Words & photos: Aulia R. Sungkar
Originally was published in JPlus on Nov. 30, 2014.
I had wanted to get away from it all – Jakarta, that is – on my first real vacation of the year and had weighed several options, both abroad and here at home. When I remembered an old friend who lived in the distant small town of Sibolga in North Sumatra, I decided it was the place to go.
Facing the Indian Ocean on North Sumatra’s western side, Sibolga is a world of its own. Although the port town is no teeming tourist destination with every possible convenience, it is still welcoming in its quaint, laid-back charm.
Its real attractions are surrounding pristine ocean landscapes that will beckon nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. The panorama of mountainous, dense forest along the one-hour drive from Pinangsori Airport is pretty as a picture. Thanks to new Garuda Indonesia daily Jakarta-Sibolga and Medan-Sibolga routes, reaching the destination is easier and definitely faster than spending more than 8 hours on the road from Medan.
Of course, do not expect four or five-star hotels upon arrival in sleepy Sibolga. Hotel Wisata Indah, which is comparable to a two-star hotel in Jakarta, is probably the best of the available accommodation. I found it suitably comfortable.
The hotel’s beachside location is the perfect starting point for your nature holiday getaway. Thefreshness of a crisp breeze in the late afternoon spurred me to take a stroll along the beach, feasting my eyes on the crystal clear ocean and blue sky while waiting for the sunset.
In the evening, I rode up the hill to enjoy the simple yet gorgeous panorama of the city and lighthouse.
Sibolga is surrounded by several islands. Renting a speedboat to hop between them is one way to make the most of your trip; I decided instead to join a small group on a two-day one-night mini cruise.
Sleeping up to 15 people, the custom-built vessel Nauli recently returned to operation after years in a vacuum. From its top deck, passengers enjoy the pristine ocean waters surrounding Sibolga and small islands.
The cruise includes a glass-bottom boat tour where you can enjoy the beautiful view of various colorful coral reefs. To get a closer look at the underwater world, some of us in the group enjoyed the fun of snorkeling.
Poncan Gadang Island, Pulau Putih (literally meaning White Island) and Mursala Island are the highlight destinations of the cruise. Fringed with white sandy beaches and unspoiled sea, each features its own beauty and activities to offer.
Poncan Gadang Island
The island is the home of Poncan Resort, a seaside resort offering 70 chalets scattered around the island’s green landscape. Ocean adventure seekers will find it a holiday haven, with fishing, boating, beachcombing and trekking.
We took three hours to walk around the island. It was quite tiring but feelings of fatigue dissipated as our eyes feasted on the breathtaking views of the ocean, white sands, cobblestones and palm trees.
An hour from Poncan Island is this smaller island, encircled with dazzling white sand, natural forest and palm trees. It is also said to be the most beautiful spot for snorkeling and diving, with colorful corals and amazing school of fish.
Swimming and fishing are the other activities that will make your day if you are an active type. I opted to take things easy, chilling out at the gazebo sipping fresh coconut while talking with a few of the locals.
The clear waters and verdant forest along the way to Mursala Island were truly mesmerizing, and made the one-hour boat ride pass in no time.
The star attraction of the island is the amazing Mursala waterfall, which was the backdrop for the making of Hollywood blockbuster King Kong in 2005 and Indonesian movie Mursala in 2013.
The island is also ideal for diving, but I would say that sightseeing is more interesting.
For those wishing to try surfing, the tranquil waters in the coastal area surrounding Sibolga are not the most ideal spot. Better suited is Nias, a 12-hour ferry ride away and one of the most famous surfing spots in the archipelago.
Some of us managed to catch our own dinner fresh from the pristine waters. We had a barbecue on the island, savoring the fresh grilled fish paired with fresh coconut from the trees on the island.
Thanks to its location, seafood is fresh in Sibolga, and is available at almost all restaurants in town. Go to Sibolga Square on Jl. Ahmad Yani for a delicious range of seafood and meat dishes on the cheap.
Not far away, a bit incongruously, is Pondok Jogja restaurant; I did not expect to find a Javanese food in a small town with a population of around 80,000. Owner Pak Jogja as his regulars call him, recommends ayam bakar (grilled chicken) from the menu. I have to agree that it is indeed delicious.