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Indonesia: Sulawesi to Komodo Island by Liveaboard

Snorkel the dramatic coral reefs of eastern Sulawesi, see the dragons of Komodo National Park, and enjoy unique cultural experiences on this exciting liveaboard snorkeling cruise.

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Overview

  • Enjoy daily snorkeling at eastern Indonesia’s best snorkeling reefs from aboard a comfortable liveaboard, plus bird watching excursions, hiking, & more.
  • This expedition is offered in partnership with Pete Oxford Expeditions and guided by renowned conservation photographer, Pete Oxford.
  • Chances to snorkel with manta rays and whale sharks, swim among stingless jellyfish, see endemic fish, and walk among Komodo dragons in their natural habitat.
  • Learn about and experience unique cultural practices at several islands, through visits to sea gypsy villages, a hike to the isolated Wana tribe, and a ritual whip-fight on Flores.

This exciting expedition will take you along the eastern seaboard of Sulawesi, crossing the Flores Sea to Komodo National Park, home of the spectacular Komodo dragon. Cruising from the town of Gorontalo in north Sulawesi south to Labuan Bajo in Flores, we will explore the many volcanic islands and atolls of this vibrant region of the Coral Triangle. Along the way we make stops at remote villages, snorkel beautiful coral reefs, enjoy hiking, see rare endemic fish and birds, visit seabird colonies, possibly snorkel with manta rays and sharks, and see Komodo dragons in the wild.

This is a purpose-designed snorkeling trip that offers a full exploration of life below and above the sea. There will also be time for kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding, as well as to simply enjoy the pleasure of cruising across the tropical seas on our splendid, traditionally built pinisi ship, the Ombak Putih.

Trip Dates & Cost

2018: March 15-26. From $5,990 per person.* Group limit 20.

2019: March 12-23. From $6,950 per person.* Group limit 20.

* Price varies based on cabin selection. Trip prices do not include international airfare to Bali, or in-country airfare from Bali to Gorontalo and Labuan Bajo to Bali. Single supplements are available by waitlist only. Click here for our full expedition terms and conditions.

Photos
Naturalist

Pete Oxford works in some of the world’s most pristine and remote wildlife and cultural destinations as a full-time professional photographer. His images have appeared in major magazines including National Geographic, Time, Outdoor Photographer, and Smithsonian, and have been featured ten times in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards. Pete and his wife Reneé also lead expeditions to some of the world’s richest cultures and most biodiverse areas of our planet.

Wayne Sentman is our director of conservation travel programs and an Oceanic Society naturalist since 1998. He is an experienced guide with a diverse background in marine mammal, seabird, and marine debris research. Wayne also co-teaches undergraduate field programs in Kenya on human-wildlife conflict and on the use of social media and art to raise public participation in conservation. He recently received a Master's in Environmental Management from Harvard University.

Steve Trott is a marine zoologist and the projects development manager at Watamu Marine Association in Kenya, an organization that promotes sustainable tourism, community based waste management, and marine conservation. Steve’s current focus is on finding innovative solutions to the growing marine debris problem while providing financial benefit to coastal communities in Africa.

Itinerary

Arrival into Bali is suggested at least one day before the flight to Sulawesi in case of flight delays, as once the boat sails, it is not possible to catch up with us. Flights from Bali to Gorontalo (the trip start point) and from Labuan Bajo (the trip end point) to Bali will be arranged by Oceanic Society, but are not included in the trip price. The itinerary below describes our planned cruise route, but is subject to change based on weather conditions and other external factors.

Day 1: Gorontalo (Sulawesi), embark
Arrive to Gorontalo at around 1pm on your flight from Bali (see note about flights above). Close to where we join the boat, at the coastal village of Botubarani, a small school of whale sharks are sometimes in residence. These gentle giants are the largest living fish species, and swimming alongside them is one of the ultimate bucket-list experiences. If they are present, we will most certainly get into the water and snorkel with them. If there are no whale sharks, we will instead visit the Portuguese-built Fort Otanaha, from where we will have a beautiful view of the city of Gorontalo and the vast Limboto Lake. After dinner, we will depart on an overnight crossing to the Togian Islands, a picturesque archipelago of 56 islands and islets, located in the Tomini Bay. Formed by volcanic activity, the islands are a tropical paradise, covered with lush rainforests and surrounded by ancient coral reef formations.

Day 2: Una-Una
At dawn, there will be a special ceremony as we cross the equator before reaching the volcanic island of Una-Una. Later, we will do an easy trek within the surroundings of Binaguna village, where we can expect to see a variety of birds. Before lunch we have the opportunity to go snorkeling at Tanjung Kalama on the north side of the island, and then during lunch we cross over to Pulau Togian. In the afternoon, we visit Danau (Lake) Mariona, on the north side of the island to snorkel with thousands of multi-hued stingless jellyfish. The rest of the afternoon will be spent snorkeling. In the evening we move to nearby Pulau Malenge.

Day 3: Pulau Malenge
We will set out at dawn for a trekking and bird-watching excursion on Pulau Malenge. We will start our four-hour walk from Tanjung Malenge, on the southwest side of the island, and end up on the north side. Mid-morning, we will take the dinghies to go snorkeling at the famous Atoll Hotel California Reef, north of Pulau Malenge. In the afternoon, we can visit a sea-gypsy village on the south side of Pulau Talatakoh. These are the Bajau people who build their homes on stilts over the sea. Historically, Indonesia has had many nomadic tribes often referred to as ‘sea gypsies’ due to the fact that they mainly traveled and lived on boats. On Talatakoh, we will get a glimpse of how the formerly nomadic Bajau have adapted to village life. Nevertheless, still being so close to the water, the tribe’s dependence on the sea is not lost. Their children are introduced to the sea at a young age and grow accustomed to living and playing within the ocean environment. We will visit a sea-gypsy village and climb a hill on Pulau Papan, east of Pulau Malenge; there is good snorkeling nearby. We will cruise overnight to Banggai Island.

Day 4: Banggai Island
In the morning, we will tour the village of Banggai using local transport. We will visit the market, the Sultan’s Palace, a grave of kings of the past, and the ceremonial house (Rumah Adat) of one of the main indigenous tribes. At the harbor, we might see the beautiful Banggai cardinalfish, hovering in groups in the calm shallows. The tranquil bays of Banggai and its neighboring islands are the only places on Earth where you can see these tiny, exquisite fish in their natural habitat. Sadly, they may soon be gone from the wild because they are being collected for the aquarium trade faster than they can reproduce in nature. In the afternoon, we will have ample time for water activities near Tanjung Mosongan, southwest of Banggai, with its beautiful shallow reef and a waterfall that cascades directly into the sea. We might also cross over to Pulau Bandang, which has a nice beach and a lovely reef. In the late afternoon, we will cruise to the Sulawesi mainland to the Morowali Nature Reserve.

Day 5: Sulawesi, Morowali Nature Reserve
At dawn, we will have the opportunity for some interesting trekking through the Morowali Nature Reserve to find the isolated Wana tribe in the forest. From the village, we will return to the beach using longboats across a fast-running river, an unforgettable experience. Later, we will set off on an overnight cruise to Pulau Padei in the Manui Archipelago.

Day 6: Pulau Padei Kecil
In the morning we can enjoy some splendid snorkeling in front of Pulau Padei Kecil. After this, we will visit the well-organized sea-gypsy village of Samarengga on Pulau Padei Besar. We hope to have time to do some more snorkeling at the beautiful reef here before departing for the Wakatobi National Marine Park, famous for its colorful coral reefs, white-sand beaches, mangrove forests, traditional weaving villages, blacksmiths, and historical ruins.

Day 7: Wangi-Wangi
Arriving at Wangi-Wangi, the main island of Wakatobi, we will tour the island, visiting Wanci, the capital, as well as a seaweed farm and a traditional weaving community. In Desa Liya, we can see the impressive remains of Benteng Lya Togo, a fort with a mosque on the compound. If time allows, we can also take a look at the interesting ruins of Benteng Mandatitonga Fort. Wakatobi is widely recognized as having the highest number of reef and fish species in the world, so later we will cruise to Pulau Hoga, were we can experience some superb snorkeling in the afternoon. We might even have time to visit the partly reconstructed Benteng Ollo, another fort with a mosque inside, on Pulau Kaledupa. In the evening, we will head further south to Pulau Tomia.

Day 8: Pulau Tomia
We will start the day with snorkeling at the Wakatobi Resort House Reef of Pulau Tomia, later cruising to Binongko Island to visit a village famous for its blacksmiths (known as Tukang Besi). Here we can watch them making machetes (parang). After lunch we will depart on an overnight passage to the distant island of Kakabia.

Day 9: Kakabia Island
Early in the morning, we will arrive at Kakabia, and will circle this bird island, allowing us the opportunity to watch thousands of seabirds (Brown Boobies, Red-footed Boobies, and Frigatebirds) flying around or sitting in the bushes and trees. During the rest of the day (depending on the weather), we will spend our time on the beach, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding and seabird watching. In the late afternoon, we will commence our overnight crossing to the Bonerate Archipelago.

Day 10: Pulau Kalao
In the morning, we will visit the neat village of Lambego on Pulau Kalao. Here we can observe the building process of the traditional wooden boats that cross the Indonesian seas. Afterwards, there will be more fabulous snorkeling in front of this village, where there is a very attractive small beach. Those who are interested in bird watching can spend the morning trekking near the village. In the afternoon, we can visit Pulau Tertera, on the northeast side of Bonerate, for either snorkeling or bird watching.

Day 11: Rinca Island, Komodo National Park
Waking up early, we will go ashore on Rinca Island for a ranger-led nature trek in search of the Komodo dragons. Rinca is also well known for its diverse wildlife, so we may spot monkeys, wild buffaloes, and deer as well. From the top of the hills, the scenery is breathtaking. After returning to the boat, we will cruise to the gorgeous Pantai Merah (Red Beach), which takes its name from the particles of red coral mingled with the sand. Here we will swim and snorkel over one of the richest reefs in eastern Indonesia, relishing the unforgettable spectacle of the region’s many varieties of coral and marine life. With more than 1000 species of fish in the waters of the national park, there is much more to this wildlife reserve than just dragons. Here we can also enjoy hiking up the nearby hill, beach combing, snorkeling or simply relaxing in the shade of the trees. Later we will cruise to Karang Makassar (Manta Point) to search for, and hopefully snorkel with, the giant manta rays that inhabit these waters; drifting on the current above one of these majestic creatures is an experience that will remain with you forever. We will then cruise to Kalong Island at sunset to witness the spectacular sight of thousands of flying foxes emerging in a steady throng from the forest as they head to a feeding site on mainland Flores. After this, the crew will build a bonfire and prepare a beach barbecue as a final celebration of our memorable voyage.

Day 12: Bidadari Island - Labuan Bajo, disembark
We will wake up off the white sand beaches of Bidadari Island, have breakfast and then head off for a very short cruise to Labuan Bajo. At about 9am we will leave the boat for a trip to the village of Melo. Here, local ‘strongmen’ will perform the "Caci," a ritual whip-fight between two rivals in which the players, each armed with a rattan shield and a whip, will try to hit each other while dancing to the rhythm of traditional acoustic instruments. The men of Western Flores are famous for this test of daring and skill, requiring lightning quick moves to dodge the infliction of a wound. The winner is loudly applauded and cheered by the village. Besides this, the cultural group will also showcase other traditional dances. After the performance, we will have lunch on the boat before transferring you to the airport for your flight back to Bali, which takes about 90 minutes (see note about flights at the beginning of the itinerary).

Accommodations

Our vessel, with a crew of 14, is the traditionally built pinisi named Ombak Putih, which means "White Wave" in the Indonesian language. Her keel was first laid down in Kalimantan in 1995, and she became operational in 1997. At 42 meters long, she provides accommodation for up to 24 guests in 12 comfortable cabins (6 double bed cabins, 2 triple cabins (one double bed and one single upper bunk), and 4 twin bunk cabins (one above the other)). Approximately 400 square meters of public space is divided over her two main decks, including a large salon, as well as covered and open areas, allowing plenty of room for our guests to spread out, relax, and enjoy as much company or solitude as they wish.

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