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In the company of our guest expert, Kees Groeneboer, we will journey to almost-forgotten Banda Islands, which were once the world’s only source of nutmeg, shaping the history of colonialism in the East Indies from the 16th century onwards. Here, we can climb a volcano, marvel at the beauty of the scenery, visit the majestic Fort Belgica, wander through the shady nutmeg plantations, and barter for spice at the market. Cruising north, we will then explore the spectacular region of Raja Ampat, one of the most noteworthy ecological niches on the planet, where the below-surface world is reminiscent of a living kaleidoscope and the above-surface views are among the most stunning that you are likely to behold in a lifetime. You don’t need to be a seasoned birdwatcher to appreciate the dazzling birdlife of Raja Ampat, and hopefully we will be lucky enough to witness the curious bobbing, flapping and weaving courtship dance of the red birds of paradise in their natural habitat.
Note: The price of this cruise does not include any domestic airfares to and from our start and end points, however, our reservations specialists in Bali are more than happy to help arrange domestic flights on your behalf and advise on scheduling. We book hundreds of flights each year on behalf of our guests and we only book with IATA-approved airlines that have met with international standards of safety and dependability. If you are booking by yourself, please check with us first to find out the best routes to take, and to ensure that you arrive at your destination with plenty of time to spare. Except for Bali, transfers to and from local airports to the boat are also included.
Upon arrival in Ambon cars will be waiting to take you to the Katharina at her mooring in Tulehu Harbour. Once settled into your cabin, our cruise director will familiarise you with the vessel’s facilities and safety procedures. Ready to start our adventure, we will depart for the island of Saparua, were we will visit the Dutch built VOC-Fort Duurstede (1691) stormed in 1817 in a revolt led by Ambonese Kapitan Pattimura, a national hero and martyr. His story is told by vivid museum dioramas. Later, we can enjoy our first snorkelling experience near the small uninhabited island of Molana. In the evening, we will begin our voyage to the Banda Islands, the original source of nutmeg; in the 15th and 16th centuries, this aromatic spice spurred exploration and shaped colonial empires.
Before breakfast we will use the tenders to explore the coastline of Pulau Suanggi, a small rocky island populated by an enormous, noisy colony of seabirds. We will then continue our journey to the Banda Archipelago, arriving first at the tiny outlying island of Run, where the English and Dutch vied bitterly for control of the nutmeg trade. In 1667, under the Treaty of Breda, Run was the subject of an unbelievable real estate deal when it was ceded by the English to the Dutch in exchange for Manhattan. Yes, THAT Manhattan! After visiting the village and the remains of the British-built Fort Swan, we can snorkel offshore. After lunch we will continue to pretty island of Pulau Ai, where we will wander through the village and visit the remains of the Dutch-built Fort Revenge, followed by some more beautiful snorkelling. In the evening we will head to Banda Neira, the main island in the Banda chain, where we will anchor in a small, protected bay in the lee of Gunung Api volcano.
Those of us who are brave and fit enough can start the day before dawn by climbing 640-metre-high Gunung Api, following a narrow track to be rewarded by a stunning view over the Banda Archipelago. After returning to the boat, we can snorkel over the area where the lava flowed into the sea during the 1988 eruption of Gunung Api. In the afternoon we will explore the village of Banda Neira, visiting Fort Nassau (1600), Fort Belgica (1611), some restored planters’ mansions, a church, a cemetery and other remains of the Dutch colonial era, all of which will give us a feel for the rich history of this place.
In the morning, we will explore Banda Besar, also known as Pulau Lonthor, the largest of the Banda Islands, to see the nutmeg plantations that have been coveted here since the 16th century. On the way we will pass Fort Hollandia, as well as some planters’ mansions from the old days. If time allows we can go snorkelling off Banda Neira to see the tiny brightly-coloured mandarinfish, and later in the afternoon we can snorkel off Pulau Pisang. In the early evening we will depart for the Gorong Archipelago.
We will wake up off the coast of Pulau Igar, an island in the north of the Watubela Archipelago, where we can enjoy some morning snorkelling and beach activities. At midday, we will continue north to Pulau Manawoka, and in the afternoon we can visit the friendly villagers of Amar Sekaru, who will happily guide us through their beautiful plantations. Near the village we will find the two little lakes of Sole, connected to the sea by a small tunnel. Swimming in these lakes and tunnel evokes the feeling of discovering an unknown planet. Overnight we will continue our journey to Pulau Daram in Raja Ampat.
We should arrive at the island of Daram by mid morning, allowing us the opportunity for some trekking, snorkelling, kayaking, stand-up-paddle-boarding and beach activities. At lunchtime we will continue to Pulau Farondi, northwest of Daram, where we can snorkel in the late afternoon. In the evening we will cruise to the nearby Tomolol (Tamulol) Bay on the east side of Misool (one of Raja Ampat's four main islands), where the Katharina will spend a quiet night at anchor.
In the morning we will explore the shallow waters and winding canals of Tomolol Bay in the tenders, followed by some beautiful snorkelling in the bay near Wagmag. After lunch we will visit the revered and magical Tomolol Cave, which opens to a massive, hidden lagoon, where we can swim or use the kayaks to explore the surroundings. Overnight we will cruise to the Nusela Islands north of Misool.
After visiting the village on Pulau Babi in the morning, we will explore the beautiful coral gardens in this area. The afternoon can also be used for snorkelling, water sports and beach activities near one of the many uninhabited islands. Overnight we will cruise to Batanta and anchor at the foot of Arefi Village, nestled on the north coast of the island.
After our days of marine exploration, the jungle-clad island of Batanta offers us a change of scenery and a chance to stretch our legs on an adventurous trek into the island’s interior. At Arefi Village, we will find local guides to escort us through the mangrove waters to the start point of our trek. A short walk along the riverbed brings us to a jungle waterfall complete with a refreshing pool for cooling off. At lunchtime, we will continue to the small island of Jerif, and in the afternoon we can do some snorkelling and we might even be lucky enough to spot some manta rays. In the evening we will cross to the south side of Waigeo Island.
Today will be an early start, setting out before dawn on a trekking and bird watching expedition near the village Sapokren in the hope of seeing the red birds of paradise performing their spectacular courtship dances. On the way back we should see many other birds native to the area. At lunchtime, we will cruise to the nearby island of Mioskon, which is ideal for snorkelling and water sports. After watching thousands of flying foxes crossing over to the main island of Waigeo at sunset, we will have a farewell party on board with the crew before heading to our final destination, the harbour of Sorong
In the morning we will bid farewell to the ship and her crew, and transfer to the airport of Sorong for the return flight to Bali, Jakarta or elsewhere.