We found ourselves one day on a desert island off South Sulawesi, under the most pleasant circumstances.
This sliver of sand – Kodingareng Keke – can be found about 13km west of the port city of Makassar, just about an hour and a half by boat away. On weekends, Kodingareng Keke draws island-hopping beach-lovers from Makassar on weekends, making it the first stop of a two-island jaunt that concludes at Samalona halfway back to the city.
The two often come as a package deal: Kodingareng Keke has some of the best beaches on this side of Sulawesi but lacks the food, drink, and rustic accommodations available over at Samalona. This trip, sponsored by Tourism Indonesia and part of our #TripofWonders package tour, was no exception.
Kodingareng Keke is a local tourist's secret, but it's also worth a second look if you're a backpacker, a beach-lover, a snorkeler, or just a collector of sublime tropical experiences that don't cost an arm and a leg.
First Stop: Kodingareng Keke Island
Upon arriving at the Dermaga Kayu Bangkoa port at Makassar at about 8 am, we boarded a motorized passenger boat for the hour-and-a-half trip to Kodingareng Keke. Depending on the travelers' needs, the boat may stop at Samalona to pick up rented snorkels and reef shoes before proceeding to the Kodingareng Keke sandbar further west.
The return boat trip and the snorkeling gear will set you back about IDR 600,000 (about US$60, read about money in Indonesia) and about 50-70,000 IDR (about $3-5) respectively. A booth at the Bangkoa port facilitates boat hires; the boat operators tend to be moonlighting fishermen, earning extra income hiring their boats out to holidaymakers.
A Strange Jetty that Leads Back to the Sea
Access to the islands themselves – both Kodingareng Keke and Samalona – is free, with no entrance fee charged upon arrival.
There's a surprise for visitors at the very end of the Kodingareng Keke jetty. We found out for ourselves when we stepped off the boat and charged down the boardwalk to – surprise! Steps that led right back into the water.
The jetty stops short of touching the dry part of the beach, requiring visitors to wade through water to make it to the island itself. Hope you kept your flip-flops or your reef shoes on; in any case, nobody gets to Kodingareng Keke with their toes dry.
Kodingareng Keke's Beaches and Three-Storey Tower
The sandbar itself is small – about a hectare in area, with some scrub and a few scraggly trees on its southern end for some natural shade. A single three-story, open-sided concrete tower stands in the middle of the island: plastic chairs and tables at the bottom floor allow travelers to picnic in some comfort.
The stairs leading up to the second and third levels feel rickety, and our hosts insist we ascend one at a time to the upper floors. There are no tables upstairs, but the expansive view of the island and the Makassar Strait beyond it more than make up for the lack.
From the Tower, Unbeatable Views of Kodingareng Keke
The view from the second floor of the tower, facing north, shows just how little vegetation hangs on to life in the unforgiving sun of Kodingareng Keke. Top tip for this island: bring lots of sunscreen.
The beach, though, is one of the better I've seen in Indonesia: powdery white sand underfoot feels great as you walk into the water, at least until you reach the coral beds just a few feet beyond the water's edge.
Kodingareng Keke's Views Under the Sea
Once you walk into the water, you're in for a good hour or so snorkeling in the shallows. If you don't raise your expectations too high, the waters around Kodingareng Keke are just fine: you'll see a few fish swimming in these waters, darting between the brain corals, starfish and… a good number of sea urchins. (Bring reef shoes and keep them on for the duration of your visit!)
“It's still OK, but for snorkeling, I've been to way better places in Indonesia,” Vesta, our tour organizer, tells me. “It's an uninhabited island, all sand and a bit of grass and it doesn't have any trees, so it's really really hot.”
Halfway Back to Makassar Via Samalona Island
After the glaring whiteness of Kodingareng Keke, the next island on our itinerary – Samalona – feels like a gorgeous green relief.
Samalona, unlike Kodingareng Keke, is inhabited by a small community of locals, who make a tidy living serving the needs of island-hopping tourists in Makassar. About 20 houses stand around the island, most of them available for short-term accommodations. Many tourists from Makassar book a night here to stay with family, taking advantage of the island's picnic facilities and white-sand beaches.
A single store on the island sells dry goods – snacks, floaters, softdrinks, sarongs – and offers room for rent on its upstairs floor. A single free outhouse can be found near the beach opposite the wharf; there's a squat toilet inside.
Vacation Houses for Rent (Cheap!) on Samalona Island
Vesta interprets for me as I ask a Samalona resident about the houses for rent. “This one can occupy up to 20 people inside,” Vesta tells me, pointing to a nearby house on stilts. “For electricity, they rely on generator sets. The toilet is outside the house. It costs IDR 700,000 per night (about US$53) for the whole house.”
Other houses around Samalona vary in size and creature comfort levels. “There's one that can accommodate up to 60, and there's another that's smaller, but has its own bathroom,” Vesta interprets.
A Rustic Feast on Samalona Island
The picnic awaiting us on Samalona Island is a gorgeous spread of Indonesian home-cooked favorites – quite simply the best thing about the two-island jaunt.
For about IDR 100,000 (US$7.60) per person, you can ask a Samalona local to prepare a picnic lunch. The menu pulls out all the stops: Indonesian classics like perkedel (potato, corn and seafood fritters) and grilled prawns among them, with as much rice as you can stuff down your gullet.
I for one feel like an Indonesian food item myself as we lumber up the jetty to the boat taking us back to Makassar: crispy (from the sun) and stuffed to bursting.
Important Information about Kodingareng Keke and Samalona Islands
An early start is desirable when organizing a boat-hopping tour to Kodingareng Keke and Samalona Islands. Try to arrive before 9 am, as the sun will be at its most merciless after 10 am.
At Bangkoa port, the cost of the boat will vary depending on the size of your party, the hours you want to spend on the trip, and the time of the day you leave. Feel free to haggle the price down; the boat owners expect it.
Beyond Samalona Island, there are no food or drink stalls to buy from once you embark on your boat-hopping trip, so prepare everything you need before setting off. Bring food, drinks, sunscreen, and snorkeling equipment; while many of these are available at Samalona, there's no guarantee that they'll still be in stock when you arrive.
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