- Elevation: 1,705 m (5,594 ft)
- Prominence: 1,254 m
- Ribu category: Kurang Tinggi
- Province: Sulawesi Selatan (South Sulawesi)
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: Tonggongkarambu (mistaken spelling)
Located quite close to Makassar, Gunung Tondongkarambu is the highest mountain in the Bantimurung – Bulusaraung National Park area and the peak is at the northern end of a long, steep ridge. The area was first explored by Alfred Russel Wallace in 1857 and is the second largest karst area in the world (the largest is in China). Although most people know the area for caves and waterfalls rather than for mountains there are a couple of good hiking options in this very picturesque region, including both Tondongkarambu and the more popular and shapely Bulusaraung (1,353m) which is actually often visible from Makassar airport. It’s a stunning area and the roads weave round near-vertical cliffs into the very heart of the hills. You will find very little litter indeed, for few hikers use the trails except local hunters and wood-cutters.
Apparently there is a small village named Tobalo in a remote part of the national park just a few kilometres north or northwest of Tondongkarambu whose inhabitants (‘orang balo’) are eleven albinos. It is said that this number must stay the same, so should one inhabitant die, a new albino from outside must come and take his or her place. Conversely, presumably, should an albino arrive at the village, there will be a total of twelve and therefore one must die. It must be wondered what might happen should a ‘bule’ (foreign white person) arrive in Tobalo! It is a very mystical place.
Until now, we have not yet heard of anyone other than local hunters having reached the true peak of the long Tondongkarambu ridge. A moderately more popular trek is up to the southern end of the ridge to what we might call the ‘southern peak’ (1,440m). It takes only around 3 or 3 and a half hours to reach this top from the foot of the mountain, but, although it could be done as a day-hike, one night camping in the forest is probably much more enjoyable than staying in the villages.
The trail to the lower southern peak starts in the remote village of Bonto Masunggu (580m). From there, a path leads over a stream behind the houses, through the peanut fields, over a couple of fences and a short bamboo bridge (620m), past a house with a metal roof (665m) before entering the forest at 735m. From here, the views over to Bulusaraung are magnificent. The trail continues past a large rock (790m), across a log over a small stream (850m) before reaching a wider stream, presumably more like a river during the rainy season (950m). The latter is a good place to camp if you have started late in the day as it is only an hour from the villages. There are actually a few crabs (Parathelphusa genus) living in the mountain streams here. If it is still light, it is recommended that you continue over the stream and up the steep slopes of the mountain and camp on the pleasant ridge instead.
Look out for gaharu (agarwood) trees in this area – endangered fragrant wood, endangered because it can fetch a very high price for use in incense and perfumes. There are some excellent views a little higher up (from 1,290m onwards) and soon enough you will have passed some large rocks (1,360m) and finally reached the ridge itself (1,410m). From here it is only 300 metres (15 or so minutes) along the ridge to the southern top (1,440m) of Tondongkarambu. There are some wonderful views over the edge of the ridge. Alas, you are still about 3.5 kilometres south of the true summit which is about 250 metres higher. If you are brave enough you can climb the old, mossy tree near the southern peak and view the true peak from the highest branches.
To reach the true summit would take an extra day of machete work from the south, so it is probably better to attempt the true, more northerly, peak from Kampung Tokela, a village a couple of kilometres further north from Bonto Masunggu. Apparently there is a trail up to the true peak, though it is very steep indeed and should really only be attempted between August and October when dry weather is most likely.
As you will see, there are plenty of places on the ridge which could easily be turned into suitable spots for small tents to be erected. It’s a lovely area, not too high to be too cold, and often with a nice breeze and lovely views over the edge of the steep cliff. If you would prefer an alternative route back down from the southern peak to the stream campsite area, there is one but it is very, very steep in places and less well-defined but does offer some stunning views. This route leads back down a little further along the ridge – you should hopefully spot some blue string tied to branches which you will have seen further down on the way up. The section at 1,330m is particularly steep so be very careful indeed at this point. Further down, just 15 minutes away from the stream campsite, is a cluster of trees with beautiful bark – resembling eucalyptus.
From the southern peak back to the village should take no more than 3 hours. After the inevitable long-winded chit-chat and something to eat you can be back at the airport in under 3 hours in good conditions so theoretically this hike could be done in a regular weekend from Jakarta. Let’s hope it is not long before more information is found about the elusive true summit further north along the lovely, wild ridge.
Bagging information by Dan Quinn (October 2013)
- Getting there: The region is close to Makassar city and even closer to the international airport although the mountain is deep within the national park area. Allow 3 hours to reach the foot of the mountain from the airport or 4 hours from the centre of the city of Makassar. There are two routes to the mountain, both from the main road leading north from Makassar and the airport. Both are rather quiet and can accommodate cars as well as motorcycles, major sections having been recently re-surfaced (2013). The southern route is longer (more windy) but it perhaps easier to follow (turn off the main road near Pangkep near the KM48 distance (from Makassar) stone, past a white and green mosque and then follow the road through Desa Panaikang, Desa Balocci, the Bulusaraung signs and steep section of road (Bulusaraung is on the right of the road), Desa Tompo Bulu, Desa Bonto Birao before making a right turn towards Bonto Masunggu at the foot of the mountain itself. This is the best route in. The faster, more northerly, route heads the other way at the junction for Bonto Masunggu, and leads via Desa Bantimurung, Desa Malaka and Desa Mangilu before reaching Tonasa. The main road to Makassar is reached at the crossroads and mosque at Bungoro (turn left back to Makassar).
- Accommodation: Lots to choose from in Makassar. KG (Kanaka Giana) at the entrance to the old airport (bandara lama) is a good choice for those not wishing to stay in the centre of the city. Other than one or two penginapans on the main road north, village floors only available closer to the mountain.
- Guides and GPS Tracks: Want a PDF version for your phone? Looking for a guide? Need GPS tracks and waypoints? Gunung Tondongkarambu information pack can be downloaded here.
- Permits: Not required, but local people will probably want to accompany you.
- Water sources: Unknown for the route to the true summit. There is water available on the trail to the southern top at 850m and 950m (the latter being a reasonable spot to camp at despite only being one hour by foot from the villages).
- 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):
Origins and Meaning
‘Tondong’ means hill or mountain and ‘Karambu’ means buffalo in the local language therefore Tondongkarambu means ‘Buffalo Hill’.