Journey Log: Indonesia Voyage, 20 October - 5 November 2023

Journey Log: Indonesia Voyage, 20 October - 5 November 2023
November 2023

October, 20 2023 | Bali

Arriving in Bali, we settled into our luxurious resort overlooking the sea. Boasting tropical grounds that resembled a botanical garden, the tranquil property was set amid sparkling pools on a stunning stretch of beach.

Early this evening, we gathered for welcome drinks on the terrace, complemented by live music and mesmerizing Balinese dancing. Continuing upstairs to the dining area, we got acquainted during a buffet welcome dinner, during which Expedition Leader Brad Climpson shared details about the two days ahead before we set sail.

October 21, 2023 | Bali

Faced with an array of tempting excursions exploring this gem of an island, the only difficulty was choosing one. Then again, we also could relax at our elegant resort.

Some of us chose to visit Tirta Empul, a Hindu Balinese water temple named for a holy spring. After pausing for Balinese lunch overlooking the spectacular volcanic scenery of Mount Batur and Mount Agung, we proceeded to the traditional village of Penglipuran, known for its handicrafts, and Pura Kehen — a Balinese Hindu temple — at the base of a wooded hill in Cempaga.

Others began the day at Pura Taman Ayun in Mengwi, known for its breathtaking garden and traditional architectural features throughout its courtyards and enclosures. From there, it was on to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Jatiluwih, where we marvelled at its picturesque, terraced rice fields. After learning about the three main types of rice — red, black and white — produced and consumed on the island, we sat down to a tasty Balinese lunch within a bamboo grove on the slopes of Mount Batukaru. We then proceeded to traditional Pasar Candi Kuning, a market in Bedugul. There, we learned about — and sampled — a multitude of locally grown tropical fruit. Our last stop of the day was at Ulun Danu Beratan, a major Hindu Shaivite temple on the shores of Lake Bratan.

Those who embarked on our Land Rover adventure travelled to the Mount Batukaru region, From the comfort of our rugged vehicles, we navigated small backroads through rice fields and local villages, making stops along the way. At an altitude of 3,000 feet, we met up with fellow travellers for traditional Balinese lunch. Descending the mountain, we admired the scenery and visited the Besikalung Temple, donning sarongs to cover our lower bodies as a sign of respect.

Our last group enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and relaxing morning before setting out for southern Bali’s Bukit Peninsula — known for its idyllic beaches. Our first stop was a modern Balinese lunch with awe-inspiring views of the sand and sea through floor-to-ceiling windows. Fully sated, we then visited Balinese Hindu Uluwatu Temple. Passing mischievous monkeys, we proceeded to its amphitheatre for a dramatic Kecak dance performance about the love story of Rama and Sita, from the legends of Ramayana.

After an enriching day, we all returned to our resort for our last night ashore, excited about the thrilling voyage ahead.

October 22, 2023 | Bali

We had a leisurely start to the day, catching up on jetlag, enjoying the pool, strolling along the beach, or sitting down to a relaxed breakfast among friends and fellow travellers.

While our luggage was transferred to our ship, we embarked on an excursion through Denpasar, where small motorbikes moved in busy throngs, weaving their way between cars, trucks and buses like flocks of birds.

Arriving at the modern port of Benoa, we boarded our luxurious vessel, setting sail with the sunset. After an introduction to our ship, we met our attentive crew and talented A&K Expedition Team. Then, we enjoyed our first dinner aboard enroute to Komodo Island.

October, 23 2023 | Pulau Banta

We travelled nearly 200 nautical miles overnight enroute to Pulau Banta near Komodo National Park. As we sailed on through the morning’s equatorial heat, we enjoyed a talk on the early farmers of Southeast Asia. By early afternoon, we anchored in the Banta Islands, where steep, vegetated slopes of the ancient caldera gave way to delightful beaches.

Heading off to enjoy the splendid isolation of the coral reef fringing a volcanic island, we snorkelled and dove amid the clear coral garden teeming with a great diversity of fish. Some of us saw courting white damselfish, others black-backed butterflyfish and purplish-blue starfish. With so much life to watch beneath us, it was a fascinating afternoon in the water.

Once we were all back aboard elegant ‘Le Lapérouse,’ we set sail, bound for Loh Liang National Park, a natural habitat for Komodo dragons. On the way, our resident ornithologist shared insight into swiftlet, swift and swallow populations, as well as edible bird nests. Next, our geologist talked about the region’s spectacular volcanoes. The excitement during our delicious dinner was palpable — tomorrow, we set out in search of the largest lizard on earth.

October 24, 2023 | Komodo Island

A tropical sunrise welcomed us for an early start at Komodo National Park on the island of Komodo, where one of earth’s most extraordinary creatures resides.

Our pre-breakfast excursion ashore took us on walks of varying lengths through the island’s lowland forest and along the beach, where we encountered enormous Komodo dragons. The largest of living lizards, they can reach 10 feet in length and weigh upwards of 154 pounds.

After returning to ‘Le Lapérouse’ for breakfast, we proceeded to breathtaking Pantai Merah, one of the world’s seven pink sand beaches. There, many of us enjoyed a snorkel, admiring the amazing diversity of coral and fish species just offshore. Others instead took a relaxing stroll along the coral sand.

Back aboard our vessel, we spent a restful afternoon sailing the Flores Sea. In the late afternoon, our ornithologist gave an evocative talk on the region’s biodiversity. Soon, we were formally welcomed to the ship by Captain Thomas McCandless and his officers during a cocktail party on the pool deck. We then sat down to a delightful gala dinner as we made on our way to the Alor Archipelago.

October 25, 2023 | At Sea in the Alor Archipelago

A morning at sea was such a relaxing way to start the day, allowing us to wake whenever it suited us. We then breakfasted as the mood took us and settled in for an entertaining and educational morning against a stunning scenic backdrop of volcanic islands.

Our resident geologist gave a fascinating talk on the region’s plate tectonics and the Pacific Ring of Fire. Then, our marine naturalist and ornithologist reminded us of Komodo Island’s delights Expedition Leader Brad Climpson described shared details about our upcoming adventures on Alor Island.

Soon after lunch, we arrived in the multicultural port town of Kalabahi, situated at the head of a long inlet on the island’s southern coast. After residents greeted us with a performance, we met our local guides. Proceeding to a local museum, we admired traditional ikat textile and moko (metal drums), which serve not only as musical instruments but also as dowry gifts. From there, we continued to the local market, which brimmed with a wide array of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, betel nut, clothing and electronics.

Next, we paid a visit to a traditional village, which was the highlight of our day. As we learned about the traditions of the Abui people, we enjoyed a rhythmic dance performance with origins in New Guinea — including one that spiralled around a sacred tree. Ending the immersive experience, we observed rice-pounding firsthand; sampled rice wine; and engaged in retail therapy by purchasing local handicrafts.

Back aboard our ship, we traversed a 328-nautical-mile-path toward the Banda Islands, while partaking in an entertaining workshop on the betel “nut” — complete with a lesson on how to chew it.

October 26, 2023 | At Sea to the Banda Islands

Our voyage continued across the Banda Sea. On offer today were morning stretch classes, lectures, photography coaching and time on deck with our naturalists watching for birds and cetaceans.

During the early morning, we passed Gunung Api, an active complex volcano on the island of Sangeang, seeing tropicbird, booby and noddy close to our ship.

We then we attended a talk on the productivity of the region’s coral reefs, followed by a fascinating, contextual recap of the marine life we observed and the meanings of textiles in Indonesia.

A rare — and incredibly exciting — interruption to the morning’s plan came when several endangered pygmy blue whale repeatedly blew and surfaced.

Later, our photo coach shared inspiring images from past a journey through Indonesia, examples that were accompanied by helpful camera tips. Following was a presentation on the mating practices of birds familiar and unique.

Bound for Banda Neira in the Banda Islands, we eagerly anticipated our upcoming adventure in this one-time epicentre of the global spice trade.

October 27, 2023 | Banda Neira

For centuries, the Banda Islands were the heart of nutmeg and mace production, trading north to China, west to Arabia and beyond into Europe. Today, the Banda Archipelago — a cluster of 10 small, picturesque volcanic islands — resembles a sleepy, eastern Indonesian backwater.

As we entered the channel between islands, three long canoes filled with paddlers came to meet and escort us to the landing site. Once ashore, we enjoyed a music and dance performance and set off on a walking tour of the island.

Offering a window into contemporary life on these tropical islands, the tour also a step back in time, revealing the islands’ tumultuous history with the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Alongside our local guides, we explored hilltop, star-shaped Belgica Fort — built by the Dutch East India Company in 1611 — an effective defence against naval attacks.

Continuing to a nutmeg grove, we learned about the spice; gained insight into its role in history; and observed its red, net-like covering and edible outer husk firsthand. Strolling onward through narrow streets, we met uniformed children on their way to school; paused for fresh coconut juice and an array of local snacks; and participated in a cooking demonstration.

Our afternoon activity — a snorkel excursion off the tongue of a volcano’s lava flow — was spectacular. It was amazing to see how coral species colonized the previously barren, volcanic marine-scape.

Back aboard, our geologist gave a thought-provoking presentation on climate change in a warming world. As we made our way to the Kei Islands, we recapped the region’s winged wonders; the history and impact of Dutch East India Company; and the proliferation of coral reef fish inhabiting the sea.

October 28, 2023 | Kei Islands

Arriving at Pulau Ngaf this morning, we enjoyed a great morning dive and snorkel session over a pristine reef, abundant with mesmerizing coral and colourful fish. The diversity of coral alone — from mound-forming to branching — was baffling, with sea fans, sea stars and tunicates among them. As night-active fish species took shelter among the branches of stags-horn coral, fleeting, day-active species moved in mixed-species schools. Meanwhile, other species appeared to hover in place, allowing time to admire them in detail: tiny bright yellow fish; slightly larger deep blue fish; and larger species in a kaleidoscope of greys, greens, browns and blues. Not to be outdone, a gold and black banded krait— a species of elapid snake—slithered over the reef.

After lunch aboard, we set out for a diving and snorkelling adventure, followed by a stop ashore on Pulau Ngodan, its beautiful, white coral-sand beach fronted by shallow sea-grass beds. Beyond lay a multi-layered, multi-hued and multi-textured reef with more opportunities to admire the reef’s diversity.

Myriad tiny fish less than an inch long swarmed, gyrated and surged in the shallows. Occasionally chased by larger fish, they dashed beachward in swirling, smoke-like patterns. With so much to watch in the water, the afternoon passed in a flash — but not before our marvellous crew set up a floating bar just off the beach. As sunset approached, we enjoyed stylings of a live musical duo. Appreciating the tranquil view, we relaxed in the warm sea, sipping coconut juice or libations.

Bound for West Papua, we sat down to dinner, mindful of time passage in this tropical paradise.

October 29, 2023 | Aiduma Island

Met by a spectacular, tropical karst landscape, our day began in untouched Triton Bay, where we explored its spectacular features of erosion, from cut channels to sinkholes and caves.

Cruising by Zodiac, we admired the islands’ towering tropical vegetation, which clung to seaside cliffs shaped by rain and waves. Meanwhile, enormous Blyth’s hornbill thrashed their wings and sulphur-crested cockatoo vocalized overhead.

Continuing through the channels and along islands, we encountered ochre rock art on cliff faces; flowering torchwood trees with large, square white blossoms; purple flowering orchids; pitcher plant vines; palms; and cycads. Peering into the crystal-clear water we also observed immense schools of tiny fish.

After returning to our ship to cool off over lunch, we then spent the afternoon along Aiduma Island’s peaceful shores, diving, snorkelling and enjoying the idyllic coral sand beach.

Once again, the diversity of underwater life was staggering — some of us spotted three tiny, rarely seen pygmy seahorses, camouflaged by fan coral.

Following a delicious dinner onboard, we took in a lively musical performance in the main lounge, joined by members of our Expedition Team.

October 30, 2023 | At Sea to West Papua

Our nautical journey continued along the southern coast of New Guinea, from Aiduma Island to the Asmat. During this enriching day at sea, our ornithologist talked about the process of analysing birds’ remains. After lunch and a well-attended yoga session in the lounge, our cultural anthropologist then shared fascinating cultural tales about the Asmat people, lending insight into the culture of our next destination.

This evening’s dinner was accompanied by more live music — the perfect ending to a fun-filled day at sea.

October 31, 2023 | Asmat

There are cultural days, and then there are cultural days. Today’s immersive, enriching experiences were a highlight of the voyage for many of us.

Before dawn, ‘Le Lapérouse’ anchored off the mouth of the Asewet River. After an early breakfast, we boarded our Zodiacs and were met by upward of 30 dugout canoes. Filled with men chanting, clattering their paddles against the sides of their canoes and sporting traditional clothing and body paint, it was a dramatic display of poise, balance, rhythm and tradition. Encircling and paddling between us, they then escorted us upriver to their simple village.

There, we watched a sequence of ceremonies and enjoyed a welcome from the entire community. After observing a mock battle between two groups of canoes, villagers then erected an enormous, carved bis pole. Next, we were warmly welcomed at the men’s house. Stepping inside, we met the male heads of families. We then had the opportunity to peruse and purchase handicrafts, from shields to carvings, cassowary-bone knives and decorative bags.

Time passed quickly as we boarded our Zodiacs, bidding farewell as the townspeople waved goodbye.

During a restful afternoon back aboard ‘Le Lapérouse,’ our entertaining marine biologist discussed competition and adaptations that occur in the coral reef. Then, our photo coach shared tips on snapping postcard-worthy images of wildlife and people.

During tonight’s recap, we learned about the cassowary bird, featured highly in the decorative artwork we’ve seen, as well as the rich culture witnessed this morning. Mindful that our Indonesian journey is nearing its end, we crossed the shallow Arafura Sea, bound for the Torres Strait and Australia.

November 1, 2023 | Sailing the Arafura Sea

With 520 nautical miles to travel between the Asmat, Indonesia, and Thursday Island, Australia, we marvelled at the scale of our journey — especially since we’re only halfway there.

Rising to a bright, sunny day with mostly calm seas, we spent the day enjoying time on the deck, relaxing indoors and attending enrichment lectures.

Some of us started the morning with a stretch yoga session. Next came a talk on climate change by our resident geologist. Lending further context to this amazing journey, we then attended a talk about people of the Torres Strait, from their ancestry to their way of life. Wrapping up the day’s insightful programming was a discussion on evolution, finch and flying frog, courtesy of our onboard ornithologist.

In the evening, we played a version of Call My Bluff, identifying the correct definitions of obscure words.

November 2, 2023 | At Sea En Route to Thursday Island, Australia

Our journey to Australia from Indonesia has been a long and relaxing one. We awoke to balmy conditions and bright sunshine as we anchored off Thursday Island — on a Thursday no less.

After lunch, we zoomed to shore by Zodiac. A stroll around the friendly community revealed the cultural and visual contrasts to our time in Asmat, Indonesia. In what feels like a different world, we were met by wide streets, vast properties and a hotter, less humid environment.

With time to explore, some of us shopped; admired stunning white cockatoo and rainbow-colored lorikeet around town; or gathered for a refreshing afternoon drink at a local bar.

Returning once more to ‘Le Lapérouse,’ we took time to unwind before getting word of tomorrow’s surprise — the chance to snorkel and dive at Cat Reef, a rarely visited section of the Great Barrier Reef.

November 3, 2023 | The Great Barrier Reef

Another beautiful day dawned on us at sea as we navigated toward the Great Barrier Reef. To the west were views of the Australian mainland, its low hills covered with deep green forests. To the east, the distant white surf broke over the outer fringes of the reef, catching the sunlight.

Ready to enjoy the clear, turquoise, we snorkelled amid vast schools of fish and hard and soft coral as tropical tern passed overhead. Divers among us even spotted reef shark. In the end, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the incredible diversity below.

Back on board, our marine biologist unravelled some of the sea’s great mysteries and our ornithologist offered a window into the weird, wonderful world of avian sounds. Wrapping up the day’s enrichment, we made our way to Lizard Island, learning about the protection of Australian waters and the species within.

November 4, 2023 | Lizard Island

All good things must come to an end, yet rarely does that happen on such an incredible high. On the last expedition day of our trip, we hit the ground running at dawn and kept going until long into the night.

Some began the day with a mountain hike up to scenic Cooks Look, appreciating the vegetation and taking in an aerial view of Lizard Island from up top. Meanwhile, among the grasslands and mangrove woodlands below, our birders followed trails in search of coucal, sunbird and dove, as well as skink, lizard and highly vocal black fruit bat at their daytime roost.

Hikers then had the opportunity to snorkel, seeing an overwhelming array of species — including shark, turtle and even giant clam. Meanwhile, snorkelers the opportunity to hit the trails. Some instead enjoyed the beach or facilities aboard our elegant vessel.

This evening was spent celebrating, reminiscing and sharing the last hours of our wonderful voyage together. Alongside Captain Thomas McCandless, his crew and our Expedition Team, we enjoyed cocktails, speeches and dinner, followed by a photography presentation of our incredible encounters and experiences.

Although 130 nautical miles still lie ahead, too soon we will arrive in the port city of Cairns. What will remain are lifelong memories, sad partings and long journeys home.

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