|North Sulawesi’s star tourism attraction is undoubtedly Bunaken Island, with its internationally famous and enchanting underwater marine attractions. It attracts not only those who love diving or snorkeling but also tourists who take the sea air in catamarans.
From Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi, it takes from 15 to 60 minutes to reach Bunaken, depending on the starting point. From Tongkaina (Molas) it is only 15 minutes while from Mega Mas Boulevard 60 minutes.
But North Sulawesi wants to get the word out to the world that Bunaken — although rightfully famous for its natural splendor — is but one of its draws.
Governor Sinyo Harry Sarundajang recently said in Manado that each city and regency in the province — known as the land of waving coconut palms — held potential and could be competitive on the tourism front.
The list is long and interesting. Bitung, for example, has panoramic nautical and maritime tourism at Lembeh Island, Kungkungan and scenic natural beauty at Tangkoko. In North Minahasa there is an attractive resort at Batu Nona Kema, as well as pristine beaches at Likupang, Gangga and Bangka islands.
In Minahasa regency there is Doa Hill and Tondano Lake, and Lakban beach in Southeast Minahasa; for diving one can go to Buyat Bay while the place for eco-tourism to Ratatotok. In Tomohon, there is Mahawu mountain, Linow lake and a well-known area where Woloan traditional houses are for sale. There are also a number of tourism resorts in South Minahasa and in Bolmong Raya.
The local government’s efforts in creating alternative destinations have also triggered private companies amid the huge inflow of both domestic and foreign tourists to North Sulawesi via its international Sam Ratulangi airport.
For the past seven years during Sarundajang’s tenure the area has attracted numerous businesspeople and tourists becoming one of the fastest growth centers in Indonesia. Sarundajang said that previously the province was viewed as an area at the far end of Indonesia based on the country’s geographical map, but from the perspective of Asia Pacific it is at its center.
“That’s why, as a governor, I keep on pushing to make the position of this province more strategic,
One effort to attract the world’s attention, he continued, was to initiate an international event, the World Ocean Conference (WOC) in May 2009.
The event, a local initiative, was soon included in the national and international agenda.
“It made North Sulawesi famous worldwide and I dubbed it as inviting the world to North Sulawesi. WOC attracted the world’s attention because it offered a new alternative for the reduction of global warming by maintaining and preserving the oceans,” said Sarundajang.
In conjunction with the WOC, he said, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono initiated the prestigious meeting, the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) Summit which was participated in by surrounding countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and Solomon islands.
In August 2009, North Sulawesi successfully organized Sail Bunaken by inviting a US aircraft carrier and a number of foreign warships, which further raised its profile.
Sarundajang said this was the momentum used fully to promote the tourist potential of the province, which has a population of over 2 million in 15 regencies and cities.
When Indonesia’s and the world’s eyes were directed more to the province various improvements and enhancements took place.
“Today both domestic and foreign airlines fly to Manado from Jakarta and other cities. There are more than 20 flights every day. We must take full advantage of these opportunities and next year there will be more incoming flights,” said Sarundajang.
Ratatotok in Southeast Minahasa and Batu Nona Kema in North Minahasa have all become tourism draws and the beaches are crowded during weekends.
Ratatotok, about 70 km to the southeast of Manado, was previously a mining area of PT Newmont Minahasa Raya and it used to be barren.
After the company completed its operations in 2004, the 200 hectare. Mesel Ratatotok is now a green and productive forest due to the company’s reclamation before its closure.
There are shade of its trees, chirping of wild birds, and glimpses of the endemic, tiny tarsiers.
The survey team of the agriculture school of Sam Ratulangi University, Manado, said the forest had 155,814 trees and 145 species of 59 families of trees. There are also 109 types of birds and pollinating insects.
Although currently only researchers can go there, the plan in the near future is to open its natural wonders to the public.
Not far from Mesel forest there is the pristine Lakban beach and the mesmerizing underwater park at Buyat Bay. Both places draw local and foreign tourists in large numbers especially during the weekend.
Buyat Bay is located on the borders of Southeast Minahasa regency and Bolaang Mongondow and
It has been developed by Fransisca Tuwai, a businesswoman who is also a member of the regional house of representatives of North Minahasa regency. The beach is truly a magnet for both local and international tourists, a fully integrated resort like Jakarta’s Ancol but on a smaller scale. It has water sports, a swimming pool and various recreational centers plus places of worship. Pleasant cottages are also available.
Peggy Mekel, an economist of Sam Ratulangi University, Manado, said Batu Nona was the result of local government efforts in promoting alternative tourist destinations to Manado rather than just relying on Bunaken.
Ratatotok and Batu Nona were solid proof that North Sulawesi is rich in various tourist destinations or resorts — developments that are expected to improve the economic condition of surrounding communities.