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Trip Logs

South Pacific Voyage: Komodo, Papua & Great Barrier Reef Trip Log: November 21–December 7, 2022

Trip Logs

South Pacific Voyage: Komodo, Papua & Great Barrier Reef Trip Log: November 21–December 7, 2022

By Mark Brazil with photography by Michelle Valberg | November 30, 2022

November 21, 2022 | Bali, Indonesia

Arriving today in Bali, we welcomed the opportunity to relax at the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay. With views of the sea, grounds like a tropical garden and a tranquil atmosphere, it was the perfect place to start our exciting Indonesian adventure and enjoy the legendary local hospitality.

Early this evening, we gathered at the Sundaran Restaurant for welcome drinks on the terrace, followed by our welcome dinner. Expedition Leader, Brad Climpson, and Cruise Director, Paul Carter, briefed us on our journey. Then, a splendid group of Balinese dancers mesmerized us with their finely tuned gestures and coordinated eye movements. It was a great start to the exciting journey ahead.

November 22, 2022 | Bali: Island of the Gods

Today, we began our exploration of this small gem of an island in the heart of the Indonesian Archipelago. More than 75% of Bali’s 4.1 million inhabitants are Hindu, with the island boasting more than 10,000 temples. With this in mind, we broke into four separate excursions spanning the south, northwest and northeast of this “land of temples.”

The Lakes and Hills Excursion was the first to set off, visiting the impressive royal temple of Taman Ayun at Mengwi, with its courtyards, moats and numerous pagoda-style spires. We continued to the Jatiiluwih World Heritage Site, touring its extensive array of terraced rice fields. We paused for a lunch of local specialties at a restaurant set amid a bamboo grove on the slopes of Mount Batukaru. After lunch, we visited a traditional market to sample a few of the locally grown tropical fruits. We capped off our excursion on the shores of Lake Beratan at the 17th-century Ulun Danu temple.

The Lake Batur and Kehen Temple Excursion visited two important 11th-century temples: Gunung Kawi, located 300 steps down into a narrow valley; and Tirta Empul, which we reached in vintage VW convertibles. Once there, we discovered an extensive bathing pool fed by a holy spring of purified water. We paused for lunch at a restaurant overlooking Mount Batur, Gunung Aban and Lake Batur. After lunch, we began our descent, stopping at the model Balinese village Penglipuran and Pura Kehen, a third-century temple.

Those of us on the Ultimate Uluwatu Excursion set off on a tour of southern Bali’s Bukit Peninsula, home to the island’s most idyllic beaches. We stopped for lunch atop the cliffs at the Canna Beach Club, followed by some time to relax amid the soft sands of the beachfront. After lunch, we traveled to the clifftop temple of Uluwatu for a dramatic performance of the Balinese Kecak dance in the amphitheater.

Meanwhile, our Land Cruiser Adventure set out to the Mount Batukaru region. After a coach tour of Denpasar, we arrived at the trailhead where our rugged Land Rover Defenders awaited. Once aboard, we ventured onto small backroads linking rice fields and local villages, making stops along the way. We reached an altitude of 3,000 feet along a rainforest track and joined the Hills and Lakes groups for a traditional Balinese lunch. On our way back down the mountain, we stopped at the Besikalung Temple for a Hindu cleansing ceremony. Then, we returned to our hotel for our last night ashore. Tomorrow, we will board ‘Le Laperouse’ for the exciting voyage ahead.

November 23, 2022 | Bali: Island of the Gods & Setting Sail for Komodo Island

This morning, we were able to catch up on jetlag, take a dip in the pool, walk on the beach and enjoy a relaxing breakfast. Off to the north, the volcanic peaks that were obscured by clouds and rain yesterday were now clearly visible on the horizon.

After lunch in the Sundara Restaurant, we boarded our coaches for the afternoon excursion into Denpasar en route to our ship. Setting off through the crowded city streets, we watched as small motorbikes moved in throngs, weaving between cars, trucks and buses. Despite the seeming chaos, drivers and riders shared the road without blaring their horns. Arriving at Jero Kuta Palace, we admired the traditional architecture of the King of Denpasar’s former residence — its courtyard dotted with massive epiphytic ferns that graced the trunks and branches of tropical trees.

Sifting through afternoon traffic, we reached Benoa Port, boarded ‘Le Laperouse’ and settled into our cabins. We watched a tropical storm approach across the bay as we disembarked. Amid the lightning and thunder, flights of egrets, cormorants and terns headed to roost as darkness and rain began to fall, marking a dramatic start to our voyage to Komodo and beyond.

November 24, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: Pulau Banta & Komodo National Park

Our voyage began with a leisurely morning cruise through the Indonesian Archipelago en route to our first anchorage off Pulau Banda. Overnight, we had travelled nearly 200 nautical miles, passing the island of Tambora which erupted in 1815. The largest eruption in the last 10,000 years, it led to the infamous “year without a summer.”

As we sailed on through the morning, our photo coach, Michelle Valberg, gave the first enrichment lecture of the trip, a presentation on creativity and composition in travel photography. Next came a briefing for our afternoon excursions at Pulau Banta, Komodo National Park, an uninhabited volcanic island with delightful beaches and an ancient caldera.

The Expedition Team’s scouting party prospected dive sites, snorkel sites and landing beaches, and soon we were heading off to enjoy the splendid isolation of the island. We swam, snorkeled and dove amid a wide range of corals and exotic fish.

Once we were all back on board ‘Le Laperouse,’ we set sail for Loh Liang, on Komodo Island, a mere 40 nautical miles away. Our first recap and briefing were followed by a delicious Thanksgiving Dinner.

November 25, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: Komodo Island & Komodo National Park

We rose before dawn for an extraordinary excursion ashore in search of the elusive Komodo dragon. A tropical sunrise welcomed us to the Lesser Sunda Islands and the biogeographical region of Wallacea, named after the great biologist Alfred Russel Wallace.

Once ashore on Komodo Island, we split into groups for hikes of varying lengths through the lowland forest and along the beach. On each of the hikes, we encountered the giant varanid lizard known as the endangered Komodo dragon. This largest of living lizards can reach lengths of 10 feet and weights of up to 150 pounds — truly an imposing creature. Fortunately, several dragons were just emerging from the forest to warm up in the morning sun as we arrived, affording us fantastic photo opportunities.

Back aboard, our vessel repositioned during breakfast to reach the Pink Beach of Komodo. Here, we walked the beach’s pink coral sands or snorkeled amid a coral wonderland of exotic fish. Some of us were fortunate enough to spot an octopus in the wild.

We returned to ‘Le Laperouse’ for lunch and a restful early afternoon. Later, our ornithologist, Dr. Pepper Trail, presented “Famous Finches and Flying Frogs: The Evolutionary Journey of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.” Soon after, we were welcomed by Captain Xavier Rutten and his officers for a cocktail party on the pool deck followed by a delightful welcome gala dinner.

November 26, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: At Sea, Alor Archipelago & Kalabahi

En route to the Alor Archipelago, our relaxing morning at sea was punctuated with occasional calls to the deck to see pilot whales, spinner dolphins and flying fish set against a stunning backdrop of the volcanic islands lying just to the north of our passage. Our Expedition Leader, Brad Climpson, and our marine specialists, Tom Hiney and Rich Pagen, briefed us on the marine species we’d encounter while diving and snorkeling the coral reefs. Then, our cultural specialist, Shirley Campbell, discussed the origins and languages of the Indigenous peoples of the region.

Soon after lunch, we docked in Kalahabi, a small port town in the Alor Archipelago of the eastern Lesser Sunda Islands. From here, our local guides led us to the island’s museum and its collection of traditional textiles (ikat) and extraordinary metal drums (moko). We also browsed the local Kadeleng market’s sprawling array of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, clothing and electronics. We continued to the local village of Latafui, where we witnessed a wonderfully photogenic performance of a traditional Lego Lego dance centered around the village’s sacred tree. After shopping for a few souvenirs, we returned to the ship for a pleasant evening at sea.

November 27, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: At Sea, Alor Archipelago & the Banda Islands

Cruising onward, our next destination of Banda Seira, Maluku awaits some 318 nautical miles along the Indonesian Archipelago.

On offer today were morning stretch classes, lectures, photography coaching, and time on deck with our naturalists watching for birds. Our lecture series continued with marine biologist, Rich Pagen’s fascinating “Productivity on the Coral Reef: How Interspecies Relationships Have Built an Empire” and photo coach, Michelle Valberg’s “Take Back Control of Your Camera Settings.”

We passed the remote island of Gunung Api, watching as tropicbirds, boobies and noddies darted past the ship. The day continued with anthropologist, Shirley Campbell’s “Textiles of Indonesia” and dive master, Tom Hiney’s “The Life of Sea Turtles.”

We rounded out the day with an entertaining recap session and a briefing on our exciting day ahead in the Banda Islands, former epicenter of the global spice trade.

November 28, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: Banda Neira & Maluku Province

The Banda Islands came into view this morning as the horizon greeted us with a tropical sunrise. Today, the cluster of ten picturesque islands that make up the Banda Archipelago is a sleepy backwater secluded amid the Moluccan Islands. For centuries however, the Banda Islands were a highly coveted epicenter of the spice trade. From here, nutmeg was traded north to China, west to Arabia and beyond into Europe, increasing in value every step of the way.

Heading ashore to Banda Neira, we were introduced to contemporary local island life, as well as the history of the colonial Portuguese, Dutch and British forces who fought over this hotly contested region. We toured the island’s hilltop fortress, learning how its distinctive, star-shaped walls defended against naval attacks from ship-mounted cannons. We continued on to a nutmeg grove for a closer look at this island’s former cash crop. Back on the narrow streets of the village, we had a chance encounter with a cheerful group of uniformed schoolchildren, paused for fresh coconut juice, then returned to the ship.

After lunch aboard, we snorkeled from the ship’s platform, exploring the tongue of a former lava flow inhabited by a bounty of hard corals and exotic fish.

Later, our culturalist, Shirley Campbell, gave a moving talk entitled “West Papua: A Struggle for Independence,” which was followed by our recap and briefing on tomorrow’s exploration of the Kei Islands.

November 29, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: Kei Islands & Maluku Province

Tropical squalls greeted us at breakfast. Our Expedition Team was met with a sky blackening sky, lightning flashes, wind and heavy rain as they set off on their scouting run. Undeterred, they found us excellent destinations to explore both in the water and ashore.

Our flexible expedition schedule let us take advantage of a window when the weather cleared. When it opened, we set off for a fantastic dive and a snorkel over a pristine reef of mound-forming and branching corals inhabited by sea fans, sea stars, burrowing clams, sea urchins and tunicates. Some night-active fish species hid among the branches of stags horn coral, while day-active species moved in mixed-species schools tantalizing us with colorful glimpses as they darted over the reef. Other species seemed to hang in place like wind charms in the air, allowing us time to admire them in detail. Some of us were even fortunate enough to spot the rarely encountered banded snake eel.

We returned in the afternoon amid a rising tide for our second spectacular dive or snorkeling opportunity. A myriad of tiny fish swarmed the shallows, occasionally chased by larger fish when they swirled beachward in smoke-like ribbons. Meanwhile, shovel-nosed rays dashed back and forth just offshore, keeping to the bottom.

Back ashore, some of us simply admired the tranquil view while others enjoyed fresh juice from coconuts picked for us by a friendly local couple quietly tending their fishing nets. Soon, it was time to pack up and leave our idyllic Kei Islands beach and head back to our ship to cool down, freshen up, and enjoy our daily recap, briefing and evening meal.

November 30, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: Triton Bay, Aiduma Island & Kaimana Province

This morning, we sailed toward the coast of West Papua, arriving amid the spectacular karst landscape framing Triton Bay. Formed at the bottom of a shallow sea eons ago, this vast expanse of sedimentary limestone was lifted far above the current sea-level, then eroded by rainwater and undercut by wave action into the fantastic channels, rivers, sinkholes and caves we see today.

We set off by Zodiac to cruise amid the bay’s numerous islands, admiring the towering tropical vegetation that clung to the steep cliffs. Enormous Blyth’s hornbills passed overhead, their wings thrashing the air audibly as sulfur-crested cockatoos added their raucous cries to the mix. We also encountered flowering torchwood trees, purple flowering orchids, tangles of pitcher plant vines and woody cycads. The crystal-clear water reflected the bright sunshine, making every turn of our Zodiac ride photogenic. At the furthest point of our ride, we reached a cliff face emblazoned with a red ochre rock painting resembling a frog or turtle — artistic evidence that people have been a part of this remote region for thousands of years.

After returning to our ship for lunch, we spent the afternoon diving and snorkeling off the peaceful shores of Aiduma Island. A squall passed through, but the rain was irrelevant once we were underwater amid the fish and corals. The divers encountered not one, but two, rarely seen pygmy seahorses, tiny creatures the size of a fingernail.

Back on board, we freshened up to enjoy recap, dinner and a lively karaoke night in the main lounge.

December 1, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: At Sea from Aiduma Island to Agats

Last night, today and tonight, we are travelling 250 nautical miles along the coast of the vast island of New Guinea, from Aiduma Island to Agats.

Several enrichment lectures entertained and informed us during today’s voyage: First, our ornithologist Dr. Pepper Trail offered his thought-provoking talk, There Are No Moa: Evolution and Extinction on Islands, about island biodiversity. Later this morning, our cultural anthropologist Dr. Shirley Campbell amazed us with extraordinary tales of the region’s culture in her lecture, Living With The Ancestors: The Asmat.

This afternoon, the captivating marine biologist Rich Pagen delighted us with his talk, Drama Like Your Favourite Soap Opera: Competition & Adaptation On the Reef. Then, for a change of pace, our expedition leader Brad Climpson briefed us on tomorrow’s activities so we could dedicate our early evening to a game of Call My Bluff, typically called Liars Club on board ships.

Rich Pagen hosted our erudite storytellers, —Murph, Pepper, Shirley, Mark and MiMo — in the main lounge. Their labyrinthine tales — peppered with definitions of unusual words ranging from “gyascutus” to “cualacino” — baffled and amused us. With only one storyteller giving the correct definition, our audience was challenged to determine who gave each word’s correct definition and who was bluffing.

After a fun-filled day, we are excited to head to the Asmat.

December 2, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: Agats, in the Asmat, South Papua

Early this morning, we sailed in our Zodiacs from the sea and upriver to the town of Agats. When we reached the shore of Syruru Village, local people wearing traditional dress and body paint chanted and clattered their paddles against the sides of their dugout canoes, their ready smiles signaling a warm welcome.

Once ashore, we approached the village’s newly built men’s house and were treated to displays of chanting, dancing and the raising of two enormous carved ceremonial poles. After this fascinating display, we were then invited inside the men’s house to meet and greet family leaders. On our way back toward our landing site, shopping opportunities rounded out our morning full of cultural experiences.

After lunch on board, we came ashore again and wandered on foot through the town toward a large new wooden structure, the Agats Museum. This new museum housed fascinating displays of carvings, poles, drums, shields, arrows, spears and even decorated human skulls — reminders of the central roles war and death played in Syuru Village’s past.

There were friendly faces at every turn as we walked back toward the landing, with local passers-by keen to take our photos. When we arrived back at the riverside steps to board our Zodiacs once more, we found the riverside teeming with townsfolk waiting to wave us on our way. Groups of children delighted by brief Zodiac rides were even more excited when sprayed with cooling river water. As we departed, it seemed that the whole town had gathered to wave us goodbye.

But our day was not quite over. Five of the elder members of Syuru Village, including the head of the village, visited us on the ship. In spectacular traditional attire, they performed several dances and chants for us as an amazing send-off.

Our journey in Indonesia and Papua has come to an end, but our voyage is by no means over. Overnight we are bound for the Torres Strait and Australia.

December 3, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: At Sea, Australia Bound

With 520 nautical miles to travel between Agats, Indonesia, and Thursday Island, Australia, we are beginning to grasp the scale of our journey. Having left Agats at high tide late last night, we have spent the day at sea.

On this bright, sunny day with mostly calm seas, there were occasional sightings of seabirds, dolphins and whales near the ship. On board, we had a full day of education and entertainment with our Expedition Team. We could sit in the forward lounge or on our balconies to read, or we could wander the ship and admire the artwork and photography adorning its walls and corridors.

Today, we were offered four lecture options. In the morning, cultural lecturer Shirley Campbell gave context to the area where we will enter Australia and the ancestry and ways of life of the people there. Next, our photo coach, Michelle Valberg, gave us helpful photography tips in her talk, “Creating Emotional Impact.” In the afternoon, ornithologist Pepper Trail offered the fascinating lecture, “Love on the Wing: Mating Systems of Strange and Familiar Birds” before naturalist and divemaster, Tom Hiney, presented “Coral Reef Conservation,” giving us strategies to help preserve this extraordinary marine environment.

Our day ended with an amusing recap from our team and a briefing from Expedition Leader, Brad Climpson, followed by dinner and a trivia quiz.

Tomorrow, after another night and morning at sea, we will reach Australia, a new continent for many of us.

December 4, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: At Sea and Thursday Island, Australia

This morning, we woke to tranquil seas, abundant sunshine and clear skies, creating an idyllic breakfast view. Soon afterward, marine biologist, Rich Pagen, gave his talk, “Warm Blooded in a Tropical Sea: Marine Mammal Natural History in the Indo-Pacific.” Before we knew it, we were approaching Australian waters, and our Australian pilot came on board. As the Torres Strait Islands loomed in our horizon, we spotted several brown boobies, a small flock of magpie geese, numerous flying fish and even spotted a shark.

Once we were anchored off Thursday Island and enjoyed our lunch, friendly Australian customs and immigration officials came on board to check our passports and meet us. Before long, our fleet of Zodiacs was lowered, and we zoomed off to shore to walk around the friendly community and to gather at a local hotel for a refreshing late-afternoon drink.

We found ourselves in a different world from Indonesia — one with wide streets, extensive properties, motorized vehicles and an arid environment. The naturalists among us were delighted to find cockatoos, lorikeets, fig birds, friarbirds and sunbirds while walking around the town.

Back on board, we gathered for our evening recap before dinner and received delightful news from our Expedition Leader, Brad Climpson. In negotiation with the Captain, the Australian authorities and the pilot, Brad had somehow found the time for us to make an extra stop tomorrow after our overnight transit.

We are on our way to Bligh Reef, an outer reef of the world-famous Great Barrier Reef.

December 5, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Another beautifully clear day dawned on us at sea. This morning, we navigated southward down the east coast of Australia, inside the world-famous Great Barrier Reef. The view to the west was the Australian mainland’s low hills covered with deep green forests, while to the east, the view was distant white surf catching the sunlight as it broke over the outer fringes of the reef. At the reef, the deep Coral Sea meets shallow coastal waters along the edge of the greatest reef on Earth, which stretches more than 1,400 miles.

On board, our morning’s entertainment involved our snorkel and divemaster, Mike Murphy’s “Ruffy Tuffy Deep Sea Divers” — an amazing tale of his extraordinary exploits and harrowing experiences in the world of commercial deep-sea diving. Then, ornithologist, Pepper Trail, talked about his previous and unusual career in “Fighting Crime with Feathers: The Casebook of a Forensic Ornithologist.”

Meanwhile, our Expedition Team was out scouting and preparing for what turned out to be a magnificent afternoon on the reef. Soon after lunch, we were able to take Zodiac shuttles out to the snorkel platforms beside a section of Bligh Reef known as Cat Reef. Under bright sunshine, the brilliant turquoise water tempted our snorkelers to venture out and bask in the presence of impressive numbers of fish, especially below the wall of the reef. Tropical terns passed overhead, while a great array of corals and fish awaited us in the water below. It was hard to tear ourselves away from this fabulous, rarely visited site.

Once we were all back on board, Expedition Leader, Brad Climpson, briefed us all about our day ahead at Lizard Island, and we reflected on the voyage so far by viewing of the images and video taken by the team on board.

Soon it was time for Captain Xavier Rutten’s farewell cocktail party on the pool deck, followed by a farewell gala dinner in the Nautilus Restaurant, a performance entitled “New York” by the Ballet Paris C’Show, and the executive chef’s surprise special dessert on the aft deck. This wonderful celebration of our voyage served as a bittersweet reminder that our voyage must come to an end soon — though not before one more expedition stop.

Overnight we will continue southward, navigating the waters inside the Great Barrier Reef to reach Lizard Island by dawn, where ore adventures await us.

December 6, 2022 | Bali to Cairns: Lizard Island, Australia

We know all good things must come to an end, but rarely do they end on such an incredible high note. We spent today, the last expedition day of our expedition, on Lizard Island. We hit the ground running at dawn and kept going until long after dusk.

Some chose to hike with Mimo, Mike and George up Cook’s Look — the 359-meter granite mountain named after Captain James Cook that dominates the island — and take in the spectacular view from the top.

Meanwhile, the early birders walked below with Pepper and Mark. Traversing various trails in the grassland and mangrove woodlands, they sought out coucals, sunbirds, doves, skinks, lizards and vocal black fruit bats in their daytime roosts.

With Tom, Murf and Pagano leading dives, snorkels and walks throughout the morning and afternoon, the day offered all the fun we could have wished for.

Snorkeling offered us unforgettable sights and experiences — from the spectacular coral reef and to the tiny reef fish we found there, from the huge leopard-spotted ray and grazing turtles to the diminutive Christmas tree worms — there was so much to be seen. But what stole the show was the number and size of the giant clams. Some of them must have spread more than four feet across the shell. We were able to snorkel above them and look down at their colorful mantles and enormous siphons — what a privilege.

Some of us saw sharks, others enjoyed time up close with turtles, and the rest of us relaxed on the beach or on board the elegant ‘Le Laperouse.’ Our day on Lizard Island flew by, and now that it’s nearly over, we look back at it as one of the great highlights of our journey.

As dusk fell, we returned to our home away from home, freshened up and joined the final recap. Pepper offered haiku about the trip, Brad reviewed our voyage and reintroduced the team members, and Michelle Valberg wowed us with her multimedia extravaganza featuring her fantastic photos and video footage of our trip.

This evening, we shared the last hours of our journey with our new and old friends, fondly reminiscing about our amazing voyage from Bali to Cairns.

Just 130 nautical miles lie between us and the port city of Cairns, our bittersweet partings and the beginnings of our long journeys home. Wishing you fair winds and calm seas on your travels and hoping we meet again on another adventure in the future.

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