Posts from January 2007

Morowali Nature Reserve

1 January 2007

map of morowaliLocated on the eastern arm of Central Sulawesi, Morowali Nature Reserve consists of a 225,000 ha protected area containing almost completely intact primary forest. The north of the reserve is dominated by steep mountains reaching over 2600 m in height, but the terrain in the south is much less rugged and terminates in a wide coastal plain with natural lakes and swamp forest.

This region, together with much of eastern Central Sulawesi, comprises some of the most extensive formations of ultrabasic rock in the world. This results in soils which have a severe deficiency of important plant nutrients and instead contain toxic concentrations of certain heavy metals. Consequently, ultrabasic forest areas have largely been spared from intensive agriculture and logging due to the poor conditions for planting and lack of valuable timber trees.

The indigenous Wana people live throughout the reserve and consist of about 600 families that follow a traditional lifestyle. Their subsistence is based on swidden and shifting agriculture, hunting, and harvesting of forest products such as rattan and damar.

To view photos taken during my November 2006 trip to Morowali Nature Reserve, click here.

Current Status
This nature reserve was first established in March 1980, but although it is a completely protected area there are no currently maintained facilities or management staff. It is possible that in the near future Morowali may become a national park, which would lead to funding for proper management but also probably result in the majority of lowland areas being subsequently zoned for logging. Due to the relatively intact indigenous culture of the Wana people, Morowali has recently been proposed as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

How to Get There
The reserve is approachable from several directions, but the easiest is to take a 2-hour boat ride from Kolonodale to Tambayoli, which is a settlement at the western end of the park. It is possible to charter your own boat to access other parts of the park, but this is much more expensive.

Kolonodale can be reached by bus from Palu or by a 6-hour boat ride from Baturube. Alternatively, to reach Kolonodale from Macassar or Rantepao it is necessary to first take a bus to Soroako, cross Lake Matano via boat, and then take a small bus from the village of Nuha.

At the time of this writing, there is only a very poor road from Poso passing through Kecematan Tojo to Tambayoli, but it is not recommended since an expensive 4WD vehicle is required, and it is impassable during wet weather. A new road is planned from Baturube but this is not expected to be completed until 2008.

From Mando there are several flights per week to Luwuk, but travellers with more time on their hands can take the overland route to Gorontalo and then board a ferry to Pagaimanan. From Luwuk it is a 6-hour bus ride to Baturube from which it is possible either to take a boat to Kolonodale or enter the eastern end of the park near the Tokala Mountains.

When to Go
The best time to visit is in the dry season (September to November). During the rainy season (May to June) the Tambayoli valley is sometimes prone to flooding, and the rivers are more difficult to cross.

What to See
Despite having a great diversity of wildlife which includes all the larger endemic mammals such as Babirusa (Babyrousa celebensis), Anoa (Bubalus quarlesi), and Sulawesi Civet (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii), spotting animals in the forest is relatively difficult. Most species are very wary of people due to continuous hunting pressure from the local inhabitants.

Over 170 bird species have been recorded from Morowali, including many endemics. Notable species include the Maleo (Macrocephalon maleo), Yellow-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea), Ornate Lory (Trichoglossus ornatus), all five endemic kingfishers, and 18 species of forest pigeons and doves. The Tambayoli valley is a pleasant and easy place to spot numerous raptors, water birds including the Wooly-necked Stork (Ciconia episcopus), and nightjars at dusk.

Reptiles include the bizarre Sail-fin Lizard (Hydrosaurus amboinensis), and huge 9 meter-long Reticulated Pythons (Python reticulatus).

A wealth of fascinating plants can also be seen in the reserve, ranging from massive Agathis (damar) trees to rare orchids and seven species of Nepenthes pitcher plants, including the rare and beautiful N. hamata (shown below).

Nepenthes hamata

Despite the great potential for nature tourism, Morowali sees few foreign visitors and there are currently no developed facilities available. Guides can be found in Kolonodale, Tambayoli, or Morowali village, but you must be well-versed in Bahasa Indonesia as few of them speak English. Simple accomodation can be obtained at any village or town, usually by making arrangements with the kepala desa (head of the town).

The office of Yayasan Sahabat Morowali (“Friends of Morowali”) in Kolonodale is an invaluable resource of information on various treks and practicalities about the reserve. They also have a small library of excellent books and research papers on Morowali.

It is required to obtain a police permit before entering the reserve, even though the borders are not enforced. The closest police kantor for this is in Kolonodale, but due to the infrequency of visitors they don’t always stock blank forms (I was once told by the officer in charge to travel 2 days by bus to the next nearest office to get a new form). It is thus a better idea to obtain the permit in Palu or Manado beforehand if possible.

Hiking is generally very pleasant if one follows the well-established trails used by the Wana, but can get strenuous on the mountains. When trekking it is most convenient to stay in Wana huts or jungle shelters, but tents must be carried when attempting some of the more remote peaks.

Leeches can only be found on some of the wetter mountains. Malaria is a small probem in the Tambayoli area. If you are concerned, you might want to consider prophylactics.

Yayasan Sahabat Morowali (Friends of Morowali)
Jl. Yos Sudarso No. 36
Kolonodale 94671, Sulawesi Tengah
Mr. Jabar Lahadji
Tel: +62-81354447868
Email: or

Web Links
A study on sustainable harvests by traditional Wana Hunters
United Nations Environment Programme review of Morowali Reserve


Whitten, A.J., Mustafa, M. and Henderson, G.S. (1987). The Ecology of Sulawesi. Gadjah Mada University Press, Yogykarta. 777 pp.

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