Within South-East Asia, Timor-Leste (East Timor) lies 400km north of Australia, across the Timor Sea, and in the Lesser Sunda Islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago. It comprises the eastern half of Timor Island, the separate enclave of Oecusse, situated in West Timor and the small off-shore islands of Atauro and Jaco.
Formed by continental uplift along a major fault line (and in the case of Atauro, submarine volcanic activity), Timor-Leste is rugged with a mountainous backbone rising to over 2,000m. The highest peaks have marine fossils and the forested ranges are riddled with caves. Almost half of Timor-Leste’s 15,000 sq/km land area has a slope of 40 degrees or more making it scenically beautiful but extremely difficult for road construction and cultivation. Steep terrain combined with inconsistent rainfall and stony, limestone soils are challenging for the farmers.
The areas west of Baucau and around Lospalos and Maliana are rolling highland plains important for agriculture. On the south side of Timor-Leste the coastal flats are 20-30km wide, while to the north they are much narrower with many stretches where the mountains fall directly into the sea. There are wild rocky headlands and long expanses of silky white sand beaches. Along both coasts views across the shimmering ocean are stunning. Timor-Leste’s fringing reefs are extensive and rightly lauded.
Most of Timor-Leste’s large braided rivers completely disappear in the dry season, but after torrential rain during rainy season rivers can turn into raging torrents, and sometimes into flash flooding. Impressive waterfalls cascading down the mountain-sides can also be seen at this time.
Lake Ira Laloro is the only lake of any size. There are also smaller salt lakes and along the south coast marshes teeming with wildlife. Bubbling mud pools can be viewed in Oecusse and there are geothermal hot springs at Marobo, Waicana (near Venilale), Uato Carbau (near Viqueque) and Atauro to name a few.
Timor-Leste has a hot tropical climate with a dry season, May-November, and a wet season, December-April. The temperature on the coast is usually between 25-35C and in the mountains at higher elevation the weather is much cooler – sometimes wet and misty and at other times clear and invigorating.
There are many different micro-climates from dry barren hill sides to thickly forested peaks interspersed with cultivated areas. In general, as you drive south the countryside becomes much more lush and greener.