Getting around on Nias Island
Nias has a lot to offer, but it requires more time and effort to get around than at your typical mass-tourism destination. Many people coming to Nias go straight to Sorake or Asu and remain there without going anywhere else. A few adventurous travelers venture out of the comfort zone to explore more of the island.
Travel through (an unfamiliar area) in order to learn about it.
To traverse or range over (a region, area, etc.) for the purpose of discovery.
Those who explore remote areas of Nias have to be resourceful and make their own arrangements. Here you are truly off the beaten path and have to rely on yourself to make things happen. Adventurous travellers are rewarded with many unique experiences.
Because public transport does not cover all of Nias you need a vehicle. A car can easily be arranged from most places on Nias, especially popular hotels and guesthouses. Rental cars usually come with a driver, and there are several advantages to this. Local drivers know the area, speak the language and can safely navigate the local back country roads. If there is a problem, they will deal with it; you are not responsible for the vehicle in the same way as if you drive by yourself. It is not a problem to rent a car with a driver for several days, the additional cost of food and accommodation for the driver will be factored into the price. The cost is around IDR 700.000 per day; add 100.000 for an English speaking experienced driver.
It is safe and convenient to rent a car with a local driver but it is also possible to drive by yourself. In Gunungsitoli you can contact Go Nias Tours to arrange a hire car. The main coastal roads can easily be navigated by anyone with a driving licence. But if you plan to explore the more remote areas, you should have experience in driving in rural Indonesia and speak a bit of the language. Many smaller roads are only suitable for four wheel drive vehicles and there are very few road signs on Nias. Think twice before driving a car on your own and if you do, drive very carefully!
Motorbike is by far the best way to explore Nias. With a motorbike you have much better access and the freedom to drive almost anywhere you want. Due to limited funds, many roads to remote areas on Nias were built specifically for motorbikes and are very narrow. For this reason, some areas can only be accessed by motorbike. If you are not travelling with a four wheel drive vehicle, a motorbike is the best way to get around on Nias. For suggested travel itineraries check out our Biking page.
Some guesthouses and hotels have motorbikes for rent, or can help you to arrange one. In Sorake there are several guest houses offering motorbikes for rent, some of them with racks for surf-boards. In Gunungsitoli you can contact Go Nias Tours or the Museum Pusaka Nias for motorbikes. Some travellers have rented bikes in Medan and brought them to Nias on the ferry from Sibolga.
There are petrol stations in the main three towns, but fuel is also widely available in smaller villages, often sold in bottles from stalls along the road.
Flat tires is not a problem as there are usually small repair shops every few kilometers. Look for stalls with a “Tempel” sign (patch in Indonesian) or simply a tire on a stick.
The main roads on Nias are surprisingly good, considering that they are on an island in a relatively remote part of Indonesia. Much of this is due to the post 2005 earthquake rebuilding program that was supported by both Indonesian and International organisations. In fact roads on Nias have never been as good as they are now. The main coastal roads on the east-coast are wide and well maintained in most places. Roads between the main towns are also good. The local districts are constantly upgrading smaller roads and the infrastructure is improving.
Many areas of the interior still have bad access. The interior is very hilly and there are many rivers here, making road building difficult and costly. There are frequent landslides during the rainy season that further complicates road improvement. Travel in the interior is possible, but can be adventurous. Add a lot of time to your planning as the roads are narrow, steep and windy. The main interior roads can safely be traveled by normal vehicles, but smaller ones require a four wheel drive car. Some areas can only be accessed by motorbikes as the roads and bridges are not suitable for cars. There are even villages in remote areas of Nias that can only be reached on foot.
When smaller landslides occur or trees fall across the road locals usually clear it up quickly. Passing vehicles are asked to pay a small sum as a token of appreciation for the work being done. In some remote areas where bridges have broken or there have been large landslides unofficial ‘toll’ stations may emerge. Groups of youth stop traffic and demand payment to let vehicles pass. This is not common on the main east coast road, but sometimes happens in the South Nias sub-district of Lölöwau on the west coast. Be calm and polite when dealing with ‘road-tax’ collectors. The fee may be Rp 5-10,000 for motorbikes and Rp 20,000 for cars.
Some maps found on the internet can be misleading, showing roads that do not actually exist. The most misleading information is that there is a ring-road around Nias Island. This is not true, as there is a large gap in the island ring road on the west-coast, between North Nias (Salonako) and West Nias (Sirombu).This means you cannot circumnavigate all of Nias Island along the coast by car. To go from the South to the North by car it is you always have to travel via Gunungsitoli . Adventurous travellers can circumnavigate the island on a Motorbike by using small roads and tracks past the missing section of the ring road.