This unique itinerary is enhanced by descriptions and presentations by the Australian author Ian Burnet who spent 30 years living, working, and traveling in Indonesia. Experience a fascinating look at the colonial history of Indonesia and its role in the international spice trade during the 17th century. Travel in a eastward arc capturing the maritime route of the early colonials who traversed the Indonesian waters in search of the precious spices found within this small band of islands. Mr. Burnet lends his expertise and transports you back in time as you learn about historic outposts, visit the colorful native villages, experience the marketplaces, and smell the aroma of the spice orchards. Swim and snorkel in some of the richest and most magical waters in the world.
Visit Larantuka, the capital of Flores and a central Catholic city
Explore the Forgotten Islands, isolated from the rest of of the world
Swim and snorkel in the ‘gin-clear’ waters that make this region famous
Discover the volcanic string of islands known as Indonesia’s Ring of Fire
Arrive in Maumere and organize your transfer from Maumere Airport to the harbor where the ship is anchored and waiting. If you arrived the previous day, there is time in the morning for a tour of the small village of Watublapi to enjoy a village dance and see a demonstration of the local women’s traditional weavings. The 45-minute drive to the village is spectacular. Watublapi is a small community in the Sikka district well known for its fine traditional ikat weaving. Whereas many other local weaving communities have switched to industrially spun yarn and chemical dyes for the sake of saving time and money, the weavers of Watublapi still use the traditional, handspun yarn made out of local cotton, as well as local natural dyes. When all the guests have arrived and settled in their cabins, weigh anchor and navigate the Cape of Flowers (Cabo de Flores), so named by a Portuguese expedition crew in the early 16th century, and head for the port of Larantuka. En route, enjoy your first swim and snorkel in these beautiful waters.
In the morning moor close to the town of Larantuka, the capital of Flores Timur and a central hub for early colonization and Catholic clerical activities. There you will see the five Catholic churches and the ‘Stations of the Cross’ built along the waterfront. Later cross the Flores Strait and visit the village of Lohayong on the island of Solor; a lot of the villagers here make a living by processing sea salt. The salt production is seasonal, but with a bit of luck, be able to witness the process. After that, visit the Ruins of Fort Henricus built by Dominican Friars in 1566 to protect their spiritual work from their enemies. Early Portuguese sandalwood traders left this task to the missionaries. The fort was later taken over by the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC). Back on the ship, enjoy a beautiful cruise through the Solor Strait with the Lili Boleng volcano on the island of Adonara as the backdrop as you navigate to Lembata Island.
The next destination is the village of Lamalera, on the island of Lembata, which is one of the few remaining places in the world where villagers hunt whales using traditional methods. Bordering the Timor Straits, the village is in an area long recognized as hunting grounds for the 19th-century British and American whaling voyagers. Since at least 1836 these villages have taken various species of whales and today, these traditions remain to support the village. On the beach observe the small craft used for hunting the sperm whales and perhaps preparation for their hunt if whales are in the vicinity. This small-scale hunting (no more than 25 per year) is considered sustainable, and the local economy has some dependency upon it. Join a short trip on one of the boats and admire the harpooners standing on the edge of the bowsprit. In the afternoon cruise further east, trailing this chain of increasingly remote islands to Alor.
In the morning, reach the enchanting bay of Kalabahi on Alor. Visit a traditional village in the mountains where you may witness a war dance around the mesbah, the ritual heart of the village. Here see the moko drums, which for centuries have been part of a wife’s dowry and are thought to originate from Indochina. Alor also produces Ikat cloth famous for its intricate patterns and bright colors. In the evening proceed further east and reach the western Daya Islands in the southern Banda Sea.
Today, as you cross between the Lesser Sunda Islands group into the Moluccas, you will enter the region of Barat Daya, meaning ‘south-west.’ Known as the ‘Forgotten Islands,’ this group of islands is so far off the beaten path that it is largely isolated from the rest of Indonesia and from the rest of the world. The first island you will encounter is Kisar. Together with Timor, Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi, and most of Maluku, the Barat Daya Islands are part of Wallacea, a biogeographical designation for a group of mainly Indonesian islands separated by deep water straits from both the Australian and Asian continental shelves. The islands of Wallacea have several species of mammals as well as a mix of flora and fauna from both Asia and Australia. The island of Kisar is only 10km by 10km, but has been active in recent geologic history, as there are several uplifted sea terraces around its margin, with the highest being 120 metres above sea level. There is an old Dutch fort on the island which was abandoned in the late 1700s and some of the islanders are directly descendent from the 16 soldiers who manned the fort and the eight soldiers who remained on the island after the fort was abandoned.
This morning your destination is Romang Island, where you can witness the lives of villagers in this remote region of the archipelago. While the island has recently been largely occupied with mining interests, most of the people living on Romang are farmers. They plant corn, yams, cassava, sago, vegetables, and dry rice. Back on the boat enjoy lunch while cruising eastward to the tiny island of Mapora and spend the rest of the afternoon snorkeling and beachcombing.
In the morning reach Damar Island. The next destination is the volcanic string of islands known as Indonesia’s ‘Ring of Fire.’ This several-thousand-kilometer chain begins at Java in the west and ends at the Banda Islands to the south of Ambon. Damar is volcanic in nature and was one of the few islands outside of the Bandas that produced nutmeg. All the trees were destroyed by the Dutch East Indies Company in 1648 to further monopolize the spice trade. Visit a small village consisting of simple huts made from the leaves of the sago palm. Staple foods of the locals are sweet potatoes (ubi), bananas, and fish. Birds abound in the coastal landscapes with the endemic Damar flycatcher being the preeminent avifauna species.
Continuing on our way to the historically famous Banda Islands, pass four spectacular volcanic islands, each standing alone and jutting from the clear blue ocean. Known as stratovolcanoes, they are steep-sided and built up of alternating layers of lava and ash or cinders due to successive millenniums of periodic eruptions. For now, however, they express a quiet beauty for you to enjoy. Stop at Serua, the last in this extended string of volcanoes, which is home to one of the few villages in the chain. Go to this rarely visited village where you can observe the remotest of Indonesian cultures. Since the eruptions in the 1960s and 70s, many of these island populations have migrated to other parts of the Moluccas. Today, reach the small island of Manuk, which is a bird and marine sanctuary, uninhabited by humans. Frigate birds, gannets, and other marine birds have their nests in the trees. If the tide allows, make a landing and go in for an up-close look at the birds and the wildlife. In the late afternoon, proceed towards the Spice Islands.
Today approach Run, the first of the Banda Islands, and experience the delightful fragrance of nutmeg in the air. The islands have had a long and fascinating history, including being among the most expensive real estate in the world. Spices, foreign traders, wars, and earthquakes have all featured heavily in their chequered past. An amazing historical footnote is the fact that in 1667, under the Treaty of Breda, this small island was ceded by the English to the Dutch in exchange for Manhattan. Go ashore on a beautiful beach to meet with the villagers. A short walk brings you to Fort Revenge which was built by the English before being captured by the Dutch. Behind the fort explore your first nutmeg plantation, where the evergreen nutmeg trees are identifiable by the hundreds of ripening yellow fruits that hang from their branches. During lunch, the Ombak Putih moves to the main Island of Bandaneira. This beautiful, quaint little colonial outpost on the island of Neira is the capital town of the Banda Islands and is full of relics of the colonial era: forts, cannons, and beautiful Dutch-colonial homes. Enjoy an afternoon strolling through the old town viewing the restored planters’ mansions, fortifications, and churches and get a feel for its incredible history. Find that Fort Belgica built by the Dutch East India Company was an early blueprint of the Pentagon. The population here is an interesting mix of Malay, Arab, Dutch and Melanesian. At the end of the day spend a quiet evening under the stars in the lagoon.
Over the course of the morning, cross over to Lonthor, the largest island in the Banda chain. Visit the fortress Hollandia and the nutmeg plantation of the last ‘perkenier’ on the island. The perkeniers were the small land-holder farmers who managed the plantations for the Dutch; each land parcel was known as a ‘perk’ (plural: ‘perken’). By midday, find your way back to the Ombak Putih for lunch. The afternoon is filled with snorkeling the spectacular kaleidoscopic waters for which the Banda Islands are so famous.
The morning is free to spend at your leisure in Banda Neira. Make an early morning ascent of the Gunung Api volcano. While this is a challenging climb up a narrow track to an elevation of about 600 meters, the reward when reaching the top of the ‘Fire Mountain’ is well worth the effort. Revel in a stunning and unforgettable view over the Banda Sea, the surrounding islands, and the crater itself. When it is time to depart for your final stop in Ambon, navigate through the ‘Sonnegat’ (sun’s gap) between Bandanaira and Gunung Api, most likely under the escort of one or more ‘Kora-Kora’, which are long sea canoes, rowed by over a dozen muscled men and used in ancient times to attack the invading colonists.
Day 12: Ambon Island | Disembark
Wake to find the Ombak Putih anchored in the harbor on the island of Ambon where the Portuguese arrived in 1513 to establish their regional authority. The Portuguese never managed to control the local trade in spices and failed in their attempts to establish their authority over the Banda Islands, being driven out by the Dutch in 1605 when the Dutch set up the headquarters of the VOC. Ambon therefore has a rich and colorful history having been within the center of the world-altering spice trade. After breakfast, depending upon flight departure times, enjoy a morning program to see the town, the markets, and explore Ambon’s history. A timely departure in the provided transportation transfers everyone to the Ambon Airport for their selected onward destinations
Our guide and driver were very good with their knowledge and were very helpful with our questions. It was a very pleasant visit that would have been impossible to do on our own. Hotels and restaurants were fantastic. The special places we got to go to, like the kitchens, were great. Enjoyed the entire trip!