DISCOVERING ASIA: THE INDONESIAN ARCHIPELAGO
“….The sea was calm as a lake and the glorious sun of the tropics threw a flood of golden light over all. The scene was to me inexpressibly delightful. I was in a new world, and could dream ………” Quote from The Malay Archipelago (1869), by Alfred Wallace
Relatively little has changed since naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) explored the Indonesian Archipelago, collecting over 125,000 specimens ranging from large mammals to tiny insects, exotic butterflies and spectacular birds of paradise. In The Malay Archipelago, one of the great classics of natural history and travel, Wallace describes his journeys, discoveries of varieties of animals and plants he collected and his experiences with indigenous people with a wealth of detail.
“ …To the ordinary Englisman this is perhaps the least known part of the globe…. Scarcely any of our travelers go to explore it. … “
The Wallace Line, separates the eco zones of Asia and Australia and runs through Indonesia, between Borneo and Sulawesi (Celebes), and through the Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok. The distance between Bali and Lombok is small, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) but Wallace found a clear and striking division between organisms to the west (related to Asiatic species) and to the east of the line (species of Asian and Australian origin).
“… I brought away with me more than nine thousand specimens of natural objects, of about sixteen hundred distinct species. I had revelled in the delights of exploring new fauna and flora, one of the most remarkable and most beautiful and least-known in the world……”
The Malay Archipelago, also called the East Indies or Indonesian Archipelago, lies between mainland Southeast Asia and Australia, between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It has such an incredible diversity of marine life, flora and fauna and attractions, and covers such an extensive region, it would be nearly impossible to see it all in one lifetime.
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited for a cruise on 167’ sailing yacht, Dunia Baru, a traditional phinisi style, luxury charter vessel. We sailed through the Indonesian Archipelago from Bali to Komodo National Park, a trip of over 200 nm.
“… These vessels are handsome to look at, good sailers, and admirable sea-boats, and will make long voyages with perfect safety …”
Photo Mark Eveleigh Photo: Dennis Anderson
Our fine ship is the dream come true of her American owner Mark Robba, who spent about seven passionate years to finalise his ‘labor of love’ project. Mark spared neither time, effort nor expense to create a safe and reliable as well as a comfortable vessel with an exceptional finish. His enthusiasm and drive are infectious!
“….. We enjoyed superb views of the volcanoes of Bali and Lombok, each about 8,000 feet high, which form magnificent objects at sunrise and sunset, when they rise out of the mists and clouds that surround their bases, glowing with the rich and changing tints of these the most charming moments in a tropical day. ….”
So, here I found myself in Bali in my lovely, spacious cabin, gearing up for a blissful adventure of a lifetime! Captain Sam and his crew put out to sea, hoisted the sails and we smoothly cruised along to Gili Trawangan, a picturesque island with trendy coffee bars and restaurants visited by young and adventurous jetsetting backpackers. On ‘Gilli T’, as she’s affectionately called, you walk, take a horse cart ‘cab’ or you rent a bicycle. Eco all-over, local care for the environment is also noticeable in Gilli T’s ‘save the turtle’ initiative, and a ‘no littering’ campaign. There was not a car or motorbike, McDonald’s or KFC in sight. Bliss!
Photo Dennis Anderson Photo Dennis Anderson Photo of Gilli T
Photo Dennis Anderson Photo Dennis Anderson
Stops along the way to Flores provided a different adventure each time. We spent several leisurely hours on Pulau Satonda’s beach, snorkeled in search of marine life amongst the sea grass near the shore (pipefish and razorfish … check!) and kayaked and paddle-boarded on its ancient salt water crater lake with no one else around but a group of curious macaques watching us from ashore.
Photo: Mark Eveleigh Photos of Satonda Lake
The next day we dived ‘Bubble Reef’, a magnificent dive with alluring soft corals, stingrays, sea fans and pygmee seahorses - thanks to our capable and wonderfully sharp-eyed dive guide Ramon …”check” again! We swam over black volcanic sand through warm, gas-bubble vents of the live volcano on Pulau Sangean, off Sumbawa. It was eerie! It was awesome! What an experience!
Other underwater highlights included snorkeling with 7-8 manta rays at Takat Makassir (Komodo). It was quite funny to see the interaction between mantas and a group of divers down below. Naturally not looking up towards the surface, the divers had no inkling of the massive mantas gliding right over their heads!
At Takat Besar (Komodo) we were snorkeling along the reef, drifting with the current where we spotted two shy hawksbill turtles. At the end of the reef we got into the dinghy, were driven back to the starting point and jumped right back in for a repeat drift. By the fifth time the hawksbills were quite used to us; my snorkel buddy was allowed near enough to take some snappy close-ups.
“…My host Mr. M. enjoyed a thoroughly country life…. His palm trees supplied him with all the year round with ‘sagueir’, which takes the place of beer; and the sugar made from them is an excellent sweetmeat. …”
Photo of Rinca Island
Last but certainly not least we came eye to eye with a couple of Komodo dragons on Rinca Island. It seemed to be just past their lunchtime but to be sure we still kept a rather safe distance. A local village guide took us for a spirited hike over the uninhabited, savannah-like island, pointing out wildlife, special flora and sharing useful information, like how to brew the mean local drink, a fermented toddy derived from the lontar sugar palm.
Photo Dennis Anderson
After our most relaxing and at the same time invigorating week, a winning mix of luxuriating on board, leisurely beach time and adventure-packed activities, we saluted life with a toast on our wonderful voyage of discovery. And, no… it wasn’t the local toddy J
Photo: Mark Eveleigh Photo Komodo: Mark Eveleigh
The Malay Archipelago
Includes the Malay Peninsula as far as Tenasserim and the Nicobar Islands (Myanmar) on the west, the Philippines on the north and the Solomon Islands beyond New Guinea on the east. It is an area equal to all of Europe from the extreme west far into Central Asia
The Malay Archipelago in numbers
Over 25,000 islands
More than 4,000 miles from east to west
About 1,300 miles from north to south
Includes 3 Islands larger than Great Britain
And 3 Islands about the size of Ireland
18 more Islands the size of Jamaica
More than 100 islands as large as the Isle of Wight
Innumerable: isles and islets of smaller size
Northrop & Johnson Asia was established in 2009 to create the first global yacht company with a strong regional presence within the Asian region. With offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and China. Northrop & Johnson Asia brings together a wealth of yachting experience and offers an unrivalled service for both brokerage and charter. www.northropandjohnson.com
Article Author: Bart Kimman and Lies Sol