Trevor Matheson: ‘Indonesia has second-largest biodiversity in the world’

Indonesia is home to 700 cultures, more than 700 languages, and is the most biodiverse place in the world behind only the Amazon Basin – but these details are often overlooked, says Dr Trevor Matheson, former New Zealand Ambassador to Indonesia. 

Indonesia: A brief introduction

Trevor Matheson: “Indonesia is the third-largest democracy [and] the fourth-most populated country in the world. It has the largest Muslim population anywhere in the world. It is the largest archipelagic state – 17,000 islands. Because of its geography and its amazing archipelagic state, it’s also got the second-largest biodiversity of any country in the world, after the Amazon Basin.

It’s a fantastic country – 700 cultures, more than 700 languages. Bahasa Indonesia is spoken by the majority of people. But it’s a language which was developed to allow different ethnic groups and cultural groups to communicate with each other.

“Indonesia’s still trying to find its feet as a democracy, trying to develop the sort of principles that we take for granted in New Zealand.”

Visiting Indonesia

“Ninety-five percent of New Zealanders, according to research, only visit Bali. They think Bali is Indonesia, Indonesia is Bali, which is totally false. Bali, in fact, has a Hindu indigenous background and religious background.

But Kiwis are missing most of what Indonesia has to offer. If they can go further and visit places such as Raja Ampat – one of the great diving spots in the world and which has great biological diversity – that would be fantastic.

Kiwis should also go and see the orangutans in Sulawesi, the Sumatran tigers and Sumatran rhino, and check out some of the most amazing flora and fauna in the world.

Opportunities in Indonesia

“Indonesia has great opportunities. New Zealand and Indonesia are progressing extremely well in our bilateral relationship. We’ve just had the President of Indonesia, President Widodo, visit New Zealand. We’ve elevated our relationship to a comprehensive partnership.

There will be some New Zealanders who may be a bit concerned about what they read in the newspapers, about the issues to do with terrorist attacks and others. Those are realities when people go to Indonesia. Indonesia is only a young nation – 73 years young at this stage, but only 20 years as a democracy.

Indonesia’s still trying to find its feet as a democracy, trying to develop the sort of principles that we take for granted in New Zealand – its diversity of its peoples, of its cultures, its understanding of trying to have an ethnic and religious diversity. There are those in some parts of Indonesia who question the central role of government.

But people shouldn’t be dissuaded from travelling to Indonesia. What they should do is take into account their personal security risks, keeping to proper locations, avoiding various locations that may be of significance to terrorists.

I think New Zealanders already enjoy the opportunities that are there. And there are great opportunities coming up. Emirates Airlines will commence a new direct air service, Dubai-Denpasar to Auckland, on a daily basis from 14 June. This will, for the first time, allow direct [daily] air services between Indonesia and New Zealand, which we think will be a game-changer for our tourism trade, for our people-to-people links, and for increasing potentially high-level goods and trade with Indonesia into the future.”

– Asia Media Centre