Semau Island lies just west of Kupang, directly opposite Tenau Harbour. In fact, it’s the shelter Semau Island provides that makes Tenau such an outstanding harbour. Its 8,000 odd residents occupy a handful of tiny villages scattered around the coast, connected by network of dusty roads and a peaceful lifestyle in rustic paradise.
The island is long and relatively flat; Liman Hill the only real high point and a great place to watch the sunset. With the exception of the east coast facing the mainland, almost the entire long coastline is one pristine sandy beach after another, deserted but for the occasional fishing boat, local women collecting seaweed or harvesting sea salt, and goats.
The island makes a fabulous daytrip from Kupang. The ideal way to get around is to bring a scooter across from the mainland and simply start exploring. The roads are almost deserted and all unsealed. In some places the tracks are quite sandy so scooters can get bogged down and you may have to get off and push. The locals have solved the problem by lining the tracks with limestone rocks which for novice bike riders can be challenging. But even paradise comes at a price.
Boats usually arrive and depart the island from the dock at Hansisi on the north east of the Semau. From Hansisi, we recommend heading northwest until you hit the coast then work your way across to the west coast. Here you’ll intercept a road that trails south along the entire west coast via some of the island’s best beaches including Otan, Oenian and Oetefu. Along the way keep your eye out for some of most unusual salt production you’re ever likely to see. Local villagers collect sea water in clam shells and spread them out in the sun above the beaches. It takes about a week for the water to evaporate off then the salt is scraped out of the shell and collected up.
At the southern end of Otan Beach, take a detour inland to Sialain village located on the the east coast of narrowest section of the island. Adjacent to the coast just east of the village you’ll find several mud wells that have been spewing a continuous stream of mud into the bay for decades. After the mud wells, retrace your route back over to the western coastline and continue southwards.
The sunset point of Liman Hill is located on the southwest of the island at the southern end of Oetefu beach and just to the south of Oetefu Besar village. From there it’s a long 26km, 1.5-2 hour ride back to Hansisi, especially after dark. The last public boat back to Kupang usually departs around 7:00-8:00pm so if you’re planning to watch the sunset from Liman Hill be sure to tell the boatman so he’ll wait for you.
Facilities on the island are very limited so bring a picnic and water for the day. There’s no accommodation at all but you can bring a tent and camp. Out of courtesy, be sure to report to the nearest village headman and ask permission. It’s usually forthcoming but a small donation will be appreciated.
Semau is accessed by a public boat from Tenau Harbour. The crossing only takes 25min but the boat leaves when it’s full so you could actually spend more time waiting at either end than you do on the high seas. But at 20.000Rp per person or 50.000Rp with a scooter, you can’t really complain. If time is of the essence, head south to Bolok Harbour and charter a boat which is the best option anyway if you want to snorkel some of the offshore reefs.