Spice and seren­ity

A sail­ing trip around In­done­sia’s Raja Am­pat is­lands is rich in nat­u­ral won­ders

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - DEB­O­RAH CASSRELS

ALAMY

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

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