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This Resort Lets Travelers Stay on a Volcanic Island in Central Sulawesi

Among the 56 Togian islands of Central Sulawesi, volcanic Una-Una is finally rising from the ashes. On a visit to one of its new resorts, Marco Ferrarese finds a paradise slowly awakening. Photographs by KIT YENG CHAN

Published on May 14, 2018

Pristine Paradise’s private jetty at sunrise

A stream of hot gas shoots from the ground as if it were the hissing valve of a pressure cooker. It fills the air with dense, white and sulfurous smoke, and sends me jumping to my feet. Even though it looks and smells like hell, this is quite the opposite: I am at the center of Colo volcano’s caldera, a bowl of jagged rocks inside an active volcanic cone that first erupted in 1898, creating the paradisiacal Indonesian island of Una-Una. Colo’s cone last exploded in 1983, blanketing the former administrative center of the Togian archipelago with lava and resulting in a 30-year oblivion. Everything was destroyed, Vesuvius-style. But Una-Una is happily beginning to wake from its sleeping state.

Emiel Wevers after a diving session

The last few years have seen an increase in resorts on the island; I am checking into the Dutch-and-Indonesian-run Pristine Paradise (doubles from Rp500,000 per night, including meals), a dive resort that opened last year on a crescent of sand that honors its name. The voyage to Una-Una has also become easier— there are now frequent boats and flights to the island’s gateway on Sulawesi, Ampana, and a direct flight from Jakarta will be scheduled here within a year.

The untouched sea life is a big draw, but the trek to Colo’s peak is my main adventure, and it’s as rugged as you’d expect from a long-lost isle. The volcano is on the other side of the island from Pristine Paradise, so the first part of my trip is on two wheels. I squeeze onto the back of a tiny two-stroke motorbike and cling to the shoulders of my guide as we navigate forested paths, sandbanks and the rocky bottom of a former riverbed for a good half-hour before starting the 40-minute walk up. We trawl along a stream of hot, coppertoned water and then proceed into the jungle, following the river up a snaking path. Climbing between a canyon of cracked boulders, we finally find ourselves in the mouth of the hissing volcano.

Traversing the smoking caldera of Colo volcano

“Before the eruption, the island was the Togians’ central hub, with daily boats to the mainland cities of Gorontalo and Ampana, and five thriving villages. They were all swept away by the lava,” says Emiel Wevers, Pristine Paradise’s co-owner, back on Una-Una’s shores. “The eruption was predicted and all the islanders moved out in time, but it took a while for people to come back. And, let me be frank, it helped keep the marine life stunningly healthy.”

In the two days since I moored on this almost perfectly round island I have snorkeled in crystal-clear waters, floating above reefs thatsprout like stone mushrooms just meters from the shore, and scuba dived with schools of twirling tropical fish and human-sized corals. Thankfully, despite increased attention to Una-Una, these underwater treasures are protected: the government has currently suspended giving out any new resort licenses on the island to preserve its marine park status, and Pristine Paradise was one of the last to obtain one.

At night, Una-Una’s trees fill with fruit bats

The resort’s six charming wooden beachfront bungalows have their own terrace and hammock—another blissful vantage point to experience the pristine surrounds. The property also has a wood-and-thatch restaurant, a fully equipped dive center, and a small private jetty, all fringed by a barrier of palms and gnarled, old trees that, come dusk, fill with screeching fruit bats. From my bungalow, I watch the moon rise from the horizon, burning golden reflections onto the black sea below.


Views of the beach from Pristine Paradise’s charming bungalow

Wevers, a former banker, came to Una-Una a year-and-a-half ago to give financial advice to his aunt and her husband, both of whom wanted to build a resort with an Indonesian partner. Pristine Paradise was born, and, it was love at first sight for the Dutchman—he joined the project to become a co-owner.

“There’s great diving here, with 35 sites teeming with Napoleon Maori wrasse, bumphead parrotfish and barracudas,” says Wevers, who rarely trades his swimming trunks and diving shirts for casual clothing. “We have isolated coral atolls with sheer deep walls, fringing reef slopes, barrier reefs, coral gardens, muck diving and mangrove areas.”

But giant looming Colo still remains the major attraction, and as the volcano sleeps, Una-Una is only just stirring—and that’s just the way I hope it stays.

Endless ocean from the resort’s sandy shores

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