Featuring Fauna and Flora International’s Dr. Tony Whitten
We are delighted to offer this National Geographic award-winning ‘Tour of a Lifetime,’ in collaboration with Dr. Tony Whitten and Fauna & Flora International. This exclusive itinerary honours Alfred Russel Wallace and the time he spent in what is now Indonesia, independently working on the theory of evolution. Wallace’s observations of the marked zoological differences across a narrow strait in the archipelago led to his proposing the faunal boundary line, now known as the Wallace Line, which separates the ecozones of Asia and Australia. West of the line are found organisms related to Asiatic species; to the east, a mixture of species of Asian and Australian origin is present. While he was exploring the archipelago, he refined his thoughts about evolution and had his famous insight on natural selection. In 1858 he sent an article outlining his theory to Darwin; it was published, along with a description of Darwin’s own theory, in the same year.
For this cruise, we will revisit some of the areas that Wallace found so fascinating and we will hopefully experience the magic of seeing the bird of paradise in its full glory within its natural habitat. There are new adventures every day as we explore the tiny islands that make up this region. We will trek through jungle terrain witnessing the wildlife as well as experiencing some remote local villages. This area of Indonesia, referred to as The Coral Triangle, is home to arguably the most diverse marine life in the world. We will explore on land and underwater exactly what captivated Wallace about this part of the world and what continues to attract scientists and nature lovers from across the globe. We are delighted to have, once again, the expert knowledge and inspiring energy of Dr. Tony Whitten leading this tour with a seasoned crew on the Ombak Putih. The excursions and discussions will nourish your mind, while the time spent on the boat will relax your body to ensure a truly unforgettable trip.
Note: This tour begins on the island of Ternate. Airfares to Ternate and from Sorong are not included in the tour package. We will be happy to assist you with any information and flight reservations. As we would like to start on time, we recommend that our guests arrive in Makassar (Sulawesi) one day early or take the earliest flight from Makassar to Ternate.
Your flight arrives on the small island of Ternate, which is the capital of the North Maluku Province. Here, you will be met at the airport and transferred to the stately Ombak Putih, moored offshore of Ternate City. There will be time for you to get settled into your rooms and have a quick safety briefing as we enjoy an alfresco lunch and meet the other passengers and crew. In the afternoon we will venture into the city, which has retained its commercial and political importance as the administrative and trading centre of North Maluku. Of the four historically powerful spice sultanates, Ternate is the only one where the institution of the sultanate has survived uninterrupted. A highlight will be our visit to the old house, which is said to have been lived in by Wallace and used over a period of years as his base during his many specimen-gathering expeditions. There will be an opportunity to post your own version of Wallace’s renowned ‘Letter from Ternate’ on our specially-prepared postcards. If there is time, we will also go and see the ‘Afo’ – the clove tree that defied an empire. Afo is the oldest clove tree in the world, with estimates suggesting that it is between 350 and 400 years old. The story surrounding it is a fascinating history of intrigue, greed and hope.
In the early morning, we will weigh anchor and cruise south with the beautiful chain of volcanic islands of Makian, Moti, Mare, Tidore, Ternate and Hiri to the west. We will find a good place to snorkel along the way, and in the afternoon we will moor off Beruba-ruba village on the west coast of Halmahera Island, where the villagers will take us into the forest to see a lovely waterfall and to do a bit of Wallace-style foraging for beetles and other creepy-crawlies.
We will rise at 4.00am, have coffee and cookies, and transfer to cars, which will drive us over the dividing range to Weda Reef & Rainforest Resort, which is a small eco-resort. Together with the local community, the owners of the resort manage a foundation for education and conservation of the primary forest and its wildlife. They are proud to be able to protect 700 hectares of primary jungle, home of the Wallace’s Standardwing bird of paradise, many other species of birds, and other wildlife.
We will start our walk into the rainforest so that by 6am, we will be quietly in situ below the trees used for courtship display by Wallace’s Standardwing bird of paradise. This was the only bird of paradise discovered by Wallace (or rather by his assistant, Ali, in 1858). The polygamous males gather and perform a spectacular aerial display, each ‘parachuting’ with its wings and its vivid-green breast shield spread, and the wing ‘standards’ fluttering above its back. We’ll walk back to the road where we will have breakfast at a shelter before heading out for a morning of bird watching (hornbills, giant cuckoos, parrots, and more). There might be a chance for a snorkel in Weda Bay before having lunch at the resort.
When we wake up today we will find ourselves in the southern hemisphere, off Bacan Island, where we will venture ashore to explore the coastal area and adjacent forest edge. This is the island where Wallace discovered the golden birdwing butterfly and the eponymous Wallace’s giant bee. We are unlikely to see either – but we are ever hopeful. Nevertheless, there will always be plenty of interesting plants and animals to discover. We will then head on south and stop at the Bajau village on Dowora Lamo Island to meet a community of people from an interesting ethnic group encountered by Wallace. We will likely visit the school. In the late afternoon we will aim to snorkel near Joronga and Damar Islands, off the extreme southernmost tip of Halmahera, before having dinner as we cruise west towards the Raja Ampat islands.
We should reach Klaarbeck Island by morning. This is where Wallace landed after having made his way with great difficulty from Seram Island, in the south, to Waigeo Island, which is the largest of the Raja Ampat Islands. A combination of unpredictable winds, fierce currents, difficult anchorages and lack of water sources ended with him being unable to retrieve two crewmen who were stranded to the south on the small island of Kommerrust. Eventually, with a heavy heart and much fear for his stranded men, he was forced to abandon their rescue. Hopefully, we will be able to land on Klaarbeck and climb the hill that Wallace climbed in the vain hope of signalling to his stranded men. At the top of the hill our mission will be to find one of the world’s most remote GeoCache sites.
Today will be spent on the water and by dusk we should be offshore of Yar Island where we would hope to see a flock of large flying foxes emerge in a steady throng from the forest. Unlike their smaller cave-dwelling cousins, these large fruit bats hang out in camps high above the rainforest floor. They feed on a diet of fruit and nectar from night-opening flowers, playing an essential ecological role by pollinating the plants and dispersing their seeds. We are always watchful for an opportunity to snorkel or use the sea kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, while also looking for spots to set up for a beach barbeque which is always a highlight. In the evening there will be a presentation on monitoring the health of coral reefs using Reefcheck methodology. Wallace did not collect corals but he took great delight in seeing their beautiful shapes and colours.
Today, we will spend another day near Yar Island. After breakfast we will have time to snorkel before moving to explore the land and reefs of the islands to the northeast.
We will emerge from our cabins in the southwest corner of Kabui Bay next to ‘Wallace’s Channel’ where Wallace emerged after his very challenging sail from Seram. After breakfast we will take dinghies through the narrow channel, examine the vegetation clinging to the limestone cliffs, and snorkel at a few contrasting sites. We will then return to the ship and head out of the bay; with luck we might see some dolphins and even some small whales. We will spend the afternoon in Yenbeser village where Wallace spent some months and (if the tides are right) we’ll visit a faithful replica of Wallace’s small hut, which was built by the villagers using plans from FFI (Flora & Fauna International) and a grant from the vessel owner. Perhaps we will make it to a display tree of the remarkable red bird of paradise, one of the species Wallace was most anxious to collect, in time to watch them dance. If the tides are against us, the schedule will be revised accordingly, with a visit to Wallace’s Hut on Day 7, and Day 8 reserved for making up lost time.
Today we will rise at 4.30am, off Sawinggarai village. The dinghy will carry us across to the village in the dark and a local guide will take us on a 20-minute-walk into the forest on a pre-dawn quest to spot the remarkable red bird of paradise, one of the species that Wallace was most anxious to collect. We hope that the efforts of our early start will pay off, enabling us to catch a rare and privileged sight of the bird’s elaborate courtship dance as the day breaks over the forest canopy. Back in the village there will be time to meet with the community and perhaps visit the school. We will be back on the boat by mid-morning and if time permits we’ll travel over to Pef Island to snorkel and motor around the convoluted coast, while learning the myth about the prehistoric hand print still visible high on a limestone cliff. In the afternoon, we’ll head east and should manage a snorkel on the reefs of Mioskon Island before dinner. Tonight we will cruise towards Mayalibit Bay (South Waigeo).
We will wake up in the south of Mayalibit Bay – the huge and wild bay at the heart of Waigeo, Raja Ampat’s biggest island. The bay, which almost splits the island in two, is entered via a narrow fjord-like channel that meets the ocean just east of Waisai on Waigeo’s south coast. When the tide is running, the huge volumes of water flowing into or out of Mayalibit make the channel look like a swift and powerful river. After breakfast, we will take the dinghies to a village at the north of the passage and meet with a local NGO leader to discuss illegal logging, community development and (hopefully) what a new FFI project is doing in these areas. We will then briefly visit Lopintol Village, from where one of the village elders will take us to two very dramatic and contrasting caves that highlight the fascinating underground formations of the karst landscape.
We will awake off Batanta Island and after breakfast will go ashore. We will also have time to find one or two good places for water activities before we make our final sea trip to Sorong, the capital of West Papua Province. In Sorong we will go ashore and wander around the bustling market and in the evening have our farewell dinner with our captain and crew.
After an early breakfast we will say goodbye to Dr. Tony, the crew and our sea based home, the Ombak Putih. We will take the tenders ashore where you will be transferred to the airport for your onward travel.
Meet the expert – Dr. Tony Whitten
Dr. Tony Whitten was trained as a wildlife biologist and since late 2010 he has been the Regional Director for Asia-Pacific at Fauna & Flora International, the world’s oldest international conservation organization. The subject of his PhD at Cambridge University was on the endangered gibbon on a remote and primitive island west of Sumatra in the mid 1970s. After this Tony worked at the University of North Sumatra where he initiated production of a major and innovative series of books on the ecology of the several regions of Indonesia, writing three of them himself, each taking about three years. During a two-year spell in the UK, he was employed by the British government’s conservation agency to write its Recovery Plan for Protected Species – covering sea anemones to wild cats. He joined the World Bank in 1995 and supported a broad range of activities and projects until he left in 2010: he advised on habitat and species protection issues as part of infrastructure projects, started various region-wide and global activities (e.g. on the forgotten biodiversity of caves and karst), ran a programme which produced 111 volumes of local language field guides to all manner of plants and animals, and was responsible for a suite of conservation projects in Mongolia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Vietnam and elsewhere in the region. He has an in-depth and broad knowledge of biodiversity and has published on a wide variety of topics.