Cruise the tropical waters of the Komodo Sea exploring some of the myriad islands between Flores and Bali.
There’s nothing like a tropical cruise to get away from Perth’s winter chills.
I joined SeaTrek’s wooden schooner Ombak Putih in western Flores, sailing through the balmy waters of eastern Indonesia for seven days from the Komodo Sea to Bali, snorkelling and exploring distant islands on the way.
The Komodo Sea is one of nature’s jewels, set in the centre of the chain of islands which stretches between Bali and Papua New Guinea.
This is the only place in the world where you can see the massive Komodo dragons, giant flesh-eating lizards, roaming freely in the open instead of being confined in a zoo.
As well as the dragons, the area’s great attraction is its magnificent underwater environment.
At a time when population pressures have already destroyed one-third of the world’s coral, it is wonderful to visit this World Heritage Site, where the water is crystal clear and the coral and marine life are thriving.
For divers and snorkellers this is paradise. You can snorkel for an hour or more without needing a wetsuit, surrounded by masses of colourful corals and tropical fish.
There are turtles and reef sharks, starfish and spotted rays, manta rays and spinner dolphins.
Ombak Putih is a two- masted schooner built in Indonesia’s traditional phinisi style, with modern comforts such as air-conditioned cabins and ensuites. This was a special cruise which featured Australian/ Balinese food guru Janet de Neefe and Indonesian chef Rahung Nasution who together gave nightly cooking demonstrations of Indonesian foods and spices.
Janet has lived in Bali for 30 years and her two Ubud restaurants, Casa Luna and Indus, are legendary. She is the founder of the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, which is now in its 13th year, as well as the mid-year Ubud Food Festival.
Rahung’s passion is seeking out classic regional dishes throughout Indonesia. Not surprisingly, meals on Ombak Putih featured many mouth-watering Indonesian dishes.
As an extra bonus we had celebrated food photographer Petrina Tinslay aboard to entertain us with her stunning photos and behind-the-scenes anecdotes and tips.
We all loved the daily photo competition, in which the keen photographers among us were challenged to take the best picture of the day on a given subject — beach, water, vessels, animals — with some remarkably creative results.
Our cruise started at Labuan Bajo, on the west coast of Flores, and ended at Serangan Harbour in Bali.
We went swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. We explored local villages, trekked through lush jungle, discovered waterfalls and volcanic lakes and climbed hills for spectacular views of the island- studded sea, with misty volcanic silhouettes in the background.
On Flores we drove to the inland village of Melo, where two handsome young men, each armed with a rattan shield and a whip, performed the traditional Caci dance vigorously attacking each other while moving to the pulsing rhythm of drums and gongs. It was a riotous affair, with the local villagers plying us with arak and betel nut.
Next day we sailed to the island of Rinca, home to about 1300 dragons. The males can grow up to 3m-long and weigh about 80kg, and there were a dozen or so of the huge beasts lolling around the clearing near the ranger huts.
Their main diet is local deer but occasionally they attack unwary humans. Our only protection was from our guard, who carried a long forked stick which he said he would use to deflect any dragon headed in our direction.
It is seven years since the last recorded dragon attack in these islands. In 2009 on Komodo Island 31-year-old Muhamad Anwar climbed a tree to pick sugar apples. His foot slipped and he fell, right on top of two waiting dragons, which promptly set on him with tooth and claw, inflicting fatal injuries.
In 2007 a dragon killed a nine-year-old villager who had left his friends to go behind a tree to relieve himself.
The following year a group of divers were swept away from their boat by a strong current. After 10 hours in the water they were washed up on to a beach — which unfortunately turned out to be on Rinca, where they were quickly spotted by a group of dragons.
For the next 48 hours the exhausted divers had to keep retreating back to the sea to escape the threatening dragons. They were eventually found by a rescue boat.
On Komodo Island we spotted a metre-long baby dragon climbing a tree. Dragons don’t hesitate to eat their own babies, which survive their early years by taking to the trees, eating geckos and insects. Fortunately, the adults are too heavy to climb after them.
We had our shopping fix at the village market on Komodo, where we couldn’t resist buying pearls. Dozens of stallholders besieged us with armfuls of pearls — white, creamy, pink, black, blue-grey, all from local pearl farms and all at bargain prices.
As we sailed north from the Komodo Sea we passed close to the 1800m active volcano of Sangeang Api, remembered for its eruption clouds last year which caused havoc with flights in and out of Bali.
At Wera, on the north-east coast of Sumbawa, we found an enormous phinisi schooner under construction on the beach. Buginese craftsmen from south Sulawesi have brought their classic shipbuilding skills to Sumbawa, attracted by the availability of suitable timber.
The master craftsmen who build these impressive ships don’t use any plans but judge the curve of the hull by eye. The ships are built close to the water’s edge and on completion are hauled into the ocean during the highest tide of the year.
On the mystical island of Satonda, off
north-west Sumbawa, we
swam in the sunken green crater lake which is all that remains of Mt Tambora, memorable
for its 1815 eruption — the world’s biggest known volcanic explosion, which
blanketed the world with volcanic dust, creating a year
without summer in North America and Europe.
At Moyo Island we had some beautiful snorkelling on the reef and trekked inland through the jungle to the Mba’a waterfall, where some intrepid travellers swung on a rope and jumped into the clear water below.
On our last evening we danced at a seafood barbecue feast under a star-filled tropical sky on a deserted island off the coast of Lombok, to the tune of lively music by the enthusiastic crew.
It was a trip to remember, full of laughter, friendship, great food and new experiences.
SeaTrek Sailing Adventures runs regular cruises between Flores and Bali between April and September, to Raja Ampat in Papua from October to March and other trips through Indonesian waters throughout the year.
A number of specialty cruises feature experts on Indonesian food, photography, wildlife, weaving, spices and historic voyages.
Two phinisi schooners, the 12-cabin Ombak Putih and the six-cabin Katharina, are available for charter. See seatrekbali.com.