Around 1pm, you will be met at the airport and transferred to Gorontalo Harbour where our beautiful boat, The Katharina, will be waiting. Our tour leaders will give a safety briefing and you can get settled into your new home. Close to where we join the boat, at the seaside village of Botubarani, a small school of whale sharks are sometimes in residence. These gentle giants are the largest living fish species, and swimming alongside them is one of the ultimate bucket-list experiences. If they are here, we will most certainly get into the water and snorkel with them, but unfortunately we can offer absolutely no guarantees as to their presence. If there are no whale sharks, we will instead visit the Portuguese-built Fort Otanaha, from where we will have a beautiful view of the city of Gorontalo and the vast Limboto Lake. After dinner we will depart on an overnight crossing to the Togian Islands, a picturesque archipelago of 56 islands and inlets, located in the Tomini Bay. Formed by volcanic activity, the islands are a tropical paradise, covered with lush rainforests and surrounded by ancient coral reef formations.
At dawn there will be a special ceremony as we cross the Equator before reaching the volcanic island of Una-Una. Later, we will do an easy trek within the surroundings of Binaguna village, where we can expect to see a variety of birds. Before lunch we have the opportunity to snorkeling at Tanjung Kalama on the north side of the island, and then during lunch we cross over to Pulau Togian. In the afternoon we visit Danau (Lake) Mariona, on the north side of the island to snorkel with thousands of multi-hued stingless jellyfish. The rest of the afternoon will be spend at nearby paradisical spots such as Karina Bay for snorkeling and other kinds of water sports. In the evening we move to nearby Pulau Malenge.
We will set out as dawn for a trekking and bird-watching excursion on Pulau Malenge. We will start our four-hour walk from Tanjung Malenge, on the southwest side of the island, and end up on the north side. Mid morning, we will take the dinghies to go snorkelling at the famous Atoll Hotel California Reef, north of Pulau Malenge. In the afternoon we can visit a sea gypsy village on the south side of Pulau Talatakoh. These are the Bajao people who build their homes on stilts over the sea. Historically, Indonesia has had many nomadic tribes often referred to as ‘sea-gypsies’ due to the fact that they mainly travelled and lived in boats. On Talatakoh we will get a glimpse of how the formerly nomadic Bajau have adapted to life in a static village. Nevertheless, still being so close to the water, the tribe’s dependence on the sea is not lost. Their children are introduced to the sea at a young age and grow accustomed to living and playing within the ocean environment. We will visit a sea gypsy village and climb a hill on Pulau Papan, east of Pulau Malenge; there is good snorkelling nearby. We will cruise overnight to Banggai Island.
In the morning we will tour the village of Banggai using bentor (motorised pedicab) transport. We will visit the market, the Sultan’s Palace, a grave of kings of the past, and the ceremonial house (Rumah Adat) of one of the main indigenous tribes. At the harbour we might see the beautiful Banggai cardinal fish, hovering in groups in the calm shallows. The tranquil bays of Banggai and its neighbouring islands are the only places on Earth where you can see these tiny, exquisite fish in their natural habitat. Sadly, they may soon be gone from the wild because they are being collected for the aquarium trade faster than they can reproduce in nature. In the afternoon, we will have ample time for water sport activities near Tanjung Mosongan, southwest of Banggai, with its beautiful shallow reef and a waterfall that cascades directly into the sea. We might also cross over to Pulau Bandang, which has a nice beach and a lovely reef. In the late afternoon we will cruise to the Sulawesi mainland to the Morowali National Park.
At dawn we will have the opportunity for some interesting trekking through the Morowali National Park to find the isolated Wana tribe in the forest. From the village, we will return to the beach using longboats across a fast running river, an unforgettable experience. Later, we will set off on an overnight cruise to Pulau Padei in the Manui Archipelago.
In the morning we can enjoy some splendid snorkelling in front of Pulau Padei Kecil. After this, we will visit the well-organised sea-gypsy village of Samarengga on Pulau Padei Besar. Hopefully we will have time to do some more snorkelling at the beautiful reef here before departing for the beautiful Wakatobi National Marine Park, famous for its colourful coral reefs, white-sand beaches, mangrove forests, traditional weaving villages, blacksmiths and historical ruins.
Arriving at Wangi-Wangi, the main island of Wakatobi, we will tour around the island, visiting the capital Wanci, a seaweed farm, and a traditional weaving community. In Desa Liya, we can see the impressive remains of Benteng Lya Togo, a fort with a mosque on the compound. If time allows, we can also take a look at the interesting ruins of Benteng Mandatitonga Fort. Wakatobi is widely recognised as having the highest number of reef and fish species in the world, so later we will cruise to Pulau Hoga, were we can experience some superb snorkelling in the afternoon. We might even have time to visit the partly reconstructed Benteng Ollo, another fort with a mosque inside, on Pulau Kaledupa. In the evening we will head further south to Pulau Tomia.
We will start the day with snorkelling at the Wakatobi Resort House Reef of Pulau Tomia, later cruising to Binongko Island to visit a village famous for its blacksmiths (known as Tukang Besi). Here we can watch them making machetes (parang). After lunch we will depart on an overnight passage to the distant island of Kakabia.
Early in the morning we will arrive at Kakabia, and the Katharina will circle this bird island, allowing us the opportunity to watch thousands of sea birds (brown boobies, red footed boobies, frigate birds) flying around or sitting in the bushes and trees. During the rest of the day (depending of the weather), we will spend our time on the beach, snorkelling, swimming, kayaking, paddle-boarding, and seabird watching. In the late afternoon, we will commence our overnight crossing to the Bonerate Archipelago.
In the morning, we will visit the neat village of Lambego on Pulau Kalao. Here we can observe the building process of the traditional wooden boats that cross the Indonesian seas. Afterwards there will be fabulous snorkelling in front of this village, where there is a very attractive small beach. Those who are interested in bird watching can spend the morning trekking near the village. In the afternoon we can visit Pulau Tertera, on the north-east side of Bonerate, for either snorkelling or bird watching.
Waking up early, we will go ashore on Rinca Island for a ranger-led nature trek in search of the fearsome Komodo dragons. Rinca is also well known for its diverse wildlife, so we may spot monkeys, wild buffaloes and deer as well. From the top of the hills, the scenery is breathtaking. After returning to the boat, we will cruise to the gorgeous Pantai Merah ‘red-beach,’ which takes its name from the particles of red coral mingled with the sand. Here we will swim and snorkel over one of the richest reefs in Eastern Indonesia, relishing the unforgettable spectacle of the region’s many varieties of coral and marine life. With over 1000 species of fish in the waters of the national park, there is much more to this wildlife reserve than just dragons, and here we can enjoy hiking up the nearby hill, beachcombing, snorkelling or simply relaxing in the shade of the trees. Later we will cruise to Karang Makassar (Manta Point) to search for, and hopefully snorkel with, the giant manta rays that inhabit these waters; drifting on the current above one of these majestic creatures is an experience that will remain with you forever. We will then cruise to Kalong Island at sunset to witness the spectacular sight of hundreds of thousands of flying foxes emerging in a steady throng from the forest as they head to a feeding site on mainland Flores. After this, the crew will build a bonfire and prepare a beach barbecue as a final celebration of our memorable voyage.
We will wake up off the white sand beaches of Bidadari Island have breakfast and then head off for a very short cruise to Labuan Bajo. At about 9am we will leave the boat for a trip to the village of Melo. Here, local ‘strongmen’ will perform the ‘Caci,’ a ritual whip-fight between two rivals in which the players, each armed with a rattan shield and a whip, will try to hit each other while dancing to the rhythm of traditional acoustic instruments. The men of Western Flores are famous for this test of daring and skill, requiring lightning quick moves to dodge the infliction of a wound. The winner is loudly applauded and cheered by the village. Besides this, the cultural group will also showcase other traditional dances. After the performance, we will have lunch on the boat before transferring you to the airport for your flight back to Bali.