The largest archipelago in the world, Indonesia’s mosaic of some 17,500 islands is scattered between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. Of these, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Sulawesi, and New Guinea are its main isles, making up the majority of its landmass. The very highest mountains in Indonesia are concentrated on just one: New Guinea.
Indonesia shares New Guinea with the independent country of Papua New Guinea. This is not to be confused with the Indonesian province of Papua, also on the island. And it’s in this latter western province that the Maoke Mountains are found. This is composed of the Sudirman and Jayawijaya ranges, which in turn include some of the region’s highest mountains.
So, now that we know where we’re going, let’s explore some peaks, starting with Indonesia’s highest peak.
Part of the Sudirman Range, Puncak Jaya rises to a peak of 16,024 ft above sea level. The name, which means “pinnacle of success,” is truly fitting for what is not only the tallest mountain in Indonesia but also throughout Oceania as well as the world’s tallest island peak. And that’s not all. Puncak Jaya is also among the rare few tropical mountains with glaciers. Indeed, nobody believed the reports of a snow-capped equatorial summit from the first European who spotted it in 1623, Jan Carstensz. Although nowadays, set within the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lorentz National Park, it’s also known as the Carstensz Pyramid.
The status of Puncak Jaya as Indonesia’s highest peak is largely uncontroversial. The same can’t be said for the next on the list. Over the years, a handful of peaks have been lauded as the second highest point in Indonesia, with Ngga Pulu, Puncak Mandala, Puncak Trikora, Ngga Pilimsit, and Sumantri among them.
There are several reasons for this ambiguity. Firstly, exact measurements of these peaks are difficult due to inaccessibility. Secondly, factors such as melting glaciers mean that heights are subject to change. And finally, there are disputes over whether some of the peaks are mountains in their own right or if they are subsidiary peaks of other mountains. It’s this final issue that might scupper Sumantri’s bid for second place, with doubts over whether it is sufficiently separate from neighbouring Puncak Jaya. However, it’s now widely considered a primary peak which, at 15,978 ft above sea level, would make it the second highest mountain in Indonesia.
In some circles, it is not Sumantri but Puncak Mandala that’s thought of as the second biggest mountain in Indonesia. For example, it’s listed as one of the Second Seven Summits as the second highest mountain on the Australian continent. Part of the Jayawijaya Range in Highland Papua, it reaches 15,620 ft above sea level. Previously known as Julianna Peak, it was once topped with an ice cap, which has since disappeared.
At 15,584 ft above sea level, Puncak Trikora is another prominent member of the highest mountains in Indonesia. Like many of its counterparts, this limestone peak is part of the Sudirman Range in the highlands of Papua province.
Some 10 miles northwest of Indonesia’s highest peak, Puncak Jaya is that of Ngga Pilimsit. Once called Mount Idenburg, it rises to 15,476 ft, qualifying it as one of the country’s highest summits.
While some consider Ngga Pulu the second highest mountain in Indonesia, others don’t count it as a separate peak at all, but rather part of Sumantri. Nevertheless, Ngga Pulu reaches a height of 15,951 ft above sea level and there’s evidence to show that its elevation once exceeded 16,000 ft, maybe even making it the biggest mountain in Indonesia. It is glacial melting that has shrunk it to its current size.
Indonesia's Highest Peaks
It is widely accepted that Puncak Jaya is the highest point in Indonesia. But, beyond this, it’s difficult to “summit” up the subject of the highest mountains in Indonesia, not least because it’s an ever-changing field. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the country is home to some of the region’s most magnificent peaks.