Your flight arrives on the small island of Ternate, which is the capital of the North Maluku Province. Here, you will be met at the airport and transferred to the stately Ombak Putih, moored offshore of Ternate City. There will be time for you to get settled into your rooms and have a quick safety briefing as we enjoy an alfresco lunch and meet the other passengers and crew. In the afternoon we will venture into the city, which has retained its commercial and political importance as the administrative and trading centre of North Maluku. Of the four historically powerful spice sultanates, Ternate is the only one where the institution of the sultanate has survived uninterrupted. We will visit Fort Toluko built by the Portuguese, Fort Oranje built by the VOC (Dutch East India Company), and the ‘Kedaton,’ the palace of the Sultan of Ternate, with its rich collection of heirlooms. We will also see the impressive Fort Oranje built by the VOC (Dutch East India Company) and the probable site of the house where Wallace was living when he posted his essay on natural selection to Charles Darwin in 1858. This has been described by the President of the Indonesian Academy of Sciences as "the most important science history heritage site in Indonesia." After our tour we will move back to the boat ready to start our journey.
Today we will wake up just across from Ternate off the coast of Halmahera, with the mighty peaks of Ternate and Tidore as our dawn backdrop, ready to head ashore to the village of Dodinga after breakfast. This is the very place where Alfred Russel Wallace was staying when, in a fit of malarial delirium, he came up with the idea for the mechanism for evolutionary change. When he recovered he promptly wrote to Charles Darwin and set in motion the publication of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Dodinga is a pretty little riverside village with friendly people, colourful houses and the ruins of an old Portuguese fort, and its importance in the history of science cannot be understated. After spending some time with the villagers, sharing some fresh coconuts and enjoying their hospitality, we will head back to the boat for lunch and then go off for an afternoon of snorkelling and relaxation. We will head south later in the day ready for our first bird of paradise encounter the following morning.
We will rise at 3.00am, have coffee and snacks, and transfer to cars at Bastiong Village, which will drive us over the dividing range to Weda Reef & Rainforest Resort. Together with the local community, the owners of the resort manage a foundation for education and conservation of the primary forest and its wildlife. They are proud to be able to protect 700 hectares of primary jungle, home of the Wallace’s Standardwing bird of paradise, many other species of birds, and other wildlife. We will start our walk into the rainforest so that by 6am, we will be quietly below the trees used for courtship display by Wallace’s Standardwing bird of paradise. The polygamous males gather and perform a spectacular aerial display, each ‘parachuting’ with its wings and its vivid-green breast shield spread, and the wing ‘standards’ fluttering above its back. We’ll walk back to the road where we will have breakfast at a shelter before heading out for a morning of bird watching (hornbills, giant cuckoos, parrots, and possibly the Paradise-crow, another less spectacular species of Bird of Paradise). There might be a chance for a snorkel in Weda Bay before having lunch at the resort. After lunch there is an optional fieldtrip by car into the hills behind the resort to search for birds and insects, including one of Wallace's greatest discoveries, the Golden Birdwing butterfly, which he regarded as being “the finest butterfly in the world”. Those who would prefer a relaxing afternoon can stay at the resort until the others return, or go back to the boat.
We will wake up off the north shore of Bacan, another seat of Indonesia’s historic spice sultanates. We go exploring ashore at the isolated village of Geti or its neighbour Goro-Goro, walking up a rainforest-clad river valley. Bacan is where Alfred Russel Wallace discovered the golden birdwing butterfly and the giant mason bee, Chalicodoma pluto. We’ll keep a close watch for these and a host of species, some of them endemic, including parrots, cockatoos, lorikeets, hornbills, the elusive cuscus or a rare black macaque – the only monkey in Maluku. It’s the wrong side of the Wallace Line for monkeys; these ones were introduced from North Sulawesi.
In the morning we make landfall at the Pisang Islands. These tiny gems isolated in the vast waters of the Ceram Sea offer us a chance to relax and enjoy the sparkling white-sand beaches, clear waters, and vibrant reefs before making our way to the shores of West Misool.
Today we will try our best to see the Lesser Birds of Paradise displaying in the wild, an unforgettable experience for anyone lucky enough to see them. We will rise around 4am and have a quick breakfast and go ashore at Kapatcol, where local guides will be waiting for us to take us through the forest to hopefully see the birds as they dance around in their ‘lekking’ (courtship display) trees. We can make no guarantees, however, as we do not have them on a leash. We will have time for a look around the village and possibly a visit to the school and to learn about their way of life. Mid-afternoon we will set off to eastern side of Misool to Tomolol Bay.
This morning we will wake to see the sun rise over the picturesque chain of islands that makes up the eastern part of the Misool archipelago. The topography is typical of ‘karst dissolution,’ featuring a great number of tiny islets whose bases have been eroded over time by the relentless motion of the tides. After an early breakfast, our tenders will take us into the heart of the bay to see this partially submerged cave where it is possible to swim, snorkel or simply float while gazing up at the cavernous grotto adorned with astonishing stalactites. The more adventurous can swim or paddle through the dark waters to the other mouth of the cave. We will then move on to a mysterious jellyfish lake and swim amongst the many thousands of stingless animals: undoubtedly one of Raja Ampat’s most memorable activities. After returning to the ship, we will use our tenders to explore more of this impressive maze of karst islands, both above and below the surface, complete with mysterious skull cairns in sea-cave cemeteries, and prehistoric cave paintings, estimated to be anything between 3,000 to 5,000 years old and depicting various human figures and huge human palms, fish, and plants, tools and vessels.
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. We anchor at the foot of Arefi Village, nestled on the north coast of the island, here we can visit the village and the school, and what the children’s performance. For those who wish, IF THE TIDE IS RIGHT we will be able to take a short walk along the riverbed brings us to the first of two jungle waterfalls complete with a refreshing pool for cooling off. The fit and adventurous may choose to continue the uphill climb along the rocks to where a second, larger cascade awaits. After this, the boat will move to Dayang Island for another great snorkelling opportunity.
We will wake up in front of the island of Penemu, a dramatic location with a short hilltop climb to take in the amazing views. After some great snorkelling on the island’s reefs, we will set course for the tiny Aborek Island, where the local children will perform their traditional dances for us. We can also walk around the village and gain a sense of the Asai culture, which is still kept very much alive by the villagers living in this isolated place. There's a chance that we may get to see some manta rays as we snorkel, but there are no guarantees.
Today will present another opportunity for keen naturalists, as we rise early and walk into the forest on a pre-dawn quest to spot the remarkable Red Bird of Paradise, one of the species that Wallace was most anxious to collect. With a little luck and the help of our knowledgeable guides, we will see this rare bird’s elaborate courtship display as dawn breaks over the forest canopy. After returning to the ship, we will turn our attention from the sky to the sea as the Ombak Putih makes her way through the Dampier strait, home of some of Raja Ampat’s premier reefs. If the currents are in our favour, we might see some of the area’s larger specimens of marine life, which are attracted to the strait’s nutrient-rich waters. We will spend the afternoon in Yenbeser village where Wallace spent some months and (if the tides are right) we’ll visit a faithful replica of Wallace’s small hut, which was built by the villagers using plans from FFI (Fauna & Flora International) and a grant from SeaTrek. We will also visit a nearby small island where a local man has set up a coconut crab 'sanctuary'. The island is home to a small number of these monsters (Birgus latro, the world's largest terrestrial arthropod), and you can get up close and personal with these magnificent yet docile beasts. Another late afternoon snorkel along a reef with some spectacular giant clams (the world's largest bivalve) will lead us into dinner at anchor on board, ready for an early morning venture for the Red Bird of Paradise.
Today we will rise early off Saporkren village. The dinghy will carry us across to the village in the dark and a local guide will take us on a short drive into the forest on a pre-dawn quest to spot the gorgeous Wilson’s Bird of Paradise. We hope that the efforts of our early start will pay off, enabling us to catch a rare and privileged sight of the bird’s elaborate courtship dance as the day breaks over the forest canopy. Back in the village there will be time to meet with the community and perhaps visit the school. We will be back on the boat by mid-morning and we will head to Yenbuba at Mansuar island for some snorkelling before lunch. This place known as the ‘fish bowl’ because the chance to see different types of fish around the bay. The boat will then move to Mioskon island for more snorkelling and the opportunity to watch a multitude of bats flying overhead just after sunset. Tonight we will have a farewell party.
Today is the end of our adventure, but there is still one last chance for a swim and a snorkel at a small offshore island before we cruise into the port. Once at anchor we will say goodbye to George, our crew and our sea-based home, the Ombak Putih before taking the tenders ashore where you will be transferred to the airport for your onward travel.