Cruising in the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago

Exploring the Wallace Line
August 20, 2015 Updated: August 20, 2015

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 35km (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).

Relatively little has changed since naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) explored the area, collecting over 125,000 specimens ranging from large mammals to tiny insects, exotic butterflies and spectacular birds of paradise. In The Malay Archipelago (1869), 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.

Book Cover: The Malay Archipelogo, by Alfred Russel Wallace. (File Photo)
Book Cover: The Malay Archipelogo, by Alfred Russel Wallace. (File Photo)

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 an incredible diversity of marine life, flora and fauna and covers such an extensive region; it would be nearly impossible to see it all in one lifetime.

I was invited for a cruise on the Dunia Baru Adventures a 51m/167ft luxury sailing yacht through the Indonesian Archipelago from Bali to Komodo National Park, a trip of about 200nm. I was thrilled to explore some of the places Wallace had visited over a hundred years ago!

KLM Dunia Baru Adventures Sailing Yacht. (Mark Eveleigh)
KLM Dunia Baru Adventures Sailing Yacht. (Mark Eveleigh)

 

Master suit on board sailing yacht Dunia Baru Adventures. (Dennis Anderson)
Master suit on board sailing yacht Dunia Baru Adventures. (Dennis Anderson)

So, in May, I boarded this fine ship, similar to the old Bugis traders’ vessels used in Wallace’s time, although this one had the latest modern day amenities and a luxury finish unheard of in the old days.

After we put out to sea, the crew hoisted the sails and we cruised along to Gili Trawangan, a picturesque island with trendy coffee bars and restaurants visited by young and adventurous jetsetting backpackers. On ‘Gili T’, as it’s affectionately called, you walk, take a horse cart ‘cab’ or you rent a bicycle. Local care for the environment is also noticeable in a ‘save the turtle’ initiative, and a ‘no littering’ campaign. There was not a car or motorbike, McDonald’s or KFC in sight. Bliss!

Horse cart on Gili T Island. (Lies Sol)
Horse cart on Gili T Island. (Lies Sol)

Stops along the way to Flores presented a different delight each time. We spent several leisurely hours on Pulau Satonda’s beach, snorkeled in search of well-camouflaged marine life amongst the sea grass near the shore such as pipefish and razorfish. We also 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 the shore.

View of Satonda Lake. (Lies Sol)
View of Satonda Lake. (Lies Sol)

The next day we dived ‘Bubble Reef’, with alluring soft corals, stingrays, sea fans and the best of all, the barely visible to the eye pygmy seahorses – thanks to our sharp-eyed dive guide we could check off something of our bucket list 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! A marvelous experience!

View of Sangean Volcano. (Lies Sol)
View of Sangean Volcano. (Lies Sol)

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 back and forth, right over their heads!

At Takat Besar we snorkeled 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 close-ups and even a ‘selfie’.

On Rinca Island we came eye to eye with a couple of Komodo dragons. We were assured it was just past their lunchtime but we still kept more than a safe distance.

Seascape from Rinca Island. (Lies Sol)
Seascape from Rinca Island. (Lies Sol)

 

Komodo Dragon on Rinca Island. (Mark Eveleigh)
Komodo Dragon on Rinca Island. (Mark Eveleigh)

We were invited to have a glass of the local brew to conclude our cruise, and, as often happens, one glass lead to another. That night we dreamt sweet dreams of a next cruise…….

Dunia Baru-sailing boat bow off Komodo National Park. (Dennis Anderson)
Dunia Baru-sailing boat bow off Komodo National Park. (Dennis Anderson)

 

 Landscape at Komodo National Park. (Mark Eveleigh)
Landscape at Komodo National Park. (Mark Eveleigh)

See it for yourself?
Cruising in the Komodo area is best from May until October. From November to March yachts visit Raja Ampat, a more remote, unspoiled beautiful region of West Papua (Indonesia).

Seascape at Raja Ampat Islands off West Papua, Indonesia. (Dennis Anderson)
Seascape at Raja Ampat Islands off West Papua, Indonesia. (Dennis Anderson)

For more information contact lies.sol@northropandjohnson.com

Lies Sol is a sailor and writer involved in the Charter Yacht industry organising cruises to interesting and unusual destinations.