Travellers invariably describe Lore Lindu National Park in Central Sulawesi as a highlight of their trip, and that’s not surprising given the natural and ancient archaeological treasures contained within its borders. This massive 2,180km2 park sprawls across a densely forested mountain range, bounded by the Palolo, Napu, Bada and Kulawi valleys.
The park forms part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves, a testament to the amazingly diverse flora and fauna found among the tropical lowland, montane and sub-alpine habitats. Almost every mammal and bird species found on Sulawesi is represented in the park, including rare and endemic species such as the Tonkean macaque, the North Sulawesi babirusa, an odd creature that looks like a cross between a boar and a hippopotamus, the Mountain anoa, a dwarf buffalo, the super cute Pygmy tarsier and several species of cuscus.
Encountering the endemic gold snake may not be on everyone’s wish list but bird lovers will be thrilled to get a glimpse of the Maleo fowl, a bird that incubates a single egg in the warm sand near geothermal springs, or the Giant allo, the male of whom uses mud to barricade his nesting partner inside a hollow tree trunk, slipping her food through a tiny narrow opening until their chicks are hatched.
Weird and wonderful wildlife are not the only intriguing thing about Lore Lindu. Around 400 ancient stone megaliths are scattered in the rivers and rice fields of the Napu, Besoa and Bada valleys. Ranging in size from 10cm to 4.5m, the granite megaliths are a mix of minimalist carved human or animal forms called arca menhirs and large urns called kalambas. Archaeologists have dated the megaliths from between 3000 BC to 1300 AD but so far little else is known about the artifacts or the mysterious civilisation that created them.
Local villagers offer scant information. They say the human arca menhirs were criminals who were turned to stone as punishment for their misdeeds. They point to deep grooves on the some of the carvings as evidence of knife wounds. The kalambas, according to them, were bathing vessels for kings and gods. Citing the heavy granite lids found nearby, archaeologists theorise that they were in fact stone coffins, sarcophagus’s not unlike those found on Sumbawa Island. A few stone tablets, perhaps once used as grinding stones, and low tables or altars have been also been unearthed, but intriguingly no tools or accouterments of day to day life.
With such a vast range of wildlife, stunning landscapes and ancient mysteries, it’s little wonder Lore Lindu is gaining traction as one of Sulawesi’s “must see” attractions. The hard part will be deciding what to see in the time you have.
Access to the park is relatively easy. Two main roads run adjacent to the eastern and western boundaries of the park, linking around 60 quiet rural villages, and converging at Palu city on the mid-north west coast. A series of dirt roads networking off these main routes provide 4-wheel drive and scooter access deeper into the park so whilst trekking in Lore Lindu is first rate if you can spare 3-4 days or more, it’s possible to get a taste of the park in a single, long day trip from Palu.
Most visitors travel out from Palu, entering Lore Lindu via the village of Kamarora (50km, 2.5hrs drive) where the park headquarters and information centre are located. Kamarora has several basic hotels and homestay accommodation and is a convenient base to explore the northern section of the park, in particular the tranquil highland lake of Danau Lindu (Lake Lindu). The best way to see it is to hire a traditional canoe from one of the local fishermen and spend a few hours on the water, followed by a visit to one of the three small lakeside villages. Early morning or late afternoon are the best times to spot a variety of water birds and the elusive Maleo fowl. Hornbills and a raft of other birds and a couple of small waterfalls can be found in the forested hills not far from Kamarora but you’ll need to engage a guide to help you find them. If prefer to immerse yourself in warmer water, head over to the natural hot springs in the neighboring village of Kadidia.
Tracking down the eastern side of the park another 50km and 2.5hr driver further south brings you to Wuasa village, the largest settlement in Lore Lindu. The village has several guesthouses and homestays offering decent meals and accommodation. Electricity is limited to 5-10:30pm so take a torch. Due to its proximity to the small but sublime Lake Tambling, and an old logging trail called the Anaso Track which snakes through dense jungle to Mt Rorekatimbu, Wuasa is regarded as the best place for bird-watching but you could well spot some black macaques in the trees there also. Guides, scooters or 4-wheel drive jeeps can be readily arranged in the village.
Continuing south, you’ll find the megaliths are scattered through the Napu, Besoa and Bada Valleys. The bulk of them, and the most interesting ones are located right at the southern end of the park in the Bada Valley, a gorgeous river valley of sweeping rice fields, bubbling streams and gentle rolling hills. The giant “Palindo” megalith is located on the Sepe Plateau and is not to be missed.
Trekking around the valley from site to site is superb but most are accessible by scooter or four wheel drive and are signposted so you can easily find your own way around. Guides, transport and accommodation are readily available in Bariri or Doda villages in the Besoa valley or Gintu village in the Bada valley. As with the rest of the park, expect to pay between 100,000-150,000Rp per night and around 100,000Rp per day for scooter hire.
For trekking anywhere off the main forest tracks, you’ll need to engage a local guide who is familiar with the area. There are several designated campsites located around the park such as at Lake Tambling but you can camp wild on longer treks. The park rangers will be able to help organise guides and provide more details on trekking and campsite options. Bring your camping gear with you as there’s no gear hire available from any of the villages. Be aware that despite being situated on the equator, the Lore Lindu highlands can be downright freezing overnight so be sure to pack warm clothing and bedding.
A park entrance fee of 150.000Rp for foreigners or 5.000Rp for Indonesians applies. Permits can be obtained from the National Park Head office in Palu (Tel: +62 0451 423 608) ahead of time or on arrival at the park from one of the handful of satellite offices and ranger posts located at the most popular entry points for the park.
Organised single or multi-day tours from Palu are available and can easily be booked on arrival in Palu. Generally, the tour operator will organise transport, food, accommodation and entry permits but be sure to check as the inclusions differ from operator to operator.
The Port town of Poso located to the east of Lore Lindu is an alternative gateway to the park through Wuasa or Gintu village via Lake Poso. A convenient route for those travelling on from central Sulawesi is Palu – Wuasa – Napu – Besoa – Bada – Poso or vice versa.