Sabampolulu

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Bagging It!

This beautiful mountain is the highest point of Kabaena island and is probably the second-most popular hike in the province of Southeast Sulawesi. It takes a long time to get to from major cities but has some of the nicest scenery in all of Sulawesi.

Sabampolulu is mis-spelt Sambapolulu on Google Maps, Bakosurtanal and many other sources. The name apparently comes from “saba” meaning “tossed up” and “mpolulu” meaning a type of axe. The peak is listed as just 1,533m high on the Bakosurtanal map but this is almost definitely slightly lower than the true elevation of the highest peak which supposedly remains unclimbed as of 2021.

The trail starts in the tourism village of Tangkeno (593m) which is about one hour from Dongkala port on the eastern side of the island or Sikeli port on the west. Beyond the village, a road leads up past the local lodging accommodation and onto a track under a gateway entrance sign for Kawasan Benteng Tuntutari (656m). A large wooden house on the left at the end of the track is the place to leave motorbikes and the start of the trail (702m).

The views even here are quite fantastic in clear weather, with the iconic karst cliffs of Batu Sangia (approximately 1,100 metres high) visible a few kilometres away to the north-west. As you get higher up the mountain the views to Batu Sangia get better and better.

From the trailhead, the path leads up thee rocky, grassy slope, essentially following the least steep terrain. Pos 1 (800m) near a few small trees and Pos 2 (985m) are both easily missed, especially Pos 2 which currently has no sign. In between Pos 1 and 2 is a small cluster of satellite dishes (904m) which is difficult to miss. Pos 3 (1,061m) is next to a few small trees and a much taller transmitter tower (‘menara’) of some sort. Most hikers will have reached this point in less than 90 minutes. This is a great spot and would be fine for camping given the flat, grassy terrain, but it is best to proceed to Pos 4.

To get from Pos 3 to Pos 4, don’t continue up the steep grassy slopes ahead (which is a lesser western peak known as Wumbun Tandasa, over 1,200m in elevation) but rather skirt round to the left to reach the col on the ridge between Tandasa and Sabampolulu itself. At Pos 4 (1,095m) the edge of forest on the other side of the ridge is reached. This spot is fairly sheltered and the views to the higher slopes of Sabampolulu, the coastlines and back over to Batu Sangia are excellent. No wonder it is the preferred camping spot on the mountain. Most will be up here in under 2 hours.

From Pos 4 onwards, it is basically just a case of following the ridge. It drops down at first, entering forest (1,062m), and then reaching a minor trail junction (Simpang Mata Air, 1,050m) which is unmarked but is the only place to find water about 20 minutes down to the right of the ridge. Around here you will probably see evidence of wild pigs (babi hutan) trampling around the area.

Beyond this junction, the trail continues along the ridge, dropping down to Pos 5 (1,045m) which is another good campsite with views through the trees back to the grassy peak known as Tandasa.

After Pos 5, the trail leads up quite steeply and the views start to get really good, all the way out to the ocean and Batu Sangia. Pos 6 (1,147m) is next before another forest entrance (1,219m) and a third (1,304m). There are approximately five different pintu rimba (forest entrance) on the trail, as the forest gives way to less dense vegetation and views, and in some cases open, grassy terrain.

One of the most spectacular sections of trail follows at 1,408m where there are numerous rocks to walk over, and the views in every direction are spectacular.Just beyond this is an unmarked grassy peak (1,435m) which again offers wonderful views including for the first time to the true peak ahead and the obvious gap which is a deep cleft in the ridge between Pos 9 and the true peak. The lower peaks a couple of kilometres to the south are referred to as Pegunungan Malapulu – the Malapulu mountain range.

After the fourth pintu rimba (1,425m) look out for pitcher plants (kantong semar) and also small, brown mountain crabs. Pos 7 is at 1,423m and is a lovely forest environment with cantigi (vaccinium) trees and from here onwards the trail is less steep, simply following the gentle ridge. After Pos 7 there is a lovely open grassy section of ridge (1,458m) before the edge of more substantial vegetation is reached at Pos 8 (1,481m). However, the trail does not enter forest at Pos 8 but rather skirts round to the right side before the fifth and final pintu rimba (1,494m). Watch out for rattan thorns around here.

This is proper moss forest now, as is common on most peaks in Sulawesi when you are nearing the top. Finally Pos 9 is reached (1,523m) which is moss forest with several hiking club signs. Alas this is as far as any hikers have been, despite it being quite obvious that the peak about 500 metres further on to the south is around 40 metres or so higher. Indeed, this true summit can be seen just beyond the summit signs, lying beyond a deep cleft in the ridge that is so steep it could only be attempted with ropes by veri experienced rock climbers, or more sensibly from an entirely different direction altogether.

Even so, this is a lovely spot to sit for a while. It should have taken most hikers around 2.5 to 3 hours from Pos 4, so around 5 hours in total from the trailhead meaning it is quite possible as a day-hike if you start at first light.

Most hikers can be back down at Pos 4 in 2 hours and then a further hour down to the trailhead near Tangkeno.

Bagging information by Dan Quinn (May 2021)

Local Accommodation



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Practicalities

  • Getting there: There are several ways to reach this mountain. The nearest airports are in Bau-bau (Buton island) and Raha (Muna island), both of which have flights from Makassar. From Bau-bau, the ferry leaves three times a week to Dongkala (East Kabaena) taking between 5 and 6 hours (Rp68,000). In 2021, the schedule is “departs Bau-bau at 0730 on Mon, Wed, Sat, and arrives Dongkala.” From Raha, you need to travel down to Mawasangka at the south-western edge of Muna island (3 hours from Raha). The ferry from Mawasangka to Dongkala also crosses 3 times a week on Mon, Wed, Sat, taking 2 hours and arriving at 1730 (Rp22,000). There is also a boat from Kassipute on the Southeast Sulawesi mainland leaving Tues, Thurs, Sun at 0700 and taking 5 hours to reach Dongkala. From Dongkala it is about 1 hour by motorbike to Desa Wisata Tangkeno. There is also a weekly night ferry from Tanjung Bira/Bulukumba in South Sulawesi taking 6 hours to reach Sikeli (West Kabaena). Sikeli is also around 1 hour by motorbike to Tangkeno.
  • Guides and GPS Tracks: Want a PDF version for your phone? Looking for a guide? Need GPS tracks and waypoints? Gunung Sabampolulu information pack can be downloaded here.
  • Trip planning assistance: Would you like Gunung Bagging to personally help you in arranging your whole trip? Please contact us here.
  • Permits: Register at Desa Tangkeno before starting your hike.
  • Water sources: Available below Pos 5, accessed via a junction (1,050m) before Pos 5 then down to the right, but quite a distance away from the main trail.
  • 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.

Local Average Monthly Rainfall (mm):

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Location

One thought on “Sabampolulu

  1. After several years of trying to find the time for it, finally made it to Gunung Sabampolulu on the remote Kabaena island a few days ago. The quickest you can probably do this from, say, Jakarta is 5 days return, but be warned that despite it being a beautiful mountain, you currently cannot bag the true summit.

    Looking at the current ferry timetable I decided it would be best to do a circuit, either starting in Raha (Muna) or Bau-bau (Buton) and finishing up in the other. It worked out quite well, although transport on Muna is more difficult in the afternoon. Essentially Day 1 was getting to Bau-bau. Day 2 boat to Kabaena and start the hike. You can do it in one day if you prefer, but given the lack of decent hotels and the amazing views at Pos 4, I thought it best to camp up there. Day 3 was hike up to Pos 9 and back down. Day 4 was the boat over at lunchtime to Mawasangka (Muna) and a pre-arranged driver to get me to Raha in time for a rapidtest. Apparently there are DAMRI buses in the morning or at least shared cars for the 100km journey but not usually possible in the late afternoon. Though I could have gone back to Bau-bau this way by way of the Wamengkoli ferry crossing. Day 5 was flying home from Sugimanuru airport about 30 minutes from Raha.

    You can obviously also charter a boat for the Kabaena – Muna crossing but if you are on your own this is going to be quite hard on the wallet.

    A few more details on my trip:

    Day 1. Several basic losmen near the waterfront, I booked the only cheap one on Traveloka. Bau-bau deserves a walk around, especially the fortress areas. I met a very nice chap called Alam who is interested in developing local tourism. A recommended contact for the area: Lembaga Pineapple Dragon +62 823-4309-2817 or lindatour2@gmail.com IG Southeast Sulawesinese.

    Day 2: I bought the ferry ticket the evening before (available from around 4pm until closing at 7pm) but usually available on the day, especially if you are just a foot passenger. Note this is the same pier at the Wamengkoli ferry, so don’t wait at the bigger pier 1km further near the town centre. The captain invited me in for cakes and coffee, much appreciated. I also got talking to a circumcisionist who was on his way over to do his work on the island! The boat was fully-loaded and took closer to 6 hours than 5, arriving around 1320. My very friendly local guide from Lengore village met me and we were up at Tangkeno in no time. The accommodation there is Rp200k (compare with Rp75k at the simple losmen in Dongkala itself) and if I had been with others I would have considered it as both the views and the temperature are pleasant. Made out of freight containers and not many food options up there, so do come prepared. We camped at Pos 4, and there was a local group who started at the same time but only wanted to get to Pos 4 rather than head to the higher parts of the mountain (this seems to be the norm, and understandable given the good views).

    Day 3: We set off at 0630 and were at Pos 9 by 0850. And it only took 1hr 45 back down to Pos 4 again and a further hour to the trailhead where there is ample room to get changed in the empty wooden building. A lovely area, really no rush to head back down to Dongkala. Rice is relatively expensive here, presumably as there is so little grown locally, so only a small number of places on the eastern side in Dongkala have nasi goreng. Not sure about the west. I stayed with my guide. Be aware that there is usually no electricity in the morning so be sure to charge your phone overnight if possible.

    Day 4: Waited for the lunchtime ferry over to Mawasangka. This is much less busy than the Bau-bau crossing. You would think with a ferry arriving at 1500 (more like 1530-1600) that there would be demand for transport to Raha, but it seems most folk are just heading to southern Muna or back to Bau-bau via the Wamengkoli crossing. So I pre-arranged a car and driver. The friendly Pak Hamsul +62 853-9556-9497. It’s cheaper to go in the morning so I paid a premium for a ride to Raha in the late afternoon / early evening. The road varies from excellent to poor. A total mix. Many folk had warned me of Muna people, that I should be careful, particularly in Raha. Well, overall this turned out to be quite unnecessary as almost everyone I met was exceedingly friendly, especially at the klinik where I got my rapid test! I stayed at Hotel Garuda (Rp220, AC, Jl Sukowati) as it was very close to the klinik. However, we did have one incident in the car where a woman on a motorbike shouted at the driver, presumably for accidentally splashing her with water or something. Maybe some folk there have a short temper. Or maybe it was a one-off.

    Day 5: The hotel folk struggled to find me a taxi to the airport so I got an ojek (Rp100k, about 35 minutes). May seems to be wedding season in Muna, and we passed several events and had a truck pass us with folk hitting gongs in the back. I had nasi goreng at a simple restaurant near the entrance the airport. One of the airport staff guys saw me walking in, and gave me a lift on his motorbike. There is a Hindu population on Muna, presumably Balinese transmigrants but I didn’t see any temples. One peculiarity here is the use of ‘kita’ to mean ‘kamu’. ‘Kita Hindu?’ my ojek driver asked. Are we Hindu? Like posh English language! No we are not Hindu Pak! And the all-too-common refrain in far-flung provinces of Indonesia this year: “orang sini tidak percaya” (people here don’t believe in it) referring to covid. It’s a bit like locals not believing in the theory of evolution too, despite this region and the Wallace Line being so central to it!

    Do note that Muna is also known for its massive snakes. Pythons it would seem. An old woman was eaten whole last year but I think the snake died as a result too.

    A final note on Kabaena: check out the local traditional dance ‘ Tari Lumense’ on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSaT81KeohU

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