sign in a cave in Laos

11 November 2007

Bantimurung - Butterflies & Blue Pools - wildasia
Bantimurung in Sulawesi, Indonesia, has caves, cascades and butterflies

Bantimurung , Sulawesi

Bantimurung - Butterflies and Blue Pools

In Indonesian language, Bantimurung means "getting rid of sadness." Befitting its name, this slice of paradise in Sulawesi boasts intriguing caves, cascading falls and exotic butterflies. Cave specialist LIZ PRICE revels on her little discovery.

[published on Wildasia 11 Sept 2005]

[Stolen and published on Indonesia and World Tourism News February 26th, 2007]

The pool was such a milky turquoise colour that it didn't seem real. It reminded me of the blue school uniforms worn in Malaysia, although was slightly paler in colour, as if mixed with milk. The water flowed out of the pool like a blue ribbon, through a wooded gorge and then plunged 15m down the Bantimurung falls. Once it reached the bottom of the waterfall it had lost its blue colour. Unfortunately it was dry season so there wasn't much water, and the rocks supporting the waterfall were hardly covered. The bottom of the fall was a sea of people; it was a Sunday and this area is very popular with Indonesian day- trippers.

About 45 km north of Ujung Pandang the Bantimurung waterfalls are set amid lushly vegetated limestone cliffs. Bantimurung is crowded with Indonesians on weekends and holidays, and at other times it's a wonderful retreat from the congestion of Ujung Pandang. Ujung Pandang (Makassar) is the capital of Sulawesi, the octopus-shaped island of Indonesia. To get to Bantimurung from the city, we took a bus for Maros. We were a group of cavers from England, and the youngest of our party, a fair- skinned lad, attracted the attention of several local girls on the bus. They all giggled and urged each other to talk to our friend, much to his embarrassment. We found all the Sulawesi people to be very friendly. They are a mix of Makassarese and Bugis Muslims, and Christian Minahasans.

Before the bus reached Maros, it stopped, and we were told to get off. We were a bit puzzled and were wondering what was happening, then someone shouted at a microlet driver. We were bundled onto this, and without saying anything, we were taken to Bantimurung Waterfall Park. I suppose it was obvious to the locals where we wanted to go. The road passed under a giant concrete monkey, which was waving with one hand and scratching its head with the other. Maybe it couldn't decide whether to welcome us or not. Apparently this 6m tall statue is of a lutung, which is a black, long-tailed leaf monkey indigenous to Sulawesi and Kalimantan.

The road actually ended at the park, so we paid the driver, and then entered the park, paying a small admission fee. That was when we realised we had made a mistake by coming at a weekend, as there were people everywhere. We headed straight for Gua Mimpi, or Dreaming Cave. Bantimurung lies at the southern end of a limestone outcrop which houses a series of caves and rock shelters. There are many caves, but Gua Mimpi is one of the best, and is equipped as a tourist cave.

We followed the signboards, crossed the river and walked around a section of the hillside and then up a series of concrete steps which led to the main entrance of the cave. The cave consists of one long passage, maybe 500m long, and is full of stalactites and stalagmites. Some are white in colour, others varying shades of cream, yellow and brown. In addition some look like large chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There is a wooden plank walk all the way through the cave, so presumably a river covers the floor in the wet season.

We came out at the smaller backdoor and being curious, decided to look round. We ended up scrambling over a lot of bamboo, and then found a small track which led to another cave. This cave wasn't very extensive, so we turned round and battled with the bamboo, before re-entering Gua Mimpi. We walked back through the cave to the main entrance. As we emerged, several Indonesians asked to have their photo taken with us. I suppose they don't get too many European visitors to this area. To the left of this entrance is another cave, Gua Istana Toakala. There was no plank walk in this cave, but we went in, and again it had some great stalagmite formations. The cave ended in a stal blockage. Presumably these two caves were once part of the same system.

We went back down to the river and followed the right bank up to the waterfall. Several times we were stopped and had to have our photo taken with the locals. Steep steps lead up the side of the tufa waterfall and onto the gorge with the blue river. It reminded me of the Bei Shui river which flows through the Jiuzhaigou Nature Park in Sichuan province in southern China. It must be the tufa which gives the milky blue colour.

The pool looked inviting but no one was in the water. All the water was resurging from a cave. We were curious so went in to have a look and found a dry passage above the water. However the cave was very short and we soon popped out on the other side. There was another beautiful blue pool, with the water seeming to come out of yet another cave.

We made our way back downstream, and followed some steps which led up to another cave. Here some enterprising men had lanterns for hire so we went in to the cave, but it was quite short and nowhere near as nice as the two caves we had explored earlier.

The Bantimurung Nature Reserve covers 1000 ha. There are many other caves in these cliffs but apart from the scenery the area is also famous for its beautiful butterflies. The naturalist Alfred Wallace collected specimens here in the mid 1800's. Among the butterflies that he caught was the Papilo Androcles, one of the rarest and biggest, with a tail like a swallow. Today entomologists still come here to look at the butterflies and other insects. It is certainly a beautiful area, with white falls and bright butterflies. Nowadays Bantimurung is a protected area, but there are still kids besieging visitors with beautifully coloured butterflies as souvenirs. The best time to see living butterflies is when the sun appears after a rain shower. They form a riot of colour as they fly from one shrub to another.

According to a tourist leaflet, Bantimurung means a place for getting rid of sadness (membanting kemurungan). It would be difficult to be sad in such a beautiful place.

Access to the park:
Take the bus to Maros from Sentral station in Ujung Pandang (1 hr). From Maros take a minibus to Bantimurung (0.5 hr.).

© Liz Price - article may only be republished with the author's permission.

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