We spent 15 days sailing over 1500km exploring the more remote area of the Lesser Sunda Islands and the Banda Sea. Starting from the port of Labuan Bajo, in Flores and ending in the port of Saumlaki in the Tanimbar Islands. Accompanied by a group of renowned Ornithologists (bird scientists), our aim was to survey some of the more forgotten islands in the region for endemic bird species.
The 4,000km long Indonesian Archipelago, stretching east to west across three time zones, hosts over 600 endemic birds. With more than 18,000 islands, it is almost impossible to see all of those endemics, and a considerable number are amongst the most difficult species to see on earth because they inhabit remote islands. Nowhere is this truer than amongst the mainly volcanic islands that form the eastern arc of the Lesser Sunda islands. Indeed the larger Lesser Sunda islands of Flores, Sumba and Timor are easy to get to and are visited by birders annually. Yet, the remote islands of Wetar, Alor, Pantar and a series of even smaller islands in the Banda and Flores Seas including Tanahjampea, Kalaotoa, Damar and Babar have been visited by almost no birders. Their fauna and flora is only known through a limited amount of collecting that took place more than 100 years ago, along with a handful of recent trips by intrepid explorers.
Apart from copious amounts of birding, we also did a bunch of diving, freediving, spearfishing and volcano climbing (as per usual). We had never been to this part of Indonesia before so everyday was filled with the fresh new excitement of being able to explore a completely new place – a feeling we live for.
The first group of islands we visited are about 100nm north of Labuan Bajo. Tanahjampea and Kalatoa island are a part of Southern Sulawesi’s Selayor Islands and are home to four very rare endemic taxa of bird.
A local from the village of Tengah on Tanahjampea island. We asked him if there was any decent diving around and he recommended not to go diving as there are far too many saltwater crocodiles in the area. Over the past few years, 10 people have been taken by the crocs here. He claims there is a 7m croc in the area. After discussing stories, we gifted him a few liters of fuel. Below is a photo of his daily catch from the traditional fishing trap he built on the shores of the mangrove.
The local’s traditional fishing trap. Often saltwater crocodile’s get trapped in here too.
Cruising from Sulawesi’s Selayor islands to the island of Pantar in the Eastern Alor Archipelago.
Gus always up to watch sunrise with a strong local coffee
Wetar Island. This region is known for its unusual fauna, and Wetar is no exception. It has 162 species of birds, three of which are endemic, and four of which are endangered. We anchored infront of a very remote village on the northern coast of Wetar island known as Naumatang Village. The bay infront of the village hosts vibrantly clear water agains a nice shallow black sand bottom but due to the presence of saltwater crocodiles, we refrained from swimming.
Beautiful, yet dangerous. An abundance of saltwater crocs lurk in these waters.
We spent a day trekking through the Naumatang river gorge in search for the elusive Wetar Ground Dove. Privileged to have had a few sightings of this very rare species throughout the day.
Following the river, we ventured deep and far into the jungle.
Despite seeing multiple snakes (some exceeding one-meter), we pushed onward.
We were often met with incredible landscapes, all still untouched and unseen by most foreigners.
Nothing like a splash to mitigate that searing equator-heat.
And a swim in the (probably snake- infested) wild river pools.
Captain Meidy and our Chief Engineer Budi relaxing on the boat after 25 hours of cruising.
We were privileged to enjoy bountiful spearfishing grounds on our journey. Many of the islands we stopped at to fish had insane deep water reef drop offs. Reefs would often stretch for a few hundred meters from the shore at a depth of 5-7 meters then suddenly drop off to 50-100m creating an insane wall. These are ideal spearfishing grounds as it is a meeting point for big pelagic fish species and reef dwelling fish.
Evenings onboard were spent cleaning fish and drinking red wine as the sun went down.
Lekaras village on the island of Wetar is home to an active Australian mine. We cruised around in search of a endemic species of Night Jar and the Wetar Scops Owl.
This is Raja, one of the local bird guides, hailing from Bogor in Java. He aims to be the best night birder in all of Indonesia.
Local villagers on remote Wetar, one of them just casually checking his Instagram (LOL)
Damar Island – One of the most remote and disconnected islands we visited on this trip.
Sailing into a protected bay on Damar island, we spot the smoking Wurlali Volcano. Can’t expect us to see a volcano and not climb it … so the next morning we packed out bags and missioned to summit =)
Some of the greenest jungle we have experienced in all of Indo
An hour trek up the base of the volcano in scorching temperatures… time for a Bintang.
Mount Wurlali is a stratovolcano on Damar Island. Active sulfur deposits are found at the twin summit craters. We climbed during midday heat due to an unfortunate rain storm that prevented our early morning departure.
Our local guides =)
Gustav enjoying a jug of ice cold lemonade in our wetsuit deck room after the hottest trek we’ve ever done.