Indonesia is often referred to as the world's largest
archipelago, a name which aptly represents its 17,000
or so islands which span more than 5000 km (around 3,200
miles) eastward from Sabang in northern Sumatra to Merauke
in Irian Jaya. If you superimpose a map of Indonesia over
one of Europe, you will find that it stretches from Ireland
to Iran; compared to the United States, it covers the
area from California to Bermuda.
There are eight major islands or island groups in this
enormous chain. The largest landmasses consist of Sumatra,
Java, Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi (Celebes) and Irian
Jaya (the western half of Papua New Guinea). The smaller
islands fall into two main groups: the Molluccas to the
northeast, and the lesser Sunda chain east of Bali. Bali
is a unique island, which for a number of reasons can
be put into a class of its own.
Mountain lovers will find plenty to enjoy in Indonesia.
A great volcano chain, the Bukit Barisan, runs the entire
length of Sumatra. On the West Coast, the mountains fall
abruptly to the sea, while to the east they ease gradually
down to plains in a broad fringe of coastal mangroves.
Vegetation-clad volcanoes also rise dramatically from
the sea at Banda, Ternate and Makian. Many of the volcanoes
are still active, constantly smouldering and occasionally
erupting violently, though geological stations monitor
the active ones constantly and give warning if they are
unsafe to climb. Mount Merapi in Central Java is a favourite
for climbers, despite being one of the most active on
Mountain lakes are also abundant in dormant craters of
many volcanoes, the most famous of these being lake Toba
in the northern highlands of Sumatra. This mountain lake
covers an area four times the size of Singapore. In Kalimantan,
waterborne transportation moves cargo and passengers up
and down the major rivers: Mahakam, Barito, Kahayan and
Kapuas. The mountainous island of Flores is famous for
its multi-coloured volcanic lakes, known as Keli Mutu.
The three lakes are in a close group and range from dark
red to turquoise.
Located between two distinct bio-geographic groups -
Asia and Australia - the flora and fauna of the archipelago
is also quite idiosyncratic. Species found nowhere else
on earth have flourished in certain areas, including the
famous Komodo dragon on the island of the same name. Also
in abundance are rare flowers, including exotic orchids,
unusual insects, birds of paradise and numerous indigenous
spices such as cloves, nutmeg cinnamon, mace and many