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- All You Need to Know about the Kei Islands of Maluku
The Kei Islands are a group islands located roughly between Indonesian Papua and Australia. The islands are comprised of two main islands, Kei Besar (literally, "Big Kei") and Kei Kecil (literally, "Small Kei"), as well as other small islands. Kei Kecil is popular among local Indonesians due to its beautiful and pristine beaches. However, due to its location in the far east of Indonesia, not many people are willing to visit this place. Flight tickets may be expensive and there are no direct flights from the capital city of Jakarta. This a blessing in disguise for people like me who try to avoid places with too many tourists. Welcome to paradise 🙂
When to go there
The best time to go there is between the months of April - May and October - December during dry seasons. The sea is also calmer during this time. The pelicans that migrate from Australia can be seen in Kei around the month of May.
How to get there
Despite being known as the small island, Kei Kecil is considered the main hub. This is where the airport, the seaport, and the main town of Tual are located. It is the only gateway to the other surrounding islands of Kei.
Kei Kecil is accessible by both air and sea. There are around 3 direct flights from Ambon daily with Garuda Airlines, Wings Air/Lion Air, and Trigana Air to Karel Satsuitubun Airport (LUV), which takes about 1.5 hours. If the price difference between Garuda and Wings Air is not that huge, I would strongly urge you to take Garuda Airlines instead. Wings Air (or Lion Air) is notorious for being late. There is a chance that your flight may be cancelled, in which this shitty airline won't take responsibility. It happened to us on our flight to Kei, and this airline told us that they had to cancel the flight due to the arrival of the Indonesian President. But in fact, the airport in Tual closed at 5pm daily and our Wings Air flight did not arrive in Ambon until after 4.30pm. It was too late! So we had to find a basic room to sleep for few hours across the airport and take the flight early in the morning. If you really have to take Wings Air/Lion Air, consider taking the first flight to avoid this kind of disappointing cancellation!
Another option is to take the Pelni ship from Ambon, which makes a stop at Banda Island. Do check the schedule as it only passes by Kei in certain days every month.
Where to stay
There are a number of accommodations in Kei Islands. But we opt to stay at Coaster Cottages, where the Long Beach (Pasir Panjang) is located. It was the best decision ever! We contacted Pak Bob, who was one of the people who managed this cottage and made a booking through SMS. Sometimes, it's quite hard to contact him due to low signal in the area. So it's best to send him SMSes instead. The cottages are directly managed by Ibu Ketty, who will help you during your stay here. She is a friendly and nice host!
What I love about Coaster Cottages is its location in the north part of the Long Beach. It is located in the quiet part of the Ohoililir village. It really feels that you have the beach to yourself! As there are no restaurants or stalls that sell food nearby, you are expected to have breakfast/lunch/dinner at the cottage. See below for the breakdown of costs.
Savannah Cottages was one of our few options before we decided to go to stay at Coaster Cottages. I liked Coaster Cottages due to its location on the Long Beach, the complete information they provided on the website and much positive feedback on the internet. Savannah Cottages, no doubt have excellent feedback and I would stay here if Coaster Cottages are fully booked.
Mobile: +681 343 083 856 (Gerson)
Mobile: +6281945023766 (Pak Beny)
What to do
You need to stay at least 3 nights to get the most out of Kei Islands. Here are some of the things we did during our trip to Kei:
Explore the Beaches
Matwaer Beach is hands down the best and most beautiful beach that you can find in Kei Islands. It could also be the best beach you have ever visited in your lifetime! Soft white sands, blue sea, and no tourists! It is located in the south of Kei Kecil, far away from the main town of Tual. It is so remote that you can hardly see much development around here, which makes the beach super pristine and clear!
Ngursarnadan Beach is another great beach that you can visit if you don't stay in Coaster Cottages. The beach is part of the 3 km Long Beach. But if you don't really have time to explore everything, Matwaer Beach is definitely a must visit!
Take a trip to Bair Island
To me, Bair Island is a mini Raja Ampat. This uninhabited island is so beautiful that I can't even imagine how spectacular the real Raja Ampat is. The island is made of limestones, divided by a beautiful turquoise lagoon, where you can swim and chill! It is also possible to hike to the top of the island to see the panoramic view. Be careful though, as the limestones are very sharp. Bair Island was the highlight of our trip to Kei and you definitely should NOT miss this out!
Visit Hawang Cave
Hawang Cave is a small cave in the middle of the jungle of Kei Kecil. It has a pond of fresh crystal clear water, which allows you to see the bottom of the cave. It is pretty amazing, especially when the midday sunlight enters the cave. You can swim here, though I would recommend you not to bring remnants of saltwater to this fresh water cave 🙂
Spot some pelicans in Ngurtafur Island
Due to Kei Islands' close proximity to Australia, you can actually check out some pelicans in Ngurtafur Beach during their migration season from Australia (around March-April)! Unfortunately, during our visit to Kei, we didn't get to go to Ngurtafur because the whole island was closed by the village leader. But we managed to see some dolphins and pelicans nearby Er and Ngodan islands.
Go around Ngaf, Er, and Ngodan Islands
We went to these islands during low tide and we were impressed by a number of corals living around the islands! We could actually see these corals from our boat! The sea was super calm and the water was crystal clear. It was amazing!
How much it costs
Prices below are valid in 2016
- Return flight ticket from Ambon to Tual (Langgur): IDR 1,320,000 per person
- Coaster Cottage:
- Room: Rp. 150k per night per room in the Old Cottage (April 2016)
- Meals: Rp 125k (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)
- Pick up from the airport to Coaster Cottage: Rp. 200k
- A Trip to Bair Island & surrounding islands: Rp 350k (car from/to the jetty) + Rp 500k (boat from/to Bair)
- A trip to Hawang Cave & Matwaer Beach: Rp. 450k per car (we only went to these two places due to limited time. But you can go visit other attractions as well with the same price)
- A trip to Ngaf, Er, Ngodan Islands: Rp. 700k per boat
Where else to go
If I had more time, I would definitely want to explore Kei Besar (the Big Kei). It's less known, more mountainous and less developed compared to its little sister, Kei Kecil. I'm sure there are more things that Kei Besar can offer!