A surprisingly pleasant destination for a relaxing holiday
Soroako, a small nickel mining town in East Luwu regency, South Sulawesi province, is located at the top of Sulawesi’s eastern leg. It is accessible by road and by air from Makassar.
The mine and the largest part of the town was constructed in the late 1960s by PT Inco, now called PT Vale Indonesia. The great majority of Soroako’s residents are either employed by this mining company, or by its contractors and subcontractors. The rest of the population is largely engaged in farming, fishing and the service sector.
PT. Vale Indonesia operates the largest open-pit nickel mine in Indonesia. And although open-pit mining involves clearing the vegetation and top soil of large areas, the company manages a well regarded rehabilitation programme and award-winning sediment control systems. It should, however, be kept in mind that in order to counter erosion, the vast areas of rainforest lost to the mining operation cannot be replaced by the same species. A mono-culture of largely non-native trees thus has created a serious loss of biodiversity.
The intensive rehabilitation programme includes landscaping and placing layers of planting soil, terracing and the development of drainage systems. This first phase is followed up by revegetating and replanting. Some 700 hectares have been revegetated to date.
Soroako, located in the Verbeek Mountains, is surprisingly beautiful. It is surrounded by three lakes; Lake Matano (the deepest lake in Indonesia and the tenth deepest in the world), Lake Towuti and Lake Mahalona. The town is located on the southern shore of Lake Matano and consists largely of company owned houses and other buildings. The narrow sliver on the shore, north of the airport is the Soroako of indigenous and non-Inco residents.
And then of course there is the lake — in the lingo of the town this is Lake Matano. It is used for boating, fishing, swimming, diving and any other water-related activity. It is famous for its many endemic species of fish, shrimp and crabs like the Tylomelania snail, Caridina shrimp and Parathelphusid crab. The endemic fish of Matano have been compared to the species swarms of the Rift Valley Lakes of Africa. On the western side there is a fairly unexplored cave, one chamber of which contains hundreds of skeletons said to be the remains of a PKI (Indonesia Communist Party) rebel force from the 1950s. Others claim that it is a cemetery (similar to the cemetery caves of Tana Toraja).
The waters of Lake Matano are exceptionally clear, visibility is good, even though some mining sediment washes into the lake. With a depth of almost 600m (1,940ft), it is the deepest lake in Indonesia. As the surface elevation from mean sea level is only 382m (1,253ft), the deepest portion of the lake is below sea level. In short, and apart from the skeletons, an attractive set of facilities and resources, and more than enough to warrant a visit.
And that’s what those who were born or have worked in Soroako seem to be doing — going back time and again. They are uniformly fond of Soroako and the time they have spent there. They have formed social network groups and keep each other informed of their present-day activities. Reunions are organised; lunch meetings in a Jakarta restaurant for residents of the metropolis, or long weekends in Soroako.
The latter is quite remarkable, as apart from the cost there is also a time factor. The flight from Makassar to Soroako gives priority treatment to Vale employees and often there are no seats left for outsiders. The only alternative then is a ten-hour overnight bus ride. But every time a reunion is organised many show up. The reason, they say, is they want to see their friends again, and the beautiful place of their youth. And they want to swim in the clear waters of their beloved Lake Matano.
These strong bonds were formed when they moved from nursery to primary school and on to SMP (middle school) and SMA (high school), with the same classmates! In Soroako there was but one of these schools, and unless you moved out of town, that’s the one you attended. As a result, some know each other since kindergarten! And after school they played together, went swimming together, had their first Budweiser together (mind you, Budweiser, the company store stocked many American products, including Skippy peanut butter). They still remember who went steady and when and why they broke up.
That’s a lot of shared memory from a pleasant small town at the end of the road from Makassar.
Outsiders, that is those not employed by PT Vale, or not on a nostalgic reunion, would best travel overland to Soroako and add a visit to Tana Toraja to their itinerary. This would be best arranged in Makassar.
Desa Soroako – 8,200
Desa Magani – 9,200
Desa Nikkel – 6,800
TOTAL – 24,200
How to get there
From Makassar by Indonesia Air Transport
(Outsiders US$157, booking at counter IAT, Makassar, 0811 423 955)
Or an overnight bus ride (10 hours)
Where to stay
Hotel Grand Mulia – 0812 4115 2151
Hotel Matano Sunrise – 0852 3097 3729
Krakatau Guest House – 0813 4278 1771
Duta Inn – 0475 321 794
Restaurants in the hotels, also:
TAB (the Vade Club, outsiders pay US$8 per person entrance fee)