sign in a cave in Laos

8 June 2008

Exploring Bantimurung - Star

Exploring Bantimurung
By Liz Price

THE STAR Lifestyle
26 March 2005

The pool water was such a milky turquoise that it didn’t seem real. It reminded me of the blue school uniforms worn in Malaysia, though slightly paler in colour, as if mixed with milk.

The water flowed out of the pool like a blue ribbon, through a forested gorge and then plunged 15m down the Bantimurung Falls. Once it reached the bottom of the waterfall it lost its blue colour. Unfortunately, it was the dry season so there wasn’t much water, and the rocks supporting the waterfall were hardly covered. At the bottom of the fall was a sea of people – it was a Sunday and this area is very popular with Indonesian day-trippers.

Bantimurung’s amazing turquoise coloured water (more vivid below).

About 45km north of Ujung Pandang, the 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 to 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 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 we were bundled into a microlet (taxi) and 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 on a weekend, as there were people everywhere. We headed straight for Gua Mimpi or Dream 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 were white, others in varying shades of cream, yellow and brown. In addition, some looked like large chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There was 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 around and battled with the bamboo again, 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. We were stopped several times to have a photo taken with a local. Steep steps lead up the side of the waterfall and onto the gorge with the blue river. It reminded me of Bei Shui River which flows through the Jiuzhaigou Nature Park in Sichuan province in southern China.

A welcoming monkey archway.

The pool looked inviting but no one was in the water. All the water was flowing from a cave. We were curious, and went into the cave to have a look and found a dry passage above the water. However the cave was very small 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 into the cave, but it was nowhere near as nice as the two caves we had explored earlier.

The Bantimurung Nature Reserve is spread over 1,000ha. 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 1800s. Among the butterflies 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 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.

Travel tip
Take the bus to Maros from Sentral station in Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi (one hour). From Maros, take a minibus to Bantimurung (half-hour).

© Liz Price

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