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Spice Traders to Bugis Shipbuilders

Example 12 Day Cruise aboard Ombak Putih
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This 12-day cruise takes in some of the most remote – and beautiful – of the archipelago’s 17,000 islands. A leisurely passage transits the Maluku Islands from Ternate and the Sula Archipelago to Sulawesi – the alluring island draped like an orchid across the equator. This voyage over ancient monsoon sailing routes on a traditional wind ship, the Ombak Putih, puts you in touch with the true nature of this island nation, a maritime crossroads of sea-borne trade, migration and cultures. The story of rare spices, traders, slavers and pirates, ship builders and sea-gypsies, is unraveled day-by-day by special guest lecturer from the Australian National Maritime Museum, Jeffrey Mellefont. 

Day-by-Day Summary

Day 1 : Ternate | Embark
Day 2 : Tidore Island
Day 3 : Bacan Island
Day 4 : Mangole
Day 5 : Mangoli Island, Sula Archipelago
Day 6 : Taliabu Island, Sula Archipelago
Day 7 : Baggai, Maluku Island
Day 8 : South Baggai
Day 9 : Morowali National Park
Day 10 : Sulawesi Island
Day 11 : Southeast Sulawesi
Day 12 : Kendari | Disembark


  • Explore Tidore, a perfect volcanic cone rising from tropical seas
  • Discover a different mother-language and culture on every island you visit
  • Visit the white-sand of Belang Belang & snorkel its unique crystal waters
  • Play on the ship’s paddle boards and kayaks


Ombak Putih

Places Visited


Trip Type

  • Small Ship

Activity Level


Trip Snapshots

Boy on wooden fishing boat Sanur Beach Bali A local market filled with delicious fresh foods. Breathaking view of Kahatola Waterfall in Ternate Nutmeg Harvest (Myristica fragans)

Day 1 Ternate | Embark

Arrive at Ternate's airport and be escorted to board Ombak Putih in her spectacular anchorage beneath towering Mount Gamalama. Your tour leader briefs you on all the activities and safety aspects of the cruise and introduces your friendly and helpful crew, recruited from all around Indonesia. Depending on arrival times, there are many possibilities for sightseeing in Ternate – one of the four, historically powerful Moluccan spice sultanates and still a vital trading outlet for fragrant cloves, nutmeg, and mace. There’s the house of the great English naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who lived on this island 1858–61, posting his crucial ‘Letter From Ternate’ on the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection to Charles Darwin. Nearby are the splendid 17th-century, pagoda-style royal mosques, and the grand keraton (palace) of Ternate’s surviving sultan. Attractive, tidily restored Fort Tolukko introduces the turbulent centuries of spice wars. Near old lava flows, a spectacular volcanic crater lake is a source of local legends and home (says a local guide) to an elusive white crocodile! Each day you enjoy sunset cocktails and dinner on board, as you continue your journey southwards and westwards towards the island of Sulawesi.

Day 2 Tidore Island

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Arrive at the neighboring island of Tidore. Like Ternate, it’s another perfect volcanic cone rising from tropical seas, with plantations of the graceful clove tree adorning its slopes. Originating only in these few islands, cloves were so rare and expensive that local sultans and European powers fought for centuries to monopolize them. On your way around this picturesque island of gaily painted village houses, visit a blacksmith working ancient piston-bellows to forge knives and machetes. Stop at port Soa Siu, dominated by two strongholds: the Portuguese Fort Torre built in the 1570s, and Fort Tahula, established by the Spanish in 1610 to menace their Dutch rivals across the strait. They overlook the rebuilt keraton (palace) of the Sultan of Tidore with its opulent throne room, stunning views across the strait to mountainous Halmahera island, and museum of royal heirlooms and local culture. Visit a vibrant local market for handicrafts, and a seashore monument marking the 1521 visit of Magellan’s battered fleet on the first-ever circumnavigation of the world.

Day 3 Bacan Island

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Sail by night crossing the equator and awaken in the southern hemisphere at Bacan Island, another seat of the historic spice Sultanates. Leave behind the larger towns and now begins your series of visits to remote villages accessible only by sea, where outsiders like you rarely if ever venture. On virtually every island you visit people speak a different mother-language, but the guides communicate easily in Bahasa Indonesia, the seafarers and traders lingua-franca that became the national language, taught to and used by everyone. After breakfast, go ashore at Goro-goro village. Local guides lead you through groves and forests to a riverbed winding through precipitous, jungle-covered limestone karst formations, where you lookout for black macaque monkeys and hornbill birds that dwell in the forests. After lunch, motor around the coast of Bacan to Kusu, a small islet that’s uninhabited except for a few fishermen’s huts built on stilts over the water’s edge, for an afternoon of snorkeling from Ombak Putih’s modern rigid-bottom inflatable tenders under the watchful supervision of the on-board dive master.

Day 4 Mangole

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
In the morning anchor off a deserted, white-sand island, Belang Belang, and go ashore to spend the morning swimming, snorkeling its crystal waters, or playing on the ship’s paddle boards and kayaks. Crew are always willing to launch them and give you some tuition if you’ve never tried these water sports before. Over lunch on board, move to anchor off nearby Obi Latu island. Here go ashore at the isolated village of Manatahan, accessible only by boat. It was settled just a few generations ago by roaming Butonese mariners from their islands to the southeast of Sulawesi. Manatahan nestles beneath steep hills thickly covered with attractive groves of clove trees. The picturesque channels around Obi Latu, like all those you have just sailed through, once were dotted with the sails of local spice trading galleys, Portuguese caravels, Spanish galleons, Dutch jachts, and English pinnaces. Now, instead, encounter locally built outrigger fishing craft, sampans or timber island ferries and work boats, and perhaps even a rare Butonese lambo sloop still trading under sail.

Day 5 Mangoli Island, Sula Archipelago

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Today reach the remote Sula Archipelago, and now transit a part of the diverse Indonesian archipelago where you are least likely to encounter a single foreign visitor! These islands were once traversed by formidable raiding galleys called kora-kora, their twin outriggers lined with paddlers when the wind failed. Swift kora-kora were favored by pirates and slavers; today the name lives on in the form of large ceremonial canoes propelled by banks of paddlers and found in parts of Maluku. Sail by daylight along the southern shore of Mangoli Island where you may pause in the Bay of Vesuvius. Crossing to Taliabu Island, go ashore at a small Muslim village called Waikoka, and meet the village head. It is customary to pay your respects and ask permission to visit. Generally the entire village takes an interest and hordes of children likely accompany you. This village was hit by a tsunami 15 years ago, and many relocated half-a-kilometer inland. Reach the new settlement by a picturesque path winding through extensive coconut groves.

Day 6 Taliabu Island, Sula Archipelago

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Still transiting the sheltered southern shore of Taliabu, anchor off Mantarara Village. Local boats can find sheltered seas on either side of the Sula Archipelago, depending on the season… as did the traders of old, carrying spices and valuable forest or sea products such as damar resin, rattan, beche-de-mer and pearl shell on their way to larger trading centers. Mantarara is populated by Kadai people, one of three language groups of Taliabu. It’s a Christian hamlet, with Catholic and Protestant churches standing side by side. Expect a warm welcome, as they’re unlikely to have had foreign visitors since your ship’s last visit – when they told you were the first foreigners ever to visit them. The whole village turns out to present dances with origins in their pre-Christian past, including the dramatic mock-battle of the cakalele war dance. Refreshed by young coconuts (and betel nut for the adventurous), visit a hot spring and, if the tide is right, take your outboard tenders to explore a forest river that flows over sand bars into the sea.

Day 7 Baggai, Maluku Island

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
As you leave the Maluku province and approach the big island of Sulawesi, dozens of large and tiny islands of the scenic Banggai group provide an unusual exploration opportunity that’s still remote and very little-known. Today go ashore in Banggai’s main port, a lively hub for colorful inter-island ferries. Enjoy a comfortably paced tour in chartered bentor – raffish two-passenger motorcycle becak or rickshaws that turn heads as your flotilla of foreigners motors through town. Visits include a bustling market and the modest timber keraton or palace of the local sultan. If possible visit an unusual, sacred community gathering-house, and meet the revered elder guardians of its pre-Islamic rituals and cult objects – happily co-existing with the mainstream mosques of this Muslim port town.

Day 8 South Baggai

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Today arrive in the Bay of Tolo for your first stop on the east coast of mainland Sulawesi, in its forested central province. The branches, arms or legs of the fancifully shaped island of Sulawesi – some liken it to a spider or a human figure – only drifted together between 3 and 5 million years ago, during the great Pliocene collision of the Southeast Asian and Australasian tectonic plates. Meet ranger-guides of the Morowali National Park, who accompany you in your tenders to the mouth of the Peo River to look for maleo, the megapode scrub fowl, in their casuarina forest habitat. They dig deep burrows in the hot beach sand to incubate the large single egg they bury half-a-meter down. Explore up-river the banks lined with luxuriant mangroves on a scale you’ve probably never seen. The afternoon is spent on a visit to Baturube, a neat coastal town with a mixed population of locals and migrants, churches and mosques, that’s still proud to have won a regional ‘tidy town’ contest a few years back.

Day 9 Morowali National Park

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Leave early with the ship’s tenders to visit Morowali National Park, home to the last indigenous tribe of Sulawesi. The semi-nomadic Wana people have a shamanistic, animist culture that’s unique in Indonesia. It’s based on shifting agriculture, hunting with blowpipes and snares, fishing and harvesting forest products such as rattan and damar. Morowali comprises lowland alluvial forest, mountain forest, swamp forest, mangrove forest and moss forest. Traverse some of these as your Wana guides lead you up-river and through dense forest (thankfully flat going, and with crew members carrying pre-packed lunches!) to reach a remote Wana village, far from government services and regulations. Talk to them about their lives and beliefs, through your guides. A big, tiring day but a memorable one! 

Day 10 Sulawesi Island

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Cruise down the mountainous eastern shore of Sulawesi to another small, isolated offshore group, the Padea Islands. Anchoring off Samaringa, a coral cay just a few hundred meters wide, take your outboard tenders across its fringing reef and spend the rest of the morning visiting the Sama-Bajo Village nestling beneath its coconut palms. On Samaringa they show you that they’re still exclusively sea people, fishing, farming seaweed, harvesting beche-de-mer or trochus pearl-shell. After lunch back on board, head to Labengke in a pretty cluster of hilly, jungle-clad islands, to snorkel and use the kayaks and paddleboards from a deserted white-sand beach.

Day 11 Southeast Sulawesi

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
On your final full day visit Pulau Wowoni, a big island just in front of the Bay of Kendari in Southeast Sulawesi. Step ashore to the seaside town of Kekea for a final ‘meet the people’ stroll around the town. Among other produce of the gardens and forests are breadfruit, copra, and cashews. On the beach inspect the catch as it’s landed from locally built koli-koli – the local word for a dugout canoe or sampan. Options for the afternoon include more snorkeling and – depending on the weather and wind – perhaps a final chance to get Ombak Putih’s lovely blue sails up again, to experience the joy of sailing and to ensure everyone goes home with great photos of the pinisi under full sail. The final night of your cruise always brings a great farewell party including barbequed seafood plus a concert and dance put on by your talented crew, who turn out not just to be great sailors but musicians and singers too! It’s either on board or ashore around a bonfire – depending again on weather and beach conditions – but wherever it’s held, it’s always a fitting celebration of a fantastic voyage.

Day 12 Kendari | Disembark

  • 1 Breakfast
Today reach Kendari, the small city and busy port that is the capital of Southeast Sulawesi. You've now entered the homelands of the Butonese people – Buton Island lies just a few kilometers to the south. Butonese are one of the noted seafaring groups of Indonesia (along with the better-known Bugis and Makassans of South Sulawesi). Their sailing prahus called ‘lambo’ roamed widely around Indonesia, carrying anything and everything from copra and live turtles to lumber and groceries for remote eastern islands like the ones you’ve been sailing through. You may have seen a traditional Buton sloop or two trading along your island route. Depending on your flight booking, there may be time for a last shore excursion to a really lively market near the shore. After farewells to the tour guides and crew, be transferred to the airport. 

Ombak Putih

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Cabin, Ombak Putih
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Cabin Deck
Cabin Deck. Spacious, air-conditioned twin-share cabins with twin bunks or double beds and private bathroom with toilet and hot shower.


- All rates are quoted in USD and represent cost per person, based on double occupancy.
- Cabins are available for single occupancy at 1.75 times the published rate.

Rates Include:
  • Accommodation in air-conditioned cabins with private shower and toilet
  • Full board, tea and coffee, soft drinks, mineral water
  • Excursions
  • Use of towels
  • Use of snorkeling gear
  • Experienced tour leader
  • Transfer to and from the ship in all harbors with the exception of Serangan Harbor, Bali
Rates Exclude:
  • Domestic airfares
  • Personal insurance
  • Social alcoholic beverages
  • Crew gratuities


  • 11 Breakfasts, 10 Lunches, 11 Dinners
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