The Archipelago Journal: Flores to Alor
Pioneering phinisis, like the 51 m superyacht Dunia Baru (‘New World’), have a crucial part to play in opening up the hidden treasures of Indonesia’s more isolated islands. Colours makes some unexpected discoveries among the tangle of islands that lie between Flores and Alor.
Words and photography by Mark Eveleigh
There’s an air of mystery waking in a boat that you never find on land. Every day is a brand-new experience, and you rarely know exactly what you’ll wake to see when the sun rises.
The gentle sway of the boat had rocked me to sleep, but it was the dawn light playing like a mirage on the teak ceiling that woke me with a feeling of delicious anticipation for the day ahead. It had already been dark when we’d anchored and I was curious to see where we were.
The deck was already warm under my bare feet when I stepped out, clutching a mug of cappuccino, to take in the view. On the western horizon I could see the volcanoes of Flores reflecting the gold of the early sun, and to the east was a picture-postcard landscape with a palm-fringed beach protected by a sun-dappled lagoon.
As a surfer, however, my eyes and ears were drawn to the rumble of waves breaking over the submerged reef. Mark Robba, Dunia Baru’s owner, had pin-pointed our location on the charts when we arrived; we were tucked into a large but sheltered bay to the east of Alor Island, and I was surprised that Indonesia’s predominantly southern swell would reach this location.
“Look at that!” said a voice at my shoulder. “Sick, bro!”
It was Californian surfer Andre Emery, clutching his own coffee and talking with an enthusiasm that seemed inappropriately at odds with the early hour.
With a nod of approval, the dreadlocked Hawaiian Akoni Kama smiled as he wordlessly offered me a set of binoculars. I scanned the shoreline in the direction they were pointing and instantly
understood their excitement.
Along the distant curve of the reef I could see the shadow-line of a wave starting to form. It darkened as it rumbled into shallower water, and seemed to heave itself up, and suddenly I was looking straight into the end of an almond-shaped barrel that reeled with machine-like precision straight along the reef edge. Feathers of spray drifted off its curling lip in the offshore breeze.
Mixed with the anticipation was a feeling of frustration: we’d known beforehand that most of our route would be along leeward northern shores and none of us had even brought surfboards. The 3m stand-up paddleboards that were on board were seriously over-length for a wave of this calibre, but Akoni pointed out that the ancient Hawaiians had surfed much more fearsome waves on heavier planks.
I dropped over the ledge and angled the board along the silvery wall, which peeled with a speed and hollowness that reminded me of a lefthand version of Nias’s world-class Lagundri. On these heavy boards, all but two or three of our waves ended in barrelling wipe-outs, but we were thrilled to have been the first people ever to surf this point.
Only in Indonesia could a wave this perfect have remained undiscovered. Among the twisting islands of the world’s greatest archipelago, there must be countless other mysteries waiting to be pioneered.
“Sailing is the only way for most people even to access remote spots like these,” Mark Robba pointed out. “This is world-class adventure – true.”
I know exactly what he means. I’ve travelled widely throughout Indonesia and have counted myself lucky to have visited islands and communities that have never been marked by a foreign footprint.
It had been almost a week since we’d weighed anchor in Maumere and rounded the western edge of the island that the Portuguese explorers called ‘The Cape of Flowers’. As Robba had promised, every day had brought new adventures. We’d dived with turtles and mantas, sailed around smoking volcanoes and visited the legendary village of Lamalera, the largest island of the stunning Solor archipelago in the Lesser Sunda Islands. On other islands we had talked with seaweed farmers, danced with Abui tribespeople and swum with smiling Sea Gypsy children.
On tiny Pulau Pura, headman Andrean Baut Bakawetang told me how his forefathers had carried the great iron anchor to the village from the peak at the centre of the island.
“But how did it get up there in the first place?” I asked.
“Nobody knows how the anchor got to the island – perhaps it is Portuguese or Dutch,” he explained. “In ancient times though, our ancestors were giants – even taller than you. They carried the anchor to the top of the hill. It was easy for them – they had muscles even bigger than yours!”
Pak Andrean went on to describe how his community was divided into four separate tribes. The Mulepang tribe, boasting no more than 12 families, might be the smallest tribe on earth.
It is among hidden archipelagos like these that you truly grasp the incredible diversity of this country. Indonesia boasts countless treasures amongst its secret islands.
New Routes to Maumere and Kupang
Before you go island-hopping between Flores and Alor, be sure to take the time to explore the charming coastal towns of Maumere and Kupang, which are now easier to reach, thanks to two new route launches by Garuda Indonesia.
Maumere is the seat capital of the Sikka Regency in Flores, and the largest town on the island. Located on the dramatic north coast of Flores, Maumere is a great point of entry for exploring the island’s astonishing natural landscapes, which are so beautiful that Portuguese explorers were inspired to call the island ‘Cape of Flowers’ when they first came here in 1511.
One such beauty is Koka Beach, lying on the south coast, just an hour from the city. With its two perfectly curving scimitars of white sand, Koka could be a Hollywood backdrop for some tropical island fantasy.
Kelimutu National Park, roughly three hours’ drive from Maumere, boasts a stunning sight too: the sparkling gem-like lakes of the caldera of Kelimutu. The three differentcoloured lakes (at 1,600 m) are sacred to the people of this area, and it is an impressively spiritual place. The colours of the lakes continuously change over the years, shifting from hues of bright green and milky white to dark brown and piercing blue. Sometimes unpredictable changes in colour can take place almost overnight. Hiking to the summit and catching the sunrise here is an unforgettable Flores experience.
Before heading back to town, gaze upon the view of Maumere’s coastline from the viewpoint around the 18m-tall copper-clad monument to the Virgin Maria – known as the Mother of all Nations – which gazes down over the city from Nilo Hill. On the hill behind Nilo, explore the St Petrus Ritapiret Seminary and enjoy the rare experience of seeing the bed that was slept in by a saint: Pope John Paul II stayed here during his visit to Maumere in 1989.
And then of course there are the rich artistic and cultural traditions of the region, inspired by the incredible landscapes. Textile weaving has always been a central part of community life here.
Flores is known for its fine homespun and hand-dyed ikat, and, in particular, the women who work at the Women’s Weaver Cooperative of Lepo Lorun have become renowned as some of the finest textile artists in the world. Alfonsa Horeng established Lepo Lorun in 2003 and has since travelled to more than 30 countries exhibiting her island’s fine ikat.
Kupang, by contrast, has a more hectic energy to it as the capital of East Nusa Tenggara. This waterfront capital is a university town and regional transportation hub that buzzes with a chaotic and vibrant vitality. There is plenty of modest ocean-view accommodation to choose from, as well as colourful bars, restaurants and night markets to explore.
Not far from Kupang is the Crystal Cave, a must-see for adventurers keen to get off the beaten path. With a natural underground pool of crystal-clear blue waters, this is the perfect spot for a refreshing swim. Be sure to bring a torch and pack footwear suitable for clambering down slippery rocks to enter the cave.
Kupang is also the gateway to the paradisiacal beaches and epic surf found on the nearby islands of Rote and Alor.
Denpasar to Maumere
Flight Time 2 hours
Frequency 4 ﬂights per week
Jakarta to Kupang
Flight Time 2 hours 55 minutes
Frequency 7 ﬂights per week
5 Senses – Sound
Be thrilled by the sound of the sacred moko drums as the Abui people perform their warrior dances. The music is strangely hypnotic, with the drums playing a rhythmic counterpoint to the jingle of the thick metal anklets that the Abui women wear. The Abui were once feared headhunters, and the challenging dance of the warriors as you enter the village of Takpala remains unnerving even today.