Somewhere in the eastern waters of Indonesia, between the Aruand Kei Islands to the east, and Timor Island to the west, are strings of islands with light blue outlines, known as the Tanimbar Islands or the Tanimbars. These islands are composed of 65 small islands which form part of the province of Maluku (Moluccas). Some of the named ones are Fordate, Larat, Molu, Maru, Wotap, Wuliaru, Selu, Sera, Selaru, and the largest one is Yamdena.
Sailing from Darwin, Australia towards the Banda Sea with Banda neira or Ambon as your main destination, then Saumlaki on the densely wooded Island of Yamdena, is your first stop in the Indonesian waters to process your Immigration and Customs formalities, and to refresh your stamina. Saumlaki is the largest town in the Tanimbars. The town is growing where Christian missionaries influences can be found everywhere.
The port of Saumlaki is on the south coast of Yamdena. The western part of the island is still swampy and less hilly compared to its east side. Layers of coastal houses look peaceful as a towering large façade of the town’s church stands among lush trees. Two thirds of Tanimbarese are Catholics and Protestants. The remainder are Moslems, Buddhists, and animism believers.
Past travelers have warned that the locals are less hospitable than those on Maluku. As a near isolated region of Maluku, the Tanimbars still push themselves to improve their limited facilities and services. The town of Saumlaki itself is built around a single main street flanked by Chinese shophouses.
Visited by the Dutch in 1629 and claimed in 1639 under the right of discovery, the Tanimbars are, nonetheless, less influenced by colonialism, except by persistent missionaries. Although the islands do not have many attractions, yet adventurers may find them historically interesting.
Warungs – or roadside stalls – are the best bet in the Tanimbars, and even with their limited offering, they still charge twice as much compared to eating in Ambon or Tual in the Kei Islands.
There are not many places to stay at Saumlaki, but if you must, there are no more than five of them. None of them have telephone numbers, but it is said that accommodations on Saumlaki, and in the Tanimbars in general, are the most expensive.
There is the Pantai Indah, accommodation equipped with fans, but is expensive for a non-air conditioned hotel. Penginapan Ratulel is clean and simple, but bathrooms are shared.
There are several places of interest that can inspire you while you visit the islands.
1. In the Olilit Village located toward the Olilit Airport is Kristus Raja, a direct translation of Christ the King. This is Yamdena’s main Catholic church. A statue of Jesus stands on top of the building, but was planned to be replaced with a new and improved version since some have criticized it as being rather comical.
2. On the way to Olilit Village, take a turn to the coast and you will find Weluan Beach. The beach is clean and peaceful when deserted during weekdays.
3. Rent a boat in Weluan Beach and find an island with some unusual rock formations right off shore.
4. Tumbur Village is at the southwestern coast of Yamdena toward the Larat region up in the northeast coast. Here, people do woodcarving as their main profession. Discover the vivid artistic distinctions between modern woodcarvings, the older, and the ancient woodcarvings.
5. The best that Yamdena has to offer is probably the megalithic stone formation at Sangliat Dol. Right at the center of the village is a stone boat left behind by the first inhabitants of the island. Going up from the village is a stone stairway that leads to another stone boat.
6. Around 12 kilometers from Sangliat Dol is another form of stone boat, but differently formed. Find it at the Arui Bab Village.