This 12 day voyage over ancient sailing routes, on an authentic wind ship, visits some of the most remote, and stunning, of Indonesia's 17,000 islands.
You'll get transferred from Ternate airport to board the ship in its magnificent anchorage beneath Mount Gamalama. One of the four, historically powerful Moluccan spice sultanates, Ternate is still a vital trading outlet for fragrant cloves, nutmeg and mace. You will visit the 17th-century, pagoda-style royal mosque and the grand palace of Ternate’s surviving sultan. Attractively restored Fort Tolukko introduces the turbulent centuries of spice wars fought by Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English rivals. Near old lava flows, a spectacular volcanic crater lake is a source of local legends and home to an elusive white crocodile!
The neighbouring island of Tidore is another perfect volcanic cone rising from tropical seas, with graceful clove plantations adorning its slopes. Originating only in these few islands, cloves were so rare and precious that local sultans and European powers fought for centuries to monopolise them. Today it’s a picturesque island of painted village houses. You will visit a blacksmith working ancient piston-bellows, a vibrant market for local handicrafts, and the rebuilt palace of the Sultan of Tidore with stunning views across the strait to mountainous island of Halmahera. Nearby are two more restored colonial strongholds: Portuguese Fort Torre and Spanish Fort Tahula.
You will sail by night across the equator and awaken in the southern hemisphere at Bacan Island, another seat of the historic spice Sultanates where outsiders like us rarely if ever venture. On every island people speak a different mother-tongue, but our guides communicate easily in Bahasa Indonesia, the old seafarers’ and traders’ language that’s become the national language. Going ashore at Goro-goro village, you’re led up a riverbed winding through steep, jungle-clad limestone karst formations to a spectacular waterfall, looking out for black macaque monkeys and hornbill birds. After lunch you will motor around the coast to uninhabited Kusu islet, snorkelling from our ship’s tenders.
You will be anchored off deserted, white-sand Belang Belang Island and can spend the morning swimming, snorkelling crystal waters or playing on the ship’s paddle boards and kayaks. Over lunch we sail to nearby Obi Latu Island, going ashore at the isolated village of Manatahan. Settled just a few generations ago by roaming Butonese mariners from their islands to the south-east of Sulawesi, its steep hills are covered with attractive groves of clove trees. You’re sure to see cloves, nutmeg and mace drying on mats laid on village pathways. The surrounding seas, once dotted with the sails of spice trading galleys, Portuguese caravels, Spanish galleons, Dutch jachts and English pinnaces, are now plied by locally built outrigger dugouts, sampans, island ferries and a few old trading sloops still working under sail.
Today you will reach the remote Sula Archipelago, where you are least likely to encounter a single foreign visitor! These islands were once plagued by formidable, swift raiding galleys called kora-kora, favoured by pirates and slavers. Today the name kora-kora is given to large ceremonial canoes propelled by banks of paddlers. You will sail along the southern shore of Mangoli Island to Taliabu Island, going ashore at the small Muslim village Waikoka. Generally the entire village takes an interest and hordes of children will likely accompany you. This village was hit by a tsunami 15 years ago, and many relocated inland. You will reach the new settlement by a picturesque path winding through extensive coconut groves.
Local boats can find quiet seas on either side of the Sula Archipelago, depending on the season… some still carry spices and valuable forest or sea products such as damar resin, rattan, beche-de-mer and pearl shell on their way to larger trading centres. 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. With the right tides you can visit a hot spring or explore a forest river that flows over sand bars into the sea.
Approaching the big island of Sulawesi, the scenic Banggai group of islands small and large are still remote and quite unkown. Banggai’s main port is a lively hub for colourful interisland ferries. Here you will enjoy a tour in chartered bentor – raffish two-passenger motorcycle rickshaws that will turn heads as our flotilla of foreigners motors through town. Visits include a bustling market and the modest timber palace of the local sultan. There’s an unusual, sacred community gathering-house whose revered elders guard its pre-Islamic rituals and cult objects – happily co-existing with the mainstream mosques of this Muslim port town. Nearby is an island that’s something of a beachcomber’s retreat, where we enjoy paddle boarding, kayaking or snorkelling from its beaches.
The Bay of Tolo is your first stop on the forest-clad east coast of mainland Sulawesi. Ranger-guides of the Morowali National Park accompany you to 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 a large, single egg. Up-river, the banks are lined with luxuriant mangroves on a scale you’ve probably never seen. Nearby Baturube is a neat coastal town with a mixture of churches and mosques, proud winner of a regional ‘tidy town’ contest.
You leave early with the ship’s tenders to visit the Morowali national park, hoping to meet 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. Your Wana guides lead us up-river and through dense forest – thankfully flat going, and with crew members carrying our pre-packed lunches!
Down the mountainous eastern shore of Sulawesi you will reach the isolated, offshore Padea islands to visit the Sama-Bajo village on the coral cay Samaringa. Your cheerful hosts are the famed sea-gypsies, who in the past spent their entire lives on their small sailing boats, from conception and birth to death. Landless, they belonged to no nation and lived exclusively from the sea. Now they’ve settled on uninhabited scraps of islands or built their stilt-houses on reefs or over tidal zones. They’re still exclusively sea people, fishing, farming seaweed, harvesting beche-de-mer or trochus pearl-shell. At nearby Labengke, in a pretty cluster of hilly, jungle-clad islands, you can snorkel, kayak and paddle board from a deserted white-sand beach.
Reaching Pulau Wowoni, a big island just in front of the Bay of Kendari, South-East Sulawesi, you 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, while on the beach the catch is landed from locally built koli-koli – the local word for a dugout canoe or sampan. Depending on the weather and wind you may have 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 Bugis pinisi under full sail. The final night of your cruise always brings a great farewell party as a fitting celebration of a fantastic voyage.
Today you reach Kendari, the small city and busy port that is the capital of South-East Sulawesi. You have now entered the homelands of the Butonese people – one of the noted seafaring groups of Indonesia (along with the better-known Bugis and Makassans of South Sulawesi). Their sailing sloops 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 we’ve been sailing through. After farewells to the tour guides and crew, you will be transferred to the airport.
From AU$9,290 per person
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