Cruising Indonesia’s last paradise

By Nicola Timm 13 March 2024
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There’s expedition cruising, then there’s expedition cruising with Heritage Expeditions.

This article is brought to you by Heritage Expeditions.

This journey began as an opportunity for me to work through some of my harder-to-tick-off bucket list items – swimming with whale sharks, walking with Komodo dragons, snorkelling Pink Beach, observing the famed lekking of birds of paradise, and exploring the insta-worthy blue waters of Raja Ampat.

But Heritage Expedition’s 19-day Indonesian Explorer voyage quickly became a life-changing re-education about the natural world. Spanning both the Wallace and Weber lines that mark the distribution of species between Australia, Papua New Guinea and Southeast Asia, and bisecting a major juncture of Earth’s tectonic plates, Indonesia is home to two biodiversity hotspots and staggering numbers of flora and fauna species scattered across 18,000 paradisiacal islands and islets. These remote wildlife outposts, only accessible by ship, continue to astound science with discoveries – making them the perfect destination for expedition cruising.

Image credit: Steven Bradley

Boarding our nimble, purpose-built expedition ship Heritage Adventure, it was immediately apparent that we were about to embark on an authentic exploration of Indonesia’s remote and little-known tropical islands. The ship’s refined elegance and expedition cred lived up to her title of “The Grande Dame of Expedition Cruising”.

Meeting our expedition team was another highlight. We were entertained and educated by a series of lectures and field explorations led by a roll-call of industry-leading guides, scientists, conservationists and filmmakers.

Among them were: award-winning BBC wildlife documentary filmmakers Neil Nightingale and Karen Bass, a power couple who have worked alongside David Attenborough (and are together as a result of his matchmaking prowess); marine biologists, including whale shark and manta ray researcher Abraham Sianipar and Rolex Scholar Courtney Rayes; New Zealand conservation legends Rod Morris and Lou Sanson; Australia’s own culturalist extraordinaire Suzanne Noakes; and Professor Tim Flannery, acclaimed author, scientist and explorer and Heritage Expeditions regular.

Leading the charge was biologist Aaron Russ, our expedition leader. Aaron has more than 100 expeditions under his belt, having grown up in the family business. His parents, Rodney and Shirley Russ, founded Heritage Expeditions 40 years ago, and today Aaron and his brother, Nathan, proudly continue their legacy.

What followed was an unforgettable tropical island–hopping voyage of discovery, where authentic, responsible travel met bucket list experiences. We explored islands steeped in history, encountered beautiful and unique wildife, and met communities with rich cultural heritage. Our visits also supported local conservation initiatives and remote indigenous communities.

Image credit: Steven Bradley

Wildlife encounters were endless, breathcatching and inspiring. On Komodo Island – Indonesia’s version of Jurassic Park – we walked among Komodo dragons and watched them bask in the sun. The giant lizards lumbered on powerful claws across the dusty earth, their forked tongues flicking, and heavy-set tails swaying in their wake.

We hiked through the moonlit tropical rainforest on Waigeo Island and were rewarded by the playful courtship displays of brilliantly coloured Wilson’s and red birds of paradise. On Sumbawa we watched traditional water buffalo racing – who knew they could move so fast?

Image credit: Steven Bradley

But it was the joyous underwater encounters with bus-sized whale sharks that were seared in our memories and hearts. Dwarfed by these gentle giants, we watched in awe as they glided among us, their enormous mouths agape. We were mesmerised by their inquisitive eyes and the constellations of white spots on their backs.

When it comes to reef-fringed islands, gin-clear turquoise waters and powdery white-sand
beaches complete with palms, Indonesia is the dictionary definition of paradise. With more than 18,000 islands and islets to choose from, our explorations included a mix of iconic destinations alongside others that were wild, remote and rarely visited.

Image credits: Steven Bradley

Our Zodiacs wove through ancient coral reefs, while above us loomed the sheer, jungle-capped cliffs of Wayag Island, its limestone hills resplendent with birdlife and wild orchids. We dug our toes into lolly-pink sands at Komodo Island’s Pink Beach, and explored our own private paradise on the tiny island of Rusbasbedas. On Misool we saw 5000-year-old ancient rock art painted in the stark karst landscape, and charted our course with envy-inducing social media posts.

What lies beneath Indonesia’s pellucid waters easily matches the picture-perfect paradise above. Snorkelling here felt like swimming in an aquarium. We marvelled at its expansive coral gardens, waving anemones and neon-tinged fish, and watched in awe as giant clams and crustaceans disappeared into inky depths.

Image credit: Steven Bradley

At Satonda Island we drifted beside hawksbill turtles, met a manta ray at Pink Beach, and topped it all off with afternoons snorkelling in the pristine waters of Wakatobi National Marine Park, off Wangiwangi Island – a biodiverse region that oceanographer Jacques Cousteau rightfully described as an “underwater nirvana”.

Departures and Fares

Indonesian Explorer
19 days, 13–31 October 2024
Bali, Indonesia, to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, with FREE FLIGHTS to Cairns.

From $22,650pp twin share, Deck 4
Superior Stateroom

For more information call 1800 143 585 or email [email protected]

This article is brought to you by Heritage Expeditions.