The chain of islands spanning along the entire Indian Ocean coastline of Sumatra is somehow an extension to the astounding shores of the mainland.
Banyak, Mentawai, Nias & Batu Islands, predominantly popular with experienced Australian surfers, make actually fabulous holiday destinations that offer everything one can need on such a dream island – crystal-clear aquamarine waters, underwater corals, white sands and coconut palms, beachfront bamboo huts and jungle waterfalls.
SIMEULUE & BANYAK ISLANDS
Increasingly popular surfing charter destination – Simeulue and Banyak archipelagos stretch along the southernmost shores of Aceh, reaching to the border with North Sumatra.
Not far from the Nias and Mentawai Islands, this is a series of more than 100 tropical isles that present unspoiled nature, coral reefs, terrific swells and excellent surfing beaches.
While the Banyak is closer to the mainland Simeuele is rather a far-flung corner of Sumatra. Both archipelagos have nice surf camps and eco-resorts where you can also hire diving and snorkelling equipment; the archipelago offers extraordinary fringing coral reef teeming with marine life.
NOTE The islands are still quite developed, most of which have little infrastructure and there is no ATM (hence you will need to have enough cash or book an all-inclusive charter).
Banyak Islands: the most popular surf destinations are Balai and Palembang, with good facilities, but also Tailana and Sikandang are slowly opening to tourism.
Simeulue Islands: several surf camps are situated south of the airport Bandara Lasikin.
BEST SURFING LOCATIONS: Treasure Island, Cobras, Turtles, Clarets, Joystick, Babi and Lizard`s Nest
The Mentawai are renowned for world-class big-wave surfing locations that have the best swells in Sumatra and fantastic surf camps. Surfing and scuba diving are the main activities in the Mentawai Islands, but even trekking is becoming increasingly popular.
The largely man-untouched rainforest provides ideal conditions for wildlife and indigenous tribes. There are several options for jungle trekking and eco-tourism, and various tours can be booked at any resort.
THE SECRET OF TERRIFIC SWELLS
The surf in the Mentawai truly is epic. When the outlying archipelago was discovered in the 1980s by the Sydney surfers Chris Goodnow, Scott Wakefield and Tony Fitzpatrick, they named the first break they found ‘P-Land’. Later on, the surfing location became the reputation of being the best surf charter zone on the planet.
What the pioneer surfers found out is the unusual consistency of surf that is caused by the islands` broad exposure towards the open Indian Ocean and its crashing waves. There are many surf resorts to choose from where the sportsmen can get good advice and useful tips related to the weather, conditions, where to find the desirable spots and so forth. The Mentawai Islands is a Sumatra`s premier surfing location with steady swells all-year-round.
THE NAÏVE TRIBES OF MENTAWAI
While the growing tourism development brings more and more Westerners to top the archipelago, the indigenous Mentawai people preserve a primitive way of life and keep following the traditions of their ancestors.
The Mentawai are animists, living deep in the jungle, in so-called, ‘Uma’ longhouses, and the isolation makes them fully self-sufficient. They inhabit 5 main islands: Siberut, Sipura, Sibigau, North Pagi and South Pagi, and Pulau Siberut is the only one fully open to foreigners.
Tourists can book an eco-tour to the Mentawai rainforest and perhaps stay at one of the villages to encounter the naïve jungle-lifestyle.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES ON THE MENTAWAI ISLANDS
NIAS & BATU ISLANDS
The outlying offshore islands of North Sumatra are also internationally famous when it comes to surf, yet less known with tourists. The archipelago is quite a special place, not only for splendid beaches.
For anthropologists and historians, the indigenous Ono Niha people present a captivating culture, with distinct music, dance and festivals, and important archaeological sites – the Nias Islands are home to one of few remaining megalithic tribes on Earth.
INDONESIA`S LAST SURFING FRONTIER
Almost touching the equator, the islands of Nias are defined by sweltering heat, high humidity and a vigorous swell of the Indian Ocean. This surfer`s paradise might be ‘the wave less ridden’ but definitely not inaccessible.
Flights from Medan and boats from Sibolga will bring the travellers to Pulau Nias, and you will need to have enough cash on you, as there is no ATM on the islands.
The even lesser-known Batu Islands are rarely visited, almost exclusively by expert surfers (Pulau Telo has a luxurious surf resort & brilliant surf – be prepared to pay adequately, though).
Unlike the Mentawai, the equatorial setting of Nias & Batu Islands results in rather inconsistent wind patterns. The best swells are during the dry season (Jun-Sep).
DID YOU KNOW?
Nias and Batu surfing locations were first discovered in 1975, by the Australian leading pioneer-surfers Peter Troy, John Giesel and Kevin Lovett. Even though it is still considered a remote destination, today, the Nias archipelago is much easier to reach. The islands are usually fancied by less demanding “old-school surfers” who prefer fewer crowds and raw thrill; the facilities are very basic.
THE MEGALITHIC CULTURE OF ONO-NIHA
Apart from the fantastic surf, the Nias archipelago welcomes all visitors interested in the local festive spirit and cultural celebrations.
The town of Teluk Dalam and surrounding villages regularly assemble to enjoy war dance, stone jumping, tribal rituals and music performances – the major tourist attractions.
WHAT TO DO ON BATU & NIAS ISLANDS
NOTE A perfect way to travel the island independently is renting a scooter and exploring pristine beaches, traditional villages, endemic fauna and flora and jungle waterfalls.
ENGGANO ISLAND (SECRET BONUS TIP FOR AN ADVENTUROUS SURFER)
If you happen to be around Krui (Lampung) and have some spare time get a bus to the town of Bengkulu where you can catch a 12-hour ferry to the hidden gem of Sumatra – Enggano Island (you can also fly via Susi Air, but the flights are pretty costly).
Pulau Enggano is a magnificent isle in the Indian Ocean, facing nothing but wide-open ocean and the Cocos & Christmas Islands). It offers fantastic snorkelling, diving and jungle trekking. This little paradise is a tropical oasis for birdlife and indigenous ethnic groups, but more importantly an outstanding Indo-surf location.
NOTE you will need to bring your own tent as there is no commercial accommodation on the island (unless you book a 2-3 day cruise in Bengkulu and stay on shipboard). Ready for a real challenge? 😉
WHEN TO TRAVEL
Sumatra is generally recommended to visit between June and September during the dry season. Especially, scuba diving, snorkelling and eco-tourism are dependent on good weather.
Although some places have great surf conditions throughout a year, the rainy season makes many locations inaccessible. Hence avoid travelling between December and February.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to Padang or Medan (via Jakarta/Singapore/Kuala Lumpur).
TO SIMEULUE & BANYAK ISLANDS: Fly to Medan. Take a shuttle bus to Singkil (8 hrs drive). There are regular public boats but also speedboats departing from Singkil to both archipelagos (Simeulue also has an airport), and the surfers can even bring their scooter that can be rented on the mainland (4 hr trip).
TO MENTAWAI ISLANDS: Fly to Padang, where you will need to take an overnight slow ferry (the whole night) or day fast ferry (3 hours) to Pulau Siberut/Mualasiberut (provided that you travel independently). However, most of the visitors would book a package in Padang or Bukittinggi as it might be a hustle to move around on your own. Otherwise, organise a resort accommodation online before arrival and simply hire a boat that takes you to from Padang directly to your resort.
TO NIAS & BATU ISLANDS: Fly from Medan to Binaka Airport (Nias) or catch a bus from Padang to Sibolga (8 hrs drive) where you need to take a boat to Gunung Situoli Port in Nias. (Optionally, book online an all-inclusive package at one of the local surf camps)
TO BATU ISLANDS: Pulau Telo has a luxurious surf resort that offers all-inclusive packages (online booking). Otherwise, there is a basic boat ferry from Teluk Dalam (Nias Island) to Pulau Telo.
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