Kimberley Expedition: Northwest Australia & Indonesia
Experience Australia's iconic wilderness
Discover dramatic landscapes etched with ancient human history in the Kimberley, and sail to remote island villages of Indonesia where history comes alive in traditional ceremonies. Search for spectacular wildlife, from the giant saltwater crocs of the Kimberley to prehistoric Komodo dragons. Snorkel and dive at pristine Rowley Shoals among untouched coral gardens. Zodiac to the base of King George Falls and learn the history of the Moluccas, fought over among English, Portuguese, and Dutch colonizers.
Zodiac up the King George River to explore it at water level and experience its towering red rock canyon walls.
Zodiacs land virtually anywhere and take you up close to the unique wildlife in this Region -- see crocodiles, migrating humpback whales, and endearing wallabies.
Visit the world-renowned Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to go in search of the legendary Komodo dragon.
Snorkel and dive remote reefs with galaxies of colorful fish in Indonesia and pristine Rowley Shoals in Australia.
On this day we found ourselves enjoying the last full day of the expedition. It’s a strange thing, being sad in paradise, but we have all become close from the amazing experiences we have had together since leaving Broome, in Western Australia. The thought of no longer travelling together was a glum one. We were no longer a ship full of individuals as we started, but we had become a tight group of people on an expedition that took us through different times and worlds. We had travelled through the region of the Kimberley Coast, which even with all attempts, the beauty couldn’t quite be put into words. Then, travelling north, we are ending in the vastly different but equally beautiful Indonesian Islands. Today we found ourselves at Sumbawa Island in Indonesia. We started the day with a visit to Pamulung Village where we saw firsthand how people lived in this quant village and got a taste of their culture. The highlight of the morning was the traditional water buffalo racing. The water buffalo are beautiful creatures perfectly suited for being in the water and it was easy to see why these people have utilized their skills for centuries. In the afternoon the National Geographic Orion relocated off Moyo Island and we had one last opportunity to go for a snorkel in this area that had such diversity of marine life. Once again it did not disappoint with endless fish and coral to be found by all who ventured into the water! We wrapped up the evening with our new found friends at the Captain’s Farewell dinner!
"Here be dragons!" Such words were written into the corners of old mariner's maps, hidden on the edges of the known world beyond which monsters both magnificent and terrible lay, creatures of nightmares that only the brave and foolhardy would seek out. Today we know that dragons don't really exist, right? Surely not the mythical, fire-breathing versions of our most fanciful tales? Fortunately not, perhaps, but that doesn't mean that the wondrous creatures that probably inspired them—at least in part--can't still be found. Today National Geographic Orion sailed into Komodo National Park to visit a group of islands upon which dragons really do still exist. The so-called Komodo dragon ( Varanus komodoensis ) is the world's largest lizard, a "monitor" of fearsome repute, capable of hunting down prey much larger than itself, and indeed occasionally even of killing a human. Now thought to have first evolved in northern Australia, along with similarly gigantic megafauna, it was able to spread throughout the islands that now comprise Indonesia when sea levels were much lower over 900,000 years ago. When sea levels rose these reptiles became stranded, and while extirpated from much of their former range, dragons are now endemic on a handful of small islands sandwiched between the Indian Ocean and Flores Sea. On these islands, the dragon is truly a master of its domain, and filled with tales of these magnificent monsters, our guests made their way in the early morning to the island of Rinca. We passed through an archway flanked by two large Komodo dragon statues, the sign above which may as well have said "Welcome to Jurassic Park." Dinosaurs lurked here, and it wasn't long before we spotted them lumbering around in the distance. Before we'd even departed on our longer treks, we encountered a group of dragons, some lying alone, others sitting in small groups (by the kitchen, not coincidentally), and they did not disappoint. Long, yellow tongues flicked out like tendrils of flame, tasting the air and our unusual odour. Heads lifted with interest, surveying these visitors who had the audacity to visit their domain. As we trekked around the island, we were struck by the ancient nature of the place, seemingly unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years. Dragons lurked in the shadows, dragons walked by us boldly on pathways, dragons tended their nests, and we were even lucky enough to find a dragon digging a new nesting hole, flinging clawfuls of soil backwards as we watched. The other wildlife on the island seemed rather intimidated by all this, with deer gingerly grazing with one eye on the dragons (not surprisingly, venison features heavily in Komodo dragon menus), even the normally cheeky capuchin monkeys keeping their distance. It was a magical place that was a dream come true to visit for many of our guests. The afternoon was a time to enjoy the amazing marine life of Komodo National Park, although our first intended destination was aborted after a Komodo dragon decided it was going to take up the entire beach. We headed instead for Pink Beach, so called due to the particles of red coral that wash ashore with every wave. Local colour abounded everywhere, but our guests were lost amidst the corals and the colourful fish found in wondrous number, diversity and form. A long day, then, but one not easily forgotten.
Getting woken up in the wee hours of the morning is not the greatest. However, wasn’t it absolutely worth it?! Dr. Lawrence Blair had told us that the volcano on Pulau Komba, which was on our way from East Timor to the island of Flores, would most likely be active and it sure was. Captain Lyubo, always happy to accommodate unplanned expedition stops, slowed down the ship just after midnight and we got to experience an absolutely unforgettable nature spectacle. A bright moon lit the clouds above the mountain. We could hear rumbling noises from deep within the volcano. The earth was spitting fire. Chunks of lava were tumbling down the side of the mountain and disappeared in a black sea. One eruption followed the next and it was difficult to pull ourselves away. Though, at some point it was time to get moving again and also to get some rest before arriving at our first destination in Indonesia that same morning. In colorful busses we drove through the bustling streets of Flores’ capital city, Larantuka. The first stop for the day was the Catholic elementary school. A horde of smiling children awaited our arrival. After a short speech from the head mistress and a welcome song we got to spend some time with the little ones. What a joy to see their excitement and listen to their laughter. Lots of smiles, handshakes and high fives were exchanged and then it was time to wave good-bye. Our next destination was a small village close by, and we made our way to the village by foot. Again, we were welcomed by a bunch of kids and a group of dancers. The dancers and some of the other villagers introduced us to some of their local customs, like chewing betel nut, pounding rice, and weaving. Back onboard the ship at midday, we got treated to a delicious lunch as usual. In the afternoon, naturalist Cristiano Damiano gave a talk about shark biology and conservation, and later on National Geographic’s photographer Michael Melford delighted us with stunning images from his travels around the world. After a wonderful ‘Ring of Fire’ buffet the crew entertained all of us with some fantastic performances and even got the people in the last rows out of their seats and dancing to the rhythms. What a way to end a perfect day!
After a pleasant night sailing through peaceful and calm seas, the National Geographic Orion arrived at Dili Harbour. Having endured 25 years of struggle for independence from Indonesia, East Timor's coastal capital has made remarkable strides toward reconstruction after innumerable damages and losses due to the country's tumultuous history. Dili is a city undergoing a rapid transformation, but its former Portuguese colonial flavor can still be found in remaining villas and churches along the waterfront. Boarding the cheerful and colorful buses, it was time for an enlightening tour of some of the historical sites the city had to offer. We visited some important places detailing the country's political struggle. We also had a chance to visit a local market, where the vibrant handcrafted fabric and bags could be purchased. The influence of the predominantly Roman Catholic population could be recognized by the omnipresent statue of Cristo Rei, a 65-foot statue of Jesus overlooking the coast, perched on a high cliff at the eastside of the island. The most adventurous chose to climb up to the Cristo and were rewarded with spectacular views. Back on board, while National Geographic Orion set sail into the Flores Sea, we had the privilege to join guest speaker Dr. Lawrence Blair for an informative and interesting presentation and to be introduced to the fascinating subject of natural sciences. Then it was time for naturalist Adam Britton to share his extensive knowledge about the behaviour of crocodilians. After a delicious dinner, the intriguing video “Seas” by Dr. Blair was also featured. But the best was still to come. Captain Lyubo skillfully maneuvered the National Geographic Orion close to the active Komba Volcano at the island of Batu Tara. Batu Taru is an uninhabited island in the Flores Sea. With a summit of 748 meters above sea level, it is the aerial part of a stratovolcano whose base is three kilometres below sea level and has a large central summit crater of 900 meters by 700 meters diameter open to the east. Indonesia is located at the junction of four tectonic plates, Australian, Philippine, Eurasia and Pacific and has more active volcanoes than any other country. Nearly 130 volcanoes are currently active. Batu Tara is frequently active, producing ash eruptions rising to hundreds or few kilometres. And it did not disappoint us! More to come in the next report!
The day before yesterday, National Geographic Orion left behind the arid, stony cliffs of Australia and this morning we pulled back our curtains to see the gentle, verdant slopes of Timor Leste (East Timor). Instead of a continental wilderness with nary a local soul, we are now in a small island nation with a relatively dense population. We started the day at a delightful little place called Jaco Island. Located about 1 kilometer east of the Timor mainland, Jaco has white-sand beaches ringing a forested (and undeveloped) interior. We spent the day on the shore and in the clear inshore waters, with a variety of activities at our disposal. With a choice between kayaking, snorkeling and beachcombing, it was an active day indeed. The snorkelers were awed by the profusion of colorful fish and many people took the opportunity to explore the coral reefs that were accessible from the shoreline. Nearby, kayakers plied the tranquil waters, absorbing the tropical scene and moving at their own pace. But no matter which morning activity was chosen, we all met again further down the beach for a splendid barbeque lunch. The Hotel Department had set up a spread that added a spectacular setting to their usual delicious standards. With lunch finished, there was time to try new activities, or just laze on the beach. A perfect start to “Phase 2” of this expedition.