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From the Komodo dragons of Rinca and the marine life of the Wakatobi National Park, to the seabird colonies of the Banda Sea and the nutmeg forests of the Banda Islands, this exceptional 12-day cruise with Gert de Jong will introduce you to abundant wildlife above and below the water, masses of seabirds, remote island cultures and the illustrious history of the spice trade as we voyage through the the islands and seas of the Coral Triangle, home to some of the most diverse marine life on the planet. The Banda Sea is also a major migration route for many whale species, which we hope to encounter en route. The diversity of the Indonesian islands is vast; on some islands, tropical forests climb from mangrove encrusted coastlines to mountain slopes. On others, parched savannah thrives, coral reefs line tranquil atolls filled with fish and marine life, volcanoes and seamounts rise dramatically out of the sea, remnants of colonial history crumble and fade, and countless small communities of many cultures spread far and wide across the various archipelagos. Indonesia’s remote and uninhabited islands support regionally and globally important breeding colonies of at least 15 seabird species. Colonies are usually situated on islands, cliffs or headlands, which mammals have difficulty accessing. Seabirds are a vital component of the marine ecosystems of the Banda and Flores Seas, and their presence serves as a good indicator of the health of the wider marine ecosystem. The seabirds also play a valuable traditional role as indicators of fish shoals, and as such are of great economic importance to the local fishermen of the region. Nowadays, however, many species are threatened by human activity, while predation by invasive rats ranks among the top dangers. In the company of Gert de Jong, an inveterate seabird expert who is looking at ways to protect the last remaining seabird breeding islands of Indonesia, you will have the opportunity to participate in a conservation project aimed at recording the numbers of frigate birds, boobies and terns on the islands of Kakabia, Moromaho, Manuk and Gunung Api.
The Expert's Advice
In addition to leading the monitoring of seabird habitat, searching for dugongs, spotting whales and other endemic wildlife, Gert will be giving a series of lectures, talks, briefings and showing a couple of short films over the course of the cruise on the following topics:
- Searching for Seabirds in Indonesia
- Whales & Dolphins in Indonesian Waters
- The Habitat and Habits of Dugong in Indonesia
- The Magnificent Underwater World of the Coral Reef
- The Misunderstood Mangrove
- Geology of the Ring of Fire
- History of the Dutch in Indonesia
- The Lure of Spice in the East Indies
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 know the best routes to take to ensure you arrive on time. We only book with IATA-approved airlines that have met with international standards of safety and dependability. Except for Bali, transfers to and from local airports to the boat are also included. If you are booking flights by yourself, please do not book any flights before checking with us first. Our first and last day programmes rely on strict time scheduling, so please confirm with us to ensure that you arrive and depart at your destination with plenty of time to spare and to avoid disruption to other guests' schedules.
When you arrive in Labuan Bajo, we will meet you and transfer you to the harbour, where you will be welcomed aboard the Ombak Putih. You will have plenty of time to settle in and get acquainted with the crew and fellow passengers over lunch as we cruise to the island of Rinca in the heart of the Komodo National Park. From the ranger station of Loh Buaya, we will set off on a ranger-led nature trek in search of Komodo dragons, which are indigenous to this small group of islands. Rinca is well known for its diverse wildlife, so we may spot monkeys, wild buffaloes, deer and some endemic birds as well. From the top of the hills, the scenery is breathtaking, and after our trek, we will find a quiet spot for a swim and a snorkel, before heading northeast to Bonerate.
We will wake up at Bonerate in the middle of the Flores Sea. Here, we will visit the main village with its sandy streets and houses built on stilts in typical Makasserese style, and on the beach we may be able to observe the construction of the elegant Lambo boats. Afterwards we can swim, snorkel and enjoy the beautiful beaches and reefs at the northwest side of the island. Later we’ll continue cruising in a northeasterly direction for Kakabia.
Today we will drop anchor off the little island of Kakabia for a day of bird counting, exploring, swimming and snorkelling looking out for sea turtles and dugongs. We will take the tenders and go ashore, and we can expect to see frigate birds and red-footed boobies.
Day four heralds our arrival in the Tukang Besi archipelago, also known as Wakatobi, which is world famous for its pristine coral reefs. We will have two days to wander around this uniquely diverse ecologic area inhabited by a tribe of daring seafarers, shipbuilders and maritime traders. We will look for small coves and inlets and the best soft corals; we will meet fishermen, watch the local blacksmiths (tukang besi) at work high up on steep rock plateaus, and visit local markets. As always we will be on the lookout for the perfect spot for a beach barbecue. While we are in the Wakatobi National Reserve, we should see pods of dolphins – both spinner dolphins and spotted dolphins inhabit these waters, and we may even be lucky enough to see pilot whales, sperm whales or even the rare beaked whales. In the evening we will depart for Moromaho Island.
We will wake up to the view of Moromaho. This coral island is surrounded by an expansive flat reef that can only be crossed at high tide on a small boat or kayak. On and around the island, there is a large, old coconut plantation, great reefs and mangroves to explore. We can swim, snorkel, bird watch and bird count (we should see parakeets), and there is a stable colony of breeding red-footed boobies and roosting great frigate birds on the island. Situated in the mangroves, the colonies have to deal with a certain amount of disturbance and exploitation by plantation workers who live and work on the island for a few months each year. They use the mangroves for wood, and also collect eggs and birds. Several species of migrating shore birds from both Asia and Australia winter here; the island is a breeding ground for green turtles, and there are also megapodes breeding here and small fruit bats. In the afternoon, we will embark on our longest leg of the cruise, our journey to Gunung Api in the middle of the Banda Sea.
Day 6 & 7
Gunung Api sits alone in the middle of the Banda Sea, and has a large, noisy colony of seabirds – predominantly frigate birds and tropical gannets, and the curious young birds will circle and swoop down and around the boat. There are many volcanoes in Indonesia named Gunung Api, which quite simply means ‘fire mountain.’ This Gunung Api is a huge, four-kilometre-high seamount, but almost all of it is submerged, and we will only see the top 300 metres above the surface. The volcano is active, with smoking vents around the crater. Most striking is the increase of breeding birds on Gunung Api; the vegetation here has been increasing since the beginning of the 20th century as have the number of suliform seabirds. Renewed vegetation creates a breeding habitat that results in an increased population of boobies and frigate birds. The volcano is also home to red-footed boobies, brown boobies, masked boobies, shearwaters, terns, frigates, brown noddies and red-tailed tropic birds, and for some reason the surrounding arehome to a multitude of banded and olive sea snakes. The red-footed boobies and frigate birds nest in the trees, while the brown boobies and red-tailed tropicbirds breed under trees and in the crevices of rocks.
Gunung Api remains very inaccessible; it still has no introduced rats, and as a result it is pristine and unspoiled, with a biodiversity that is unique in Southeast Asia, so it has to be strictly protected. There is no beach or suitable landing spot, so we will only be able to circumnavigate the island in the tenders. The two days that we spend here will be very relaxing, a time for swimming, snorkelling and enjoying the tropical sun. And, of course, bird watching and bird counting. Towards the end of the second day we will depart towards to the Lucipari archipelago.
The Lucipari Archipelago consists of a group of four wooded islands, which are uninhabited, but occasionally visited by fishermen from Buru and Ambon. These volcanic outcroppings in the northeastern part of the Banda Sea are populated by terns and spoonbills and several other bird species including the orange-footed scrub fowl, the Nicobar pigeon and the pink-headed imperial pigeon, as well as salamanders, crabs and butterflies, all living in perfect harmony and an apparent absence of fear, reminiscent of the Galapagos. We will spend some time wandering and pondering this secluded space.
Our arrival in the renowned Banda Archipelago generates a true sense of historical excitement. These islands, which were once the world’s only source of nutmeg and mace, are among the highlights of Indonesia; famous for their beauty and cultural heritage from the time of the Dutch and English colonisation. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the demand for the aromatic nutmeg, which was believed to be a cure for the bubonic plague, spurred exploration and shaped colonial empires with European traders selling it at a 6,000 percent markup, making it worth more than its weight in gold. The natural splendour of these islands contradicts the brutality that engulfed them during the 17th century when the Dutch sought a total monopoly on the nutmeg trade and the local people resisted. Despite their illustrious and well-documented history, the Banda Islands are a place that time seems to have forgotten. Today they retain an aura of mystery, allure and astonishing remoteness, with a quiet colonial ambience and an exceptional biodiversity that makes this destination truly special.We will anchor in a sheltered bay off Gunung Api and then go by tender to visit Banda Neira, the major village in the Bandas, and stroll through the old town visiting old fortresses and admiring plantation mansions from the past.
Day 10 & 11
These days will be filled with visits to a few of the other islands in the group, perhaps the very small island of Run – which the English traded with the Dutch for Manhattan – as well as the islands of Ai and Hatta, where we will see what remains of the Dutch colonial houses and land parcels known as ‘perken’ that were handed to Dutch planters – ‘perkeniers’ – to manage. We will see more forts, as well as churches, cemeteries and nutmeg plantations. Here, the evergreen nutmeg trees – identifiable by the hundreds of ripening yellow fruits that hang from their branches – grow randomly in the shade of the magnificent kenari trees, which themselves yield an almond-like nut locally used in confectionary and sauces. In these rocky backwaters, we will feel on a par with the pioneering adventurers; nutmeg and mace can be seen drying in the sun outside nearly every village home. Being in the middle of the Coral Triangle we will also have several opportunities to explore the pristine waters and bountiful reefs of the islands. We invite the fit and ambitious to make an early morning ascent of Banda’s Gunung Api volcano. This is perhaps the most famous of the Banda Sea ‘Ring of Fire’ volcanos. First recorded in the 14th century, it last erupted in 1988. While this is a challenging climb up a narrow track to an elevation of about 640 metres, the reward when reaching the top of the ‘Fire Mountain’ is well worth the effort and you can revel in a stunning and unforgettable view. When it is time to depart for Ambon, we will navigate through the ‘Sonnegat’ (sun’s gap) between Bandaneira and Gunung Api, perhaps under the escort of a ‘Kora-Kora’ sea canoe, rowed by over a dozen muscled men and used in ancient times to attack the invading colonists.
After an early morning arrival in the Bay of Ambon, we will have a short sightseeing tour of the city and we will visit Fort Victoria, another fort dating back to colonial days. We will then say farewell to the captain and crew of the Ombak Putih before being transferred to the airport for our onward journey.
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Gert De Jong
In 1990, Gert de Jong lived in the Moluccas for six months as a student in marine biology studying dugongs and seagrass. He fell in love with the oceanic islands of eastern Indonesia and its people. He then worked as an ecology consultant in studies on marine mammals, and as a teacher of biology in Amsterdam. In 2008, he started a conservation project for the seabirds that were breeding on remote Indonesian islands. For pan-tropical seabirds, such as frigate birds, there are only a few islands left of refuge on which they can breed in Southeast Asia. Since 2012 Gert has worked as an independent researcher studying swifts in Amsterdam during their breeding season, and since 2015, he has been continuing the Indonesian seabird project, to study and protect the unique island habitats in the Flores and Banda Seas.