.
Diving in Morotai, Maluku Utara via Instagram/samarishak

Morotai has many diving spots, 28 to be exact. These spots are scattered all over the island, each with their own unique beauties. But to generalize, there are two main attractions of Morotai; the beautiful coral reefs and the mysterious World War II wrecks.

The coral reefs in Morotai is sufficiently beautiful. Thousands of colorful reefs attract similarly beautiful reef fishes. It’s not as spectacular as Bunaken, for example, but it has its own charisma. There are even diving spots to interact with sharks!

The special thing about diving in Morotai is that you can find the remnants of the war casualties. Many vehicles and armaments are now sitting idly at Morotai waters, many of them has become the homes of coral reefs. There is jeeps, tanks, and even a bomber plane wrecks. All are now protected by the law.

Cave and Freshwater Wonders

Popogu Cave, Morotai, Maluku Utara.
Popogu Cave, Morotai, Maluku Utara via Instagram/wisatagoapopogu

 Leaving the beaches and the sea for a while, you can go deeper inland to find another kind of beauty in this land. There are several waterfalls on the slope of Mount Bakulu. The smaller ones only fall from 4 meters high while the highest one reaching 25 meters drop.

One of the most popular destination is Kokota Waterfall. Within the ‘complex’ here, there are several other waterfalls. One of them even have 4 meters deep cave!

Speaking about cave, there is a cave located in Sangowo Village. The Popogu Cave is a natural wet cave with stalactite and stalagmite. One of the stalagmite is infamous because its shape resembles a pocong (wrapped dead person or ghost). Water flows on the cave floors and the visitor can find several bluish ponds in some part of the cave.

Fishing Morotai Festival

Fishing Morotai Festival.
Fishing Morotai Festival via Instagram/fardi__1908

Needless to say that Morotai has a rich maritime potential, including the tourism fishery. There are lots of angler-favorite trophy fishes such as Tuna, Giant Trevally, Escolar, Dog Tooth, Amber Jack, or Ruby.

Since the central government made Morotai as a top priority tourist destination in 2016, local government has work proactively to accelerate the progress. They held Fishing Morotai, a fishing festival for hobby anglers. It’s proved to be a very popular event, so much so that the committee had to limit the participants.

Unfortunately, the infrastructure and tourism services in Morotai is not ready yet to hold such large event. There are simply not enough hotel rooms to accommodate all the tourist brought by this event. However, nearly all participants said that they will definitely come back if there are another fishing festival in Morotai.

Dodola Islands Festival

Dodola Islands, Morotai, Maluku Utara.
Dodola Islands, Morotai, Maluku Utara via Instagram/rdhbeyondtravel

There is seemingly an unspoken agreement that says the Dodola Islands are the naturally most beautiful spot in Morotai. The white sand beaches are truly too captivating, especially the pathway between the islands.

To maximize Dodola Islands’ potential, the government held Dodola Islands Festival. It’s a national event to promote Morotai, especially the Dodola Islands. That’s why the activities in this festival are mostly exploring and sport related.

There are kite competition, dragon boat competition, diving competition, canga boat competition, and yacht invitation. Conservationism is also a big issue here, so much so that conservation efforts are highly promoted during this event. The festival is closed with a folk and cultural activities.

Festival Desa Pesisir

Dodola Islands, Morotai, Maluku Utara.
Dodola Islands, Morotai, Maluku Utara via Instagram/fatarubarizky22

This festival literally means Coastal Villages festival. It was an initiative taken by local government after Morotai was included as 10 New Bali. It’s intended to introduce Morotai to the tourism world, as well as showing their love for their country.

The festival was held all over the island, to promote each of their own uniqueness and natural beauty. There was a marathon, sailing competition, surfing competition, rowing competition, as well as cycling competition; the International Tour de Morotai Pacific.

The peak of all of those activities are the ceremony to celebrate Indonesia’s Independence. The Ceremony was held at zero point, right at the outer border of the country. The government has chosen sport tourism as the main theme to promote their new status as top tourism destination.

Papeda

Papeda Kuah Kuning.
Papeda Kuah Kuning via Instagram/novitalesly

Papeda is a staple food in Maluku and Eastern Indonesia, mainly in the coastal area. The main ingredient is sago cooked with water, creating a rather sticky and chewy texture to it. This alone is bland, but the seafood completes it entirely.

The fish, of course, give savory taste. The soup not only compensate to blandness of the sago porridge, but also prevents it from being sticky. As a result, you will have a very tasty gelatinous papeda. Truly unique taste.

Best place to enjoy papeda:

  • RM Bakar Irfamsa Daruba – Joubela, Morotai Sel., Kabupaten Pulau Morotai
  • RM Sari laut Bumi Moro – Darame, Morotai Sel., Kabupaten Pulau Morotai, Maluku Utara

Ikan Bakar Sambal Colo-colo

Grilled Fish with Colo-colo spicy sauce.
Grilled Fish with Colo-colo spicy sauce via Instagram/dhilasina

Considering its location, it’s no wonder that most of the staple food in Morotai are seafood-based. One of the most popular one is Ikan Bakar Sambal Colo-colo, essentially a grilled fish with spicy seasonings.

You can ask for any fish for this meal. Depends on the location, you might as well ask for the level of spiciness you’d like to have. The fish is grilled to perfection and the seasonings are perfect combination of savory, spicy, and sweetness.

Best Place to enjoy Ikan Bakar Sambal Colo-colo

  • RM Bakar Irfamsa Daruba – Joubela, Morotai Sel., Kabupaten Pulau Morotai
  • RM Sari laut Bumi Moro – Darame, Morotai Sel., Kabupaten Pulau Morotai, Maluku Utara
  • Kendio Café – Joubela, Morotai Sel., Kabupaten Pulau Morotai

What to Do in Morotai

Enjoying sunset at Dodola Islands.
Enjoying sunset at Dodola Islands via Instagram/exploremorotai

With minimal infrastructure in Morotai right now, it’s rather hard to explore everything quickly. The government is still starting to build roads and other infrastructures to better connect all important tourism spots there.

Island hopping is possible, but should be prepared really well considering the scarcity of transportation modes. For first-timers, it is recommended to set a base camp in Daruba and then exploring the islands from there.

To explore the Morotai Island, the easiest way is by renting a car or motorcycle. If you drive yourself, you can go to several beaches along the coastline of this island. Pelabuhan Ferry, Perdanda, Army Dock, Nunuhu, and Dehegila are all accessible via road from Daruba. Go deeper inland to enjoy several waterfalls, cave, and Air Kaca monument.

Shark diving in Morotai.
Shark diving in Morotai via Instagram/sharkdivingmorotai

To go to other islands, your only option is by renting a speedboat. You usually need to rent the boat for a day to explore four or five islands. Dodola Island is the most popular destination due to its beauty. But there are also Zumzum Island, Matita Island, Kokoya Island, Pasir Timbul Island that are as exotic, and some of them are even uninhabited.

How to Get There

Pitu Airport, Morotai, Maluku Utara.
Pitu Airport, Morotai, Maluku Utara via Instagram/pitu_airport

There is no land route connecting Indonesia’s major islands and Morotai.

By Air

There are only two airport with direct flight service to Morotai; Sam Ratulangi Airport in Manado and Sultan Babullah Airport in Ternate. All flight to Morotai are provided by Wings Air, each offers one flight a day. That means all flight to Morotai, from any part of the country, has to go through one of those airports.

By Sea

There are more options to get to Daruba Port:

  • From Ahmad Yani Port Ternate
  • From Tobelo Port, North Halmahera
  • From Manado Port
  • From Bitung Port
  • From Sorong Port

Hotels

D'Aloha Resort Morotai, Maluku Utara.
D’Aloha Resort Morotai, Maluku Utara via Instagram/jababekamorotai

Best Hotels in Morotai Next

  • Ria Hotel – Jl. Desa Yayasan, Morotai 97771, Indonesia – From IDR 440.000 per night
  • D’Aloha Resort – Jl. Tanjung Dehegila, Desa Juanga | Kec. Morotai Utara, Morotai, Indonesia – From IDR 847.000 per night.
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