Travelling to the far reaches of Indonesia to experience a total solar eclipse

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The god of the underworld Batara Kala, is swallowing the sun and the moon. Known as the god of time and destruction, he made the sun and moon disappear hence bringing darkness to the daytime.

That is the legend as told by numerous indigenous Indonesian folklores that explains a solar eclipse.

Twice in the last fifty years

In 2014, it was announced that a solar eclipse will occur on March 9, 2016. The total solar eclipse moved from the Indian Ocean near South Pagai Island in West Sumatra and passed through a number of Indonesian provinces and ends at the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

As a result, the archipelago has become a witnesses to two solar eclipses in the last fifty years, with the previous occurring in 1983. While that eclipse passed the areas of Java, Sulawesi, and Papua, this year’s eclipse mainly passed Palembang in South Sumatra, the Bangka and Belitung Islands, Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan, Palu in Central Sulawesi, Ternate Island in North Maluku, and Halmahera in the Moluccas. Other parts of Indonesia, such as Jakarta and Bali was only passed by a partial solar eclipse.

As a fan of astronomy, I planned my travels early like many eclipse-chasers from around the world. Even though it was the second time in the last fifty years, a similar eclipse will not happen again for at least 350 years as we were told. Obviously, it became apparent to me that this could be a once in a lifetime experience.

Choosing the right spot

Photo: Doddy Wiraseto


As a first-timer as an eclipse-chaser, I fully realized this experience will not be a casual holiday.  My first consideration to choose the place to view the phenomenon was where the full eclipse will last longest. I know Luwuk and some parts of Halmahera and Papua has the longest duration and the latest time for the total eclipse. But in the end I chose Ternate in North Maluku as I knew the area would get the second longest total eclipse duration –around two minutes and forty five seconds. Meanwhile, a few of my other friends chose Balikpapan in East Kalimantan or Bangka Island.

There are many spots that are preferred to witness the eclipse. A favourite among many are beaches or ocean cliffs where you look directly out into the ocean. As the eclipse occurs early in the morning, the best spot to settle down is somewhere facing east.

In Ternate, people gathered at the city square around the Kedaton –the Ternate royal family’s residence, along the Falajawa Beach, and along the coastal line at Tapak Toboko where you can see a panoramic view of the Tidore and Maitara islands across the sea. Manggar Segarasari beach in Balikpapan and Tanjung Kerasak beach in Bangka were also two of the best spots to view the extraordinary event.

For me personally, Batu Angus in the Kulaga area of Ternate captured my attention. Not only because it’s located near Mount Gamalama’s slopes on the eastern coast of the island, but it’s also known for the beautiful contours of the ground. Batu Angus itself is a cliff surrounded by black stones which are the remnants of lava left from the mountain’s eruption 400 years ago.

The glowing silver ring in the sky

Photo: Doddy Wiraseto


I had prepared my equipment since sunrise and I failed to take test shots because the sky was too cloudy in the early morning. The eclipse began at 7am in western Indonesian time, 8am in central Indonesian time, and 9am in eastern Indonesian time. As the total eclipse nears, excitement began to overflow with the increase of people coming to the area with their eclipse sunglasses while others brought film negatives to protect their eyes. Not to mention all the photographers with their tripods and sophisticated lenses. Waiting for the event to unfold, we shared stories and some people admitted that this wasn’t their first total solar eclipse.

After one hour of waiting, the total solar eclipse was finally upon us. I remember that the phenomenon not only drove the sunshine away but also the warm coastal air. The weather was getting cooler as the sunlight faded away. It was around 9am but it felt like 6.30pm. I saw the ocean’s surface emanate a silver-ish glow as the moon perfectly moved between the sun and the earth.

I pointed my telephoto lens 60 degrees to the eastward sky. I had already took numerous shot since the eclipse began but I actually took less shots during the peak because I wanted to enjoy the moment more than capture it.

I heard some people mutter out religious phrases. They were praising the universe for this unbelievable moment. Dozens of local children clanged metal bars to create commotion. This ritual is known as dolo-dolo by the people of Ternate, a ritual from their ancestors held during solar eclipses. Later on as the eclipse dwindled down, I learned that pregnant ladies and very young children were forbidden to be out of their houses during the eclipse.

I received numerous message on my phone. Some of my friends directly shared the story from Balikpapan and Bangka Island. The total solar eclipse didn’t last for more than three minutes, but it was evident that it created a lasting impression on all of us. Looking back, I grow into a realisation that it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. And I’m sure many others out there will concur. (EDNA TARIGAN)

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