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Whale Sharks and Dragons: North Sulawesi to Flores

Southeast Asia Cruise Information

Summary : This exciting voyage will take you along the eastern seaboard of Sulawesi, and across the Flores Sea to the Komodo National Park, where you will encounter the fearsome Komodo dragons in their natural island habitat. Cruising from the North Sulawesi city of Gorontalo and heading south to Labuan Bajo in Flores, you will explore the many islands and atolls of this spectacular region, with the opportunity to engage in a whole host of activities, which include visiting remote villages and meeting hospitable local people, snorkelling on beautiful coral reefs, trekking, possible encounters with whale sharks (subject to their very occasional presence off the coast of a small village) and manta rays, endemic birds and colonies of nesting seabirds, rare endemic fish, and Komodo dragons. There will also be ample time for swimming, kayaking, and stand-up paddle-boarding, as well as simply enjoying the pleasure of cruising across the tropical seas on a splendid traditional pinisi ship Katharina. Guests will depart from Bali on a morning flight, changing in Makassar (South Sulawesi) and arriving in Gorontalo Airport at around 1 pm, from where they will be transported directly to the waiting boat. At the end of the trip, it’s just a 90-minute direct flight back to Bali.

Activities : Birding, Culture, Diving, Hiking, Kayaking, Snorkeling

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Itinerary
Day 1
Gorontalo, Sulawesi / Togian Islands

Around 1 pm, you will be met at the airport and transferred to Gorontalo Harbor where your beautiful boat, the Katharina, will be waiting. Your tour leaders will give a safety briefing and you can get settled into your new home. Close to where you join the boat, at the seaside 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 here, you will most certainly get into the water and snorkel with them, but unfortunately there are absolutely no guarantees as to their presence. If there are no whale sharks, you will instead visit the Portuguese-built Fort Otanaha, from where you will have a beautiful view of the city of Gorontalo and the vast Limboto Lake. After dinner you will depart on an overnight crossing to the Togian Islands, a picturesque archipelago of 56 islands and inlets, 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
Unauna Island

At dawn there will be a special ceremony as you cross the Equator before reaching the volcanic island of Una-Una. Later, you will do an easy trek within the surroundings of Binaguna village, where you can expect to see a variety of birds. Before lunch you will have the opportunity to snorkel at Tanjung Kalama on the north side of the island, and then during lunch you will cross over to Pulau Togian. In the afternoon you will 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 at nearby paradisiacal spots such as Karina Bay for snorkeling and other kinds of water sports. In the evening you will move to nearby Pulau Malenge.

Day 3
Malenge Island

Today you will set out at dawn for a trekking and bird watching excursion on Pulau Malenge. You will start your four hour walk from Tanjung Malenge, on the southwest side of the island, and end up on the north side. Mid-morning, you will take the dinghies to go snorkeling at the famous Atoll Hotel California Reef, north of Pulau Malenge. In the afternoon you can visit a sea gypsy village on the south side of Pulau Talatakoh. These are the Bajao 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 in boats. On Talatakoh you will get a glimpse of how the formerly nomadic Bajau have adapted to life in a static village. 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. You will visit a sea gypsy village and climb a hill on Pulau Papan, east of Pulau Malenge; there is good snorkeling nearby. Then you will cruise overnight to Banggai Island.

Day 4
Bandang Island / Morowali National Park

In the morning you will tour the village of Banggai using bentor (motorized pedicab) transport. You 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 you might see the beautiful Banggai cardinal fish, 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, you will have ample time for water sport activities near Tanjung Mosongan, southwest of Banggai, with its beautiful shallow reef and a waterfall that cascades directly into the sea. You might also cross over to Pulau Bandang, which has a nice beach and a lovely reef. In the late afternoon you will cruise to the Sulawesi mainland to the Morowali National Park.

Day 5
Morowali National Park / Manui Archipelago

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

Day 6
Padei Kecil Island / Padei Besar Island / Wakatobi National Marine Park

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

Day 7
Wakatobi Island / Tomia Island

Arriving at Wangi-Wangi, the main island of Wakatobi, you will tour around the island, visiting the capital Wanci, a seaweed farm, and a traditional weaving community. In Desa Liya, you can see the impressive remains of Benteng Lya Togo, a fort with a mosque on the compound. If time allows, you 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 you will cruise to Pulau Hoga, where you can experience some superb snorkeling in the afternoon. You might even have time to visit the partly reconstructed Benteng Ollo, another fort with a mosque inside, on Pulau Kaledupa. In the evening you will head further south to Pulau Tomia.

Day 8
Tomia Island / Binongko Island

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 you can watch them making machetes (parang). After lunch you will depart on an overnight passage to the distant island of Kakabia.

Day 9
Kakabia Island

Early in the morning you will arrive at Kakabia, and the Katharina will circle this bird island, allowing you the opportunity to watch thousands of sea birds (brown boobies, red footed boobies, frigate birds) flying around or sitting in the bushes and trees. During the rest of the day (depending of the weather), you will spend your time on the beach, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, paddle-boarding, and seabird watching. In the late afternoon, you will commence your overnight crossing to the Bonerate Archipelago.

Day 10
Kalao Island

In the morning, you will visit the neat village of Lambego on Pulau Kalao. Here you can observe the building process of the traditional wooden boats that cross the Indonesian seas. Afterwards there will be 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 you can visit Pulau Tertera, on the northeast side of Bonerate, for either snorkeling or bird watching.

Day 11
Rinca Island / Kalong Island

Waking up early, you will go ashore on Rinca Island for a ranger-led nature trek in search of the fearsome Komodo dragons. Rinca is also well known for its diverse wildlife, so you may spot monkeys, wild buffaloes and deer as well. From the top of the hills, the scenery is breathtaking. After returning to the boat, you will cruise to the gorgeous Pantai Merah 'red-beach,' which takes its name from the particles of red coral mingled with the sand. Here you 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 over 1,000 species of fish in the waters of the national park, there is much more to this wildlife reserve than just dragons, and here you can enjoy hiking up the nearby hill, beach combing, snorkeling, or simply relaxing in the shade of the trees. Later you 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. You will then cruise to Kalong Island at sunset to witness the spectacular sight of hundreds 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 your memorable voyage.

Day 12
Bidadari Island

This morning you 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 9 am you 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, you will have lunch on the boat before transferring you to the airport for your flight back to Bali.

Notes

Read this itinerary as a guide only; the exact route and program varies according to weather conditions. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition. ExpeditionTrips.com is not responsible for itinerary changes.

Mandatory Insurance:

Travelers are required to contract personal travel insurance in order to be covered in case of accident, sickness, flight cancellation, evacuation, etc. ExpeditionTrips can assist U.S. residents with travel protection options. Other conditions may apply based on pre-existing conditions.


Included:

Transfers to and from the ship; shipboard accommodations; complimentary coffee, tea, soft drinks, and mineral water; planned excursions as detailed in the itinerary; complimentary towels; multilingual guide; gear on loan (sea canoes, snorkeling equipment, and stand up paddleboards); all meals onboard the ship. Subject to change without notice.

Not Included:

Airfare; travel insurance (mandatory); alcoholic beverages; any ground services before and/or after the cruise; passport and visa fees; personal expenses; tips; fuel surcharge may apply.

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