Spice and serenity
A sailing trip around Indonesia’s Raja Ampat islands is rich in natural wonders
DEBORAH CASSRELS THE British tourist mutters to nobody in particular that this is where pterodactyls would have lived. The remarks break a reverential hush as we gaze from our dinghies at prehistoric-looking limestone islets rising from the glassy lagoons.
Her commentaries on everything from rare birds to mosquito bites have provoked more than a few laughs since we embarked on a sailing expedition to this remote northeast Indonesian archipelago. But she is spot on with her latest observation.
The Raja Ampat (Four Kings) islands off the northwestern tip of West Papua province, at the intersection of the Pacific and Indian oceans, are otherworldly and breathtakingly beautiful, an environment of turquoise water, mysterious atolls and jungle-shrouded islands.
At Wayag Island, we reach the centre of the legendary Coral Triangle, which stretches from The Philippines south to Timor and across to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Wayag is among 1500 protected islands, shoals and cays in Raja Ampat, treasure troves that house the world’s most biodiverse collection of marine life, including 1309 fish and 537 coral species.
Straddling the equator, the mostly uninhabited archipelago in the Halmahera Sea is a reminder about the rewards of remoteness. It takes some effort to get here, but this almost tourist-free zone rivals the most spectacular places on earth.
We are halfway into a two-week cruise from the north Maluku Islands to Sorong in West Papua aboard the 33m Katharina, a traditional Sulawesi phinisi schooner built in 1998. An unpretentious yet grand vessel, it is one of few to traverse this lush, rainforested region.
Meeting the Katharina is a journey in itself. From Bali, it’s a 90-minute flight northeast to Makassar, in Sulawesi, followed by a two-hour flight in the same direction to our anchorage at Ternate, a small, active volcanic island and
left The Raja Ampat islands, West Papua opposite page The Katharina, a traditional schooner