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Biak: a small paradise in Northern Papua
Wamena (Indonesia), October 2nd 2012

It is hard to suppress our smiles when our plane lands on Frans Kaisiepo International Airport. This airport isn’t situated near a busy tourism destination or close to a city with many international connections, but on the sleepy island of Biak. International flights were cancelled in the nineties; before that time, the power of the Suharto family was strong enough to convince the Indonesian airline Garuda to fly from Jakarta to Los Angeles via Biak. The fact that Tommy (President Suharto’s son) had a luxurious hotel on Biak had certainly to do with this. It must have been very convenient for him to have direct flights to- and from the United States.

Even in present times, Biak has very good transport connections for Papuan standards. Several airlines fly daily to Jakarta, Makassar and the most important city in Papua: Jayapura. Moreover, there are several Pelni ships that call in at the harbour of Biak. A visit to Biak can therefore easily be fit into an itinerary to Indonesian Papua. Still, there aren’t many foreign visitors to Biak. The few visitors Biak gets are looking for relaxing beach life or searching for the endemic birds that still roam in the forests of Biak. After a few nice weeks of birding in Wasur National Park (see the photo-impression and the article) and Nimbokrang (see the article), we are certainly taking our binoculars on our daytrips on Biak, but we are also keen to enjoy the other things that Biak has to offer. The idea that bird watching brings us to places that we probably would have missed otherwise, is certainly true on this visit to Biak. Lonely Planet’s information on Biak is limited at most, and the GPS coordinates that we got from trip reports of other birders were of great help when exploring the island. Moreover, we used the satellite images of Google Maps to orientate ourselves.

Children in front of an old gun as proof of the fighting during World War II
 

We have seen beautiful birds, but in the end we will remember Biak as an unspoiled paradise in the Bird of Paradise Bay of Northern Papua. The interior of Eastern Biak doesn’t have very spectacular nature left, but everywhere are small villages with extremely friendly people. Waving people and smiling faces are the norm. During the Second World War, Biak was the scene of heavy fighting. Japanese canons and hiding places for snipers are easily seen on the island. The battle of Biak in 1944 took a month and resulted in 6000 Japanese casualties and 500 American deaths; something that is hardly imaginable in these times. The coastal villages are extremely idyllic and look as the paragon of peacefulness.

During our stay on Biak, we rented a motorcycle at our guesthouse in the village of Bosnik. Roads are quiet and in good condition, which makes this an excellent way to explore the island. By following the coastal road from Bosnik in eastward direction, you will find several beautiful beached with golden sand. Perfect for the ones who like their beaches deserted; less than ideal for the ones who are looking for beach bars, jet skies and parasols. On Biak you are sharing the beach only with local fishermen who try to catch some fish with a spear or net in hand. The colour of the water varies from turquoise to cobalt blue. This is what they call a lust for the eye! Continuing eastwards, there is a bridge from which you have a good view on a lagoon flanked by mangrove forest. Local fishermen are using traditional canoes to gather their catch of the day. We still don’t understand why they were hitting franticly with a paddle on the water surface; probably they wanted to attract the fish to their nets, but if we were fish, we would have been scared off. A few kilometres eastwards, there is another bizarre sight: the so-called “flooded forest”. Mainly white, bare and dead tree trunks are standing in the water and on some places in a thick, black layer of sludge. This strange landscape is apparently the result of a tsunami; definitely worth a look.

One of the beautiful beaches of Biak
 
Indonesian Papua attracts many visitors who want to get a glimpse of the traditional culture of the people in the Baliem Valley. To get there, you have to fly in- and out of Sentanti (Jayapura) and because of the good transport connections with Biak, a visit to this tropical paradise is easily done at the begin or end of the trip. You could first hike your way through the Baliem Valley and end your trip in a relaxed fashion on Biak. Here, you can get an idea of the village life of the Papua of nowadays, but then in the paradise surroundings of a tropical island. In our opinion, there are worse combinations imaginable.
A motorcycle is a great way to explore the island
The central taxi terminal of Kota Biak (Biak Town)
A spooky sky during one of the fierce rain showers
Our guesthouse in little Bosnik
... and the view from our room!
 
 

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