The first thing that greets you at Bantimurung National Park is a gaudy butterfly towering over the entrance gate and just beyond that, a similarly tacky monument to the parks primates. The butterfly is tribute to South Sulawesi’s amazing diversity of these enchanting creatures, believed to be in excess of 250 species. During his 1850’s quest to record the flora and fauna of SE Asia, renown British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace was so taken with Sulawesi’s butterflies he dubbed it the “Kingdom of Butterflies.”
Sadly, there aren’t too many butterflies in evidence at Bantimurung these days, other than those pinned to boards in glass display cases at the museum attached to the Butterfly Conservation & Breeding Centre. Those who prefer to see their wildlife alive and free probably won’t find it too appealing but setting that small issue aside, the display is interesting and there are some particularly fascinating specimens such as the Papillo androcoles, the world’s biggest and rarest butterfly, and the fabulously colourful Troides halipron, Papiliio pofites, Papiliio satapses, Papiliio blumei and Graphium androcles. If one or two take your fancy head over to the souvenier shop where, rather disturbingly, you can even buy your own specimen to take home with you.
If I sound a little cynical I am, but I’m not alone. Since its establishment in the 1970’s, the Bantimurung butterfly centre has become a leading commercial supplier of butterfly specimens to collectors and a souvenier shops both domestically and abroard, and has come under heavy criticism for blatant exploitation of a precious natural resource. Centre management claim to have changed their focus to one of conservation but an informal trade in butterflies still persists.
There is more to Bantimurung than butterflies. The 43,750 hectare park comprises a good chunk of the Maros-Pangkep karst mountain range which in 2004, was offically declared a mixed used wildlife conservatory, nature park, conservation forest and limited production forest area. The karst scenery is supberb and the three primary ecosystems; karst, lowland forest and lower montane forests provide ideal habitats for a variety of mammals including cuscus, tarsier, monkey’s ane weasel and birds such as the hornbills, owls and kingfishers.
In the karst rainforest area close to the butterfly centre, is the impressive Bantinmurung Waterfall which spills over 20m wide, 15m high smooth granite slab forming a natural water slide. Sadly, the falls have suffered the same lack of respect as the butterflies with the erection of a solid concrete stairway and walking path right alongside the falls; an absolute eyesore that couldn’t be less sympathetic to the natural setting if it tried. However, I suspect that wasn’t what the park management had in mind anyway as the primary attraction is riding an inner tube down the waterfall. It’s a favourite pastime with locals and visitors alike and I have to admit, it does look like fun. If you want to have a go, inner tubes can be hired adjacent to the falls for 50.000Rp each. Just be sure to avoid the weekends and holidays when it can literally be standing room only.
The park also has two notable caves, Goa Mimpi (Dream Cave) and Goa Batu (Stone Cave). The former is somewhere between 1-1.5km long and extends right through the hillside emerging just outside the park boundaries. With a guide (170,000Rp) and a torch (50,000Rp each to hire) you can traverse its the entire length; a unique experience but not to be underestimated. The wooden walkway inside soon deteriorates to the point it becomes impassable and you have to walk beside it. Picking your way over the uneven cave floor whilst trying to avoid the scattered timbers from the walkway, with only a narrow torch beam to light the pitch black dark tunnel is not easy. Good, closed in footwear is absolutely essential. The facilities at nearby Stone Cave are in a similar state of disrepair but the cave is only 30m deep so at least you’re not stumbling around in near total darkness. This cave has some interesting stalectite and stalegmite formations and a small spring so it’s worth a look.
Bantimurung National Park is located in the Maros Regency, 50km (1 hour) north of Makassar. Public bus or DAMRI private bus depart from the Makassar Mall to Maros throughout the day. Grab a taxi or ojek to the park entrance at the butterfly centre. Admission fees are 25.000Rp for Indonesians and a rather staggering 255.000Rp for foreigners. Adding inner tube hire and a Dream Cave excursion that makes it a pretty expensive day out for what is frankly, a marginal tourist attraction with poor, dirty facilities and little evidence of conservation activities of any sort. We recommend visiting the Maros-Pangkep karsts at nearby Rammang Rammang and/or the Leang-Leang Prehistoric Park for a cheaper and much nicer experience.