- Elevation: 2,650 m (8,694 ft)
- Prominence: 2,221 m
- Ribu category: Tinggi Sedang
- Province: Sulawesi Tenggara (Southeast Sulawesi)
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none.
Gunung Mekongga is the highest mountain in Southeast Sulawesi and one of Sulawesi’s most interesting, with beautiful limestone karst at the summit. It is a long trail, requiring a minimum of 5 days, and the trailhead is close to sea level. The trail leads into the hills from Tinukari, following a largely eastern direction as far as Pos 6 where it then heads south-east and then south to the true summit. Western and Indonesian scientific researchers have made trips here in the past and discovered new species.
The recommended itinerary is as follows for fit and experienced hikers….
Day 1 – Pomalaa Airport to Pos 2. Total trekking time approximately 3 hours.
If you catch the first morning flight from Makassar to Pomalaa (Kolaka’s local airport) and have a driver and guide ready for you, and have arranged permission to hike in advance, it is possible to reach Pos 2 the same day. From the airport to Tinukari takes about 3 and a half hours by car. You will have to register and speak with the Kepala Desa before starting your hike and may even have to drive to a police station to register too.
From Tinukari (50m above sea level) to Pos 1 (185m) takes nearly 2 hours as you have to cross 15-metre wide rivers 4 times, wade upstream and scramble over slippery river cliffs and rocks. The river crossings can be difficult after heavy rain and are usually at least waist-deep meaning you will have to carry your bags above your head or, better still, ask a local to help you. Pak Jummarin is a friendly farmer who lives at Pos 1 with his family, surrounded by cocoa plantations and daun kelor – one of the healthiest leaves in the world due to all the vitamins it is full of. Your guides may well want to stop here for a while either on the way up or back down, especially if Pak Jummarin has fresh shrimps to eat. His son, Igo, may well be able to help you with river crossings on your way back down, or even on the way up if your guide can contact him in advance. There is space for a few people to sleep in the simple wooden house at Pos 1 if required, but not as much space as at Pos 2.
From Pos 1 to Pos 2 (390m) takes another hour. You will probably see and hear many hornbills in this area. The wooden house at Pos 2 is quite large, with enough space for perhaps 20 hikers to sleep without having to set up tents. There is even a generator and a karaoke sound system! It belongs to Pak Basir, another friendly farmer accustomed to having hikers stay at the beginning or end of their journey.
Day 2 – Pos 2 to Pos 5. Total trekking time approximately 7 hours.
From Pos 2 as far as Pos 5 you are likely to meet numerous leeches so use leech socks if you have any available. There seem to be two different types of leech – a regular-sized, almost attractive speckled leech and a tiny leech that can go un-noticed and therefore be more problematic. Make sure you check regularly for them!
Much of the trail is along an old logging road made by HBI, although they stoppoed operations in 1996 and so the road is very much overgrown with shrubs and unless hikers have been recently you may need to cut back some branches from time to time. Look out for orchids and pitcher plants.
It takes about 2 hours to reach Pos 3 (680m). There is no hut here and not even much room for camping. Another 1.5 hours and you will be at Camp LIPI (930m) which is where researchers from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences and California’s Davis University camped during an expedition in 2010. Another hour and you will be at the NKRI Monument (1,055m), a grand model of the island of Sulawesi that was erected in 2013 during an expedition to the summit involving many different local and national organizations. There is plenty of space to sit here on the grass and have a snack, but flies seem to arrive in swarms in no time.
Just 10 or 15 minutes beyond the NKRI Monument is Pos 4 (1,120m). A further two hours and you will be at Pos 5 (1,440m) but just before Pos 5 you will have to negotiate some slippery rocks and areas prone to minor landslides. Watch out for deep holes and drops on the side of the trail. Pos 5 itself is very pleasant and there is enough space for about 6 tents. There is also a stream next to the trail and the water quality is good. Remember that this is the last reliable source of good quality water so please fill up your bottles. However, for drinking water you should probably still use iodine tablets to be on the safe side. There is also plenty of ‘toilet space’ in the forest down to the right.
Note that Pos 5 is also known as Pos Poya Poya or Pos Foya Foya.
Day 3 – Pos 5 to Puncak Salah or Pos 8. Total trekking time approximately 6 hours to Puncak Salah or 8 hours to Pos 8.
30 minutes beyond Pos 5 you will see some old metal cogs or machinery pieces of some sort next to the trail (1,680m) which are remnants of the logging company machines. The path seems to change direction here and the walking is easy on firm ground. From here it is another hour to a very good viewpoint known as HBI Peak or Puncak Indonesia Raya (1,870m). In good weather the views over the forest below are excellent. Another 30 minutes and you will be at Pos 6 (1,880m) which is next to Coca-cola Lake – certainly a source of brown water (hence the name) for emergency use but it is stagnant so best used with caution. The swamp itself is rather picturesque and there is enough space for 4 or 5 tents here at Pos 6.
From this point on you are likely to see lots of anoa dung. These fascinating highland cattle are quite common on the higher slopes of Mekongga but they are difficult to see because they run away as soon as they hear humans. However, they can be aggressive – for example if they are protecting their young. 20 minutes beyond Pos 6 is a spot suitable for an early lunch break (1,940m) although you may prefer to wait until Pos 7 (2,345m). Between Pos 6 and 7 you enter beautiful moss forest – the anoa’s domain. Total time from Pos 6 to Pos 7 is about 2 hours. Pos 7 itself is a lovely spot – a ‘batu meriam’ (stone cannon) supposedly alligned with Mecca, and various interesting limestone karst rock formations. From the stone cannon you can see some distant, jagged cliffs higher up the mountain. Beyond Pos 7, the terrain becomes more challenging, with sharp, slippery rocks and steep little sections seemingly every 15 minutes or so. It is, however, the most beautiful part of the whole trek and quite unique in Indonesia (although East Timor’s Matebean Mane is not dissimilar).
Another hour after Pos 7 and you will be at Puncak Salah (‘false peak’, 2,515m) – a lovely karst outcrop that is like a much smaller version of the true peak. Take care, especially if carrying a large backpack. The views here are very pleasant but you soon re-enter forest. This section is the most confusing of the whole trek because there are various ribbons leading in various different directions and it is unclear which one is the main path and which is to a potential water source. There is definitely a source of water about 10 minutes down to the right of the main trail, but you would need an expert guide to locate it. About 300 metres beyond Puncak Salah on the correct trail to the summit is a small opening (2,565m) large enough for 4 or 5 tents, although it is not especially flat due to tree roots. Given that Pos 8 is another 90 minutes through challenging terrain, you may decide to camp here instead of carry your equipment all that way to only have to carry it back again the following day. If not, take real care as you descend and reascend numerous times before reaching Pos 8 (2,520m) which is at the foot of the summit mound – about 30 minutes before the top – and has enough space for 3 or 4 tents. You will probably see a couple of simple plaques to the hikers who died here in March 2017.
Day 4 – Onward to the summit and back down to Pos 5. Total trekking time approximately 8-9 hours from Puncak Salah or 7 hours from Pos 8.
As usual in Indonesia, the best time for clear weather at the tops of mountains in first thing in the morning, so it makes sense to aim to be at the summit as soon after first light as possible. This is easy if you spent the previous night at Pos 8 as it is only 30 minutes further, but if you were camping near Puncak Salah then you need 2 hours to reach the peak and it is not recommended to do so in the dark as the terrain is difficult enough in daylight! You will certainly need to use all four limbs in several places. between Pos 8 and the summit is even harder – very steep terrain and finally a large area of sharp karst rocks with deep crevasses between them – use gloves for this section if you have them with you. The summit is crowned with a cement pillar created during the NKRI expedition in 2013 and there are a couple of other markers. The views are superb in good weather – the foreground of jagged karst rock formations with cloud swirling around distant hills and the coastline beyond. The summit is also known as Puncak Mosero-sero.
After enjoying the views it will take about 2 hours back to Puncak Salah and a further 4 or 5 hours back to Pos 5.
Day 5 – Back down from Pos 5 to Tinukari. Total trekking time approximately 8-10 hours.
It is a long day trudging back down to the trailhead from Pos 5 and because you will be feeling tired after several days in the mountains you need to take extra special care when doing the river crossings. For those who are exhausted or if the river is raging, you may need to spend an extra night at either Pos 1 or 2. Hopefully your driver will be waiting to take you back to Kolaka in the evening.
Bagging information by Dan Quinn (August 2017)
- Getting there: Pomalaa is the nearest airport – less than one hour by car from Kolaka. There are daily flights from Makassar. From Kolaka to Tinukari trailhead is 2 hours and 30 minutes. You can also fly to Kendari, the provincial capital, which is about 4 hours from Kolaka.
- Accommodation: Numerous hotels in Kolaka.
- Permits: Try to arrange this with your guide in advance. You need to register with the Kepala Desa at Tinukari but if you are non-Indonesian you may also need to register at a police station some distance away. Much better to try to arrange in advance by email if possible as it can be time-consuming.
- Water sources: Plenty of streams as far as Pos 5 (1,440m). Limited, poor quality sources higher up such as the ‘Cocacola Lake’ at Pos 6 (1,880m) and a place down to the right of the trail just beyond Puncak Salah (2,515m).
- Travel insurance: We recommend World Nomads insurance, which is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities including mountain hiking.
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