Jetty at Cengkeh Island.

Pulau Cengkeh

One of Sulawesi’s Spermonde Islands, Pulau Cengkeh (Clove Island) was previously a graveyard island for the community of 70-odd households on Pulau Pala (Nutmeg Island) a few kilometres away: Buginese beliefs about ghosts and walking corpses mean many islanders bury their dead on distant islands.

Since the early 1970s, Cengkeh has been home to a turtle sanctuary, run by the island’s only inhabitants, the elderly Daeng Abu and his wife Daeng Maida, who have reforested the island and protected its reef. It was, until quite recently, possible to visit and camp on the island overnight, so as to watch turtles laying, which also explains the disproportionately large and entirely unused jetty.

Since 2015, this has been banned, to protect the turtles, though making the day trip for snorkelling and a picnic is welcomed, and it might be possible to witness turtles being released. (Do bring sugar, kretek, water or a small donation for Daeng Abu and Daeng Maida: you can buy sugar and cigarettes on the jetty at Maccini Baji.)

Beach on Pulau Cengkeh, Sulawesi.

Cengkeh has been described as a former leper colony. That’s not the case, although Daeng Abu did have leprosy when he and his wife arrived here. He believes he is not infectious. The transmission of leprosy is not fully understood, but we have not heard of anyone catching it from Daeng Abu.

Both Cengkeh and Pala are spelt in many different ways on websites and maps. That’s because the transliterations of the Buginese words for “nutmeg” and “clove” are similar to but different from the Indonesian – which also provides several spellings for Cengkeh. We’ve gone with the most common Indonesian spellings for ease.

To get to Cengkeh, take a taxi from Pangkajene north of Makassar to Maccini Baji port (50,000 IDR). A round trip on a fishing boat should cost 650,000 IDR. You might want to negotiate a stop at Sabutung en route. There are decent guesthouses in Pangkajene and bungalows on Camba-Cambang. If you’re not exploring more islands or the caves, or heading northwards to Toraja, Makassar has a broad range of places to stay.