Panambungan Island: Makassar’s Best-Kept Secret

By Dian Hasan | July 9, 2009

Panambungan Island_Makassar_S Sulawesi_sp13-a_11As the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia naturally has the world’s largest share of islands. Close to 14,000 islands are within her territory, however the vast majority are uninhabited islands, and the more famous ones are those that are known the world over – and still considered by many as exotic isles of majestic beauty and mystery. Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes, are just some of them. Surprisingly, some of the most enchanting tropical islands are just a stone throw away from the major cities. Serving as recreation hideaways for the increasingly busy urbanites that are only now showing appreciation to these idyllic isles so close to the bustling cities. Jakarta has the Thousand Islands, Semarang (Central Java) has Karimun Jawa islands, and Makassar (South Celebes/Sulawesi) has Panambungan Island.

Trinissa is the 5-year-old daughter of Erwin Aksa, the chairman of the Indonesian Young Entrepreneurs Association and the president director of eastern Indonesia’s well-known Bosowa Group of companies, owned by his father, Aksa Mahmud. Erwin’s aunt is the wife of Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

This intimate knowledge of the wealthy and well-connected is conveyed to me by Captain Nurdi Cahyo, head of the berthing section of the harbor master department at the Sixth Naval Base, Makassar.

Trinissa is also the name of Erwin’s Rp 8 billion Bertram yacht, which he uses to entertain his VIP guests, and transport passengers from Hotel Imperial Aryaduta Makassar, a property owned by the Aksa Mahmud family, to Panambungan, a private island owned by the family.

Departing from the mainland at about 9 am and returning at 4 p.m., it is a 45-minute trip to the island on Trinissa. The trip costs Rp 400,000 per passenger and includes a lunch of fried rice, and if you are quick enough, some snorkeling gear. “We used to have 20 of them,” the captain said, unable to explain why the rest had disappeared. I managed to get one after hours of waiting.

Panambungan Island_Makassar_S Sulawesi_sp13-d_7Panambungan is a small island about the size of two soccer fields and is one of the 18,110 islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago.

“If you really want, you can dive into the waters off the island, which is now the gravesite of many used cars *former Bosowa taxis*. There are no great diving sites,” Nurdi said adding, “For diving, many people from Jakarta go further north to the Kapoposang National Marine Park. The trip from Makassar to Kapoposang is three times as long as the trip to Panambungan.”

The water around the island is clean and it was delightful to spend a Saturday there swimming in the afternoon sun, snorkeling, treading on white sand, and admiring casuarinas and other types of pine trees. Big trees with cherry-like fruit that scattered autumnal colored leaves on the ground, and the sweet-smelling jasmine plants, added to the beauty.

Inter-tidal-like pools had formed along some parts of the island. Sprinkled with reefs and some debris, the clear light-blue water is too shallow for swimming. Snorkeling though, you are likely to spot small simple-colored fish, some silvery, swimming here and there around dull-looking coral and equally lackluster anemones.

Panambungan Island_Makassar_S Sulawesi_sp13-b_9However, lurking in the clear clean water, are tiny translucent jelly fish locally called “ice jelly fish”, which cause severe itchiness if they make contact with the skin. There is also a sort of oval-shaped flat fish camouflaging itself to resemble a thin mound of sand. Perhaps it was a Sting Ray. It seemingly felt my presence and slithered away. Later, after exploring some other parts of the shallow water, I went back to that spot, but this unidentified underwater object had gone.

The structures built on the island are still very rudimentary, including the toilets and the bathrooms. That’s why I decided to take a bath when I returned to my hotel in Makassar. Some people decided to stay at the rudimentary bungalows on the island, paying Rp 500,000 per night not including breakfast, according to Mery, the secretary of the hotel’s sales department. Nurdi and Mery told me there is a two-year plan to turn the island into a properly built and managed resort with amenities similar to the cluster of resort islands just off Jakarta.

On the way back to Makassar I sat on the second story of the Trinissa in front of the steering wheel. The triangular transparent plastic window in front of me had been rolled up and the open sea before me was like a rhapsody in blue.

Holding the right and the left hand steel bars that make up the triangular window, I stood up. The strong wind and the pace of the yacht made me feel like I was flying. The flying sensation faded away when the contours of Makassar emerged on the horizon. Memories of the island suddenly flashed in my mind, prompting me to turn back.

By: Arif Suryobuwono | The Jakarta Post | May 31, 2009

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