Pulau Weh is a remote little paradise with a laid-back vibe. It offers magical beaches and abundant marine life, including vibrant, colourful corals, only 45 minutes by fast boat from the gateway city of Banda Aceh, North Sumatra.
As I relax in the comfortable hammock on the balcony of my bungalow, I gaze out at the Andaman Sea and hatch a plan for the next day. I rent a motorbike, as the locals tell me this is a great way to explore the island with its quiet roads, hidden bays and secret beaches.
I do indeed discover many beautiful little picture-perfect beaches. The highlight, however, is hitting the spot which is famous for being the westernmost point of Indonesia, aptly named kilometre zero. A zero as tall as a football goalpost marks the spot. When I arrive at around 5pm, a local crowd has begun to gather, and I’m warmly welcomed by a young Acehnese family. We stand on the high cliff, watching the sun disappear beneaththe horizon and drop off the edge of Indonesia.
My new friends tell me there is a place in Papua which marks the easternmost point of Indonesia. Most agree it’s around 5,300km away, but few have ventured far from Weh. I set a goal there and then to visit Papua, promising them I will find that sign and send photographic evidence back.
While sipping my sunset drink at the local hilltop café, I hear the whirr of machinery. The clever owner of the café clearly has a little side business going on. Out the back, there’s a printer spitting out bright yellow certificates with beautiful ornate lettering, individually numbered, personalised and signed by the Mayor of Sabang (the main town on Weh Island). Just what I need! I promptly request a kilometre zero certificate of my own.
The next day I am keen to discover the visual feast I had heard about beneath the surface of the brilliant blue waters of Weh. It turns out there are 20 excellent dive spots around the island, with Gapang Beach and its house reef being among the most popular.
The owner of Lumba Lumba Dive Resort at Gapang Beach is very enthusiastic about protecting the rich marine life. She explains that the locals protect their sea gardens by closely monitoring the activities of any out-of-town boats. If visiting fishermen are observed working in the vicinity of the coral reef, for example, herding fish into nets or stepping on the coral, the locals have the right to destroy their boat! As you can imagine, it’s an excellent deterrent. As a result, corals and other sea life abound, including scores of scorpionfish, lionfish and blue spotted rays. Whale sharks were sighted in January this year, too.
Batee Tokong is one of the most popular dive sites and lies only a short distance from Gapang Beach. With its deep slopes and walls covered in colourful fan corals, there is a good chance of seeing big fish, like reef sharks, eagle rays, devil rays, barracuda and tuna.
If you love wall diving, then include an exploration of the staggering 30m Rubiah Wall. A real highlight! How about canyons? A spectacular dive site called The Canyon features underwater caves as well as impressive coral walls and arches. This is the natural habitat of Napoleon wrasse, barracuda and mantas.
If wreck diving is your thing, you can fossick around the nooks and crannies of the Thai Wreck. It lies at a depth of 30m and attractsmmultitudes of unusual fish species. Manymmake their home in small ghostly wooden cabins and pockets of what remains of the old engine room.
My next adventure is exploring the sheltered bay of Pria Laot, which offers an added surprise: I find myself snorkelling among thousands of warm bubbles emerging from an underwater hot spring. A unique experience.
For non-divers, there is also plenty to do on Weh Island. If you enjoy exploring, you can head into the interior and spend the days hiking jungle trails, climbing a volcano, chasing waterfalls or swimming in Danau Anak Laut, a serene freshwater lake.
The natural beauty of Weh is the thing that surprises most visitors. It’s not uncommon to hear the comment, “I came to Aceh for a week, but when I discovered Weh Island, I ended up staying longer.” Weh’s low-key vibe, possibilities for adventure, fabulous sea gardens and genuine Acehnese hospitality make it a real gem and well worth a visit.
Story by Stephanie Brookes
Stephanie Brookes is a travel writer and blogger with tales from Indonesia and beyond.
Author – “Indonesia’s Hidden Heritage – Cultural Journeys of Discovery”