If you’ve been thinking about jetting across the globe to Indonesia, there’s a chance that Bali is top of your list; and we completely understand why. Famed for sacred monkey sanctuaries, lush green jungles and its bustling streets, Bali’s tropical offering garners multiple millions of visitors every year, from worldwide globetrotters to leisure seeking tourists.
‘You can be as relaxed or as active as you want to be in Bali. Wellness is a big focus, but also taking time to explore by bike, on foot or snorkelling to take in the marine life,’ suggests Craig Johnstone, regional product manager at Audley Travel. ‘You can spend the morning in the hills and the afternoon on the beach with stops at waterfalls and volcanoes along the way. Enjoy late nights and beach clubs around Seminyak and Canggu, live it up in luxurious hotels in Jimbaran or Ullawatu, embark on a culinary or wellness escape in Ubud, or simply relax in the hills around Munduk.’
As a vegan and recent wellness convert, Bali was at the forefront of my personal must-visit list. With an ambrosial offering of diverse plant-based cuisine and generous roster of luxurious spas and hotels, it’s an obvious choice for anyone looking for a rejuvenating holiday.
What I didn’t know, is that Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, made up of over 18,000 islands and islets. Beyond its best known tourist hubs, Bali and Jakarta, there are perfectly preserved crevices of Indonesia that offer an off-the-beaten-track (or shore, in this case) experience of its wild and captivating terrain. That’s when my traditional wellness retreat transformed into a week-long adventure of cloud-grazing heights and captivating sea dives.
A short, scenic flight from Denpasar’s bustling city will see you to Labuan Bajo, Komodo’s capital. Whether you’re looking for a trip to piggyback your Bali adventure, or want a totally unique voyage you’ll never forget, this is everything you need to know about one of nature’s most wondrous locations. From spying modern dinosaurs to snorkelling with whale sharks, this is why Aqua Blu’s expedition to Komodo has beelined to the top of my travel bucketlist.
For nature bucketlisters…
Komodo Island’s namesake is, of course, the key draw for tourists far and wide thanks to its cloud-grazing peaks, refracting waves and thriving Indonesia reefs. A brief tender from the ship, Aqua Blu, and you’ll arrive at the shore of Komodo Island, the National Park’s largest island.
It’s here that you can visit the closest thing to modern dinosaurs on Earth today: the Komodo dragon. Inhabited by 1,800 of these prehistoric predators, the majority of the island is reserved for locals and rangers and deemed too dangerous to be scaled by unaccompanied tourists (the invitation to view them up-close is exclusive to Aqua Blu).
The sparknotes rundown? These unpredictable reptiles date back four million years, can reach 90kg, score speeds of up to 12mph and come complete with lethal bacterial venom filled jaws. To see them from mere metres away, in their most natural habitat, is a true once in a lifetime sight and enough to justify the 17-hour flight alone.
For unique, sky-brushing views…
Fans of cloud-grazing viewpoints and challenging hikes will find Komodo’s mountainous terrain magnetising.
The island of Padar boasts a trifecta of sandy shores in varying tonal palettes (black, white and pink) which are all visible from one paradisiacal viewpoint. Travellers, tourists and thrill-seekers alike travel globally to make the roughly 700-step ascent (approximately 20 minutes) to the mountain’s apex; a breathtaking view showcasing Komodo’s scenic heights.
A few days later, a far gentler scale of Satonda, an island formed from the eruption of Mount Satonda, will see you kayak through it’s volcanic crater. Here, you can witness the soundscape and, if you’re lucky, the flight of thousands of fruit bats on the backdrop of an arcane sunset. Did we mention, you’ll also dip your toes in a waterfall on your last day?
For peace, serenity and pink beaches…
Looking forward to restful days ashore? You’ll be hard-pressed to find a location more serene than Indonesia’s famed pink beach, Pantai Merah. With rose-hued sands, courtesy of its pigmented red coral reefs, the beach is far quieter than any local tourist hotspot, despite this unique draw. From paddle-boarding to sunbathing, this is private paradise is a romantic leisure-seeker’s dream.
For deep sea divers and novice snorkellers…
Beyond the dragon-riddled shores, Komodo’s aquatic kingdom is vast. Offering some of the healthiest reefs in the world, here you’ll spy unimaginably vibrant soft and hard coral species, and its inhabiters, up close. Think squadrons of manta rays, giant turtles, black-tip reef sharks and hypnotising orchestras of pelagic fish, all exerting their most natural behaviours in their native feeding grounds. No well-occupied aquarium or murky Cornish beach could begin to compare.
From cuttlefish laying eggs and turtles feasting on coral to punching mantis shrimp and the cast of Finding Nemo, Komodo’s oceanic world is endlessly exciting and bursting with once-in-a-lifetime sights. Just don’t forget to bring your underwater camera.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, the Indonesian golden hour also offers a warm backdrop for leaping dolphins and flying fish – all to be enjoyed from Aqua Blu’s cosy, low lit decks.
For the ocean’s gentle giants…
While the aforementioned ventures can all effortlessly justify a long-haul flight from Heathrow’s Terminal 4, the exhilaration of swimming alongside the ocean’s largest (yet one of its most docile) fish, is a feeling that will never leave you. Saleh Bay’s whale sharks are captivatingly graceful and adorable, all at-once, and not something you’d expect to witness on your average off-shore snorkel.
Aqua Blu’s carefully nurtured relationships with local fisherman are fundamental to this experience. During your excursion you will float the perimeter of local fishing boats, feeding their bycatch to wide-mouthed, eager-eyed whale sharks of up to 10-metres long. Feasting on a diet of exclusively small fish and krill, these harmless beings pose no threats to humans, and have even been known to play with its keenly snorkelling audience.
Where to stay…
A former British Naval Explorer, Aqua Blu is a 60-metre five-deck, 15-suite super-yacht. Whether you’re anchored or enjoying a longer sail, you can recline in a plethora of cosy indoor and outdoor social spaces, including a hot tub, sundeck, and even a private treatment room.
When it comes to culinary delights, you can expect world-class cuisine curated by Australian master chef Benjamin Cross, the owner of three restaurants throughout Bali (Mason Bali, Backroom, and Bar Vera). His generous and colourful menu draws on local Balinese, wider Indonesian, European and Mediterranean palettes, and is utterly out of this world.
It’s important to note that if you see a scenic shore from your voyage, there’s a high probability that Aqua Expeditions and its crew were involved in it. From supplying local communities with employment and education to partnering with the Indonesian Waste Platform and conducting beach cleans, protecting it’s treasured sights is at the heart of Aqua Blu and its mission to providing a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
A 14-day tailormade trip with Audley Travel featuring a seven-night cruise on Aqua Blu costs from £8,900 per person (based on two travelling). The itinerary includes a night in Jakarta and in Sorong and three nights in Bali. The price includes flights, transfers and accommodation (full board on the cruise and B&B for the land-based time).
Aqua Blu has three routes in the Coral Triangle: Bali to Komodo National Park; Ambon and Spice Islands; and Raja Ampat. The Komodo National Park Itinerary will run from May-August 2024. In 2025, Aqua Blu will embark on a new itinerary to West Papua’s Asmat region for just 4 exclusive sailings. Tailored itineraries are also available, with Aqua Blu offering flexible private charters for those with a specific adventure in mind.