Travel Indonesia the Dutch colonial way

Chris Hutchings
(Australian Associated Press)


If you dream of sailing the waters of the Flores Sea on the lookout for Komodo dragons on passing islands, a phinisi should be your vessel of choice.

A phinisi is a traditional Indonesian two-masted sailing ship that can take you to the main islands of Komodo National Park: Komodo, Rinca and Padar. The wooden vessel will allow you to lie back, enjoy the breeze and take in the scenery as you’re transported between each trek, dive, snorkel or swim.

And with any luck, there’ll be a fiery sunset to capture on the way home.

Phinisis vary in length from 15 to 35 metres. Originally sail boats, most have engines these days but retain their rigging and sails. Today phinisis are mainly used as inter-island cargo carriers and as tourist tour boats.

The first phinisis were thought to have been modelled on the Dutch pinas that came to the region around 1600, and were used to transport cargo during Dutch colonial times and as warships during fights for independence.

Today, there are cabins on live-aboard ships for longer journeys that usually accommodate two people. Most set sail from Labuan Bajo, on the western tip of Flores. But there are trips from other places, including Pelabuhan Sape, eastern Sumbawa, or Kanawa Island, west of Labuan Bajo.

We headed out from Labuan Bajo at the early hour of 4am. But there’s that much to fit into the day.

Once on board, some of us settle into a cabin for a couple of hours more sleep. Others lay on the thick cushioning covering the large centre area of the deck for a pleasant, alfresco snooze under the stars, accompanied by the gentle lapping of the waves.

We head to Padar, a small island between Komodo and Rinca. It’s rugged, with steep volcanic mountains, deep bays and beautiful beaches of different colours – but sadly no Komodo dragons.

We trek to the top of a ridge, which is tough in the heat, but well worth it as we look out over rugged peaks of green sweeping down into deep, turquoise water.

One of the most spectacular sights on Padar is the peculiar Pink Beach, which gets its colour from fragments of red coral.

From our hike, we return to the boat and head off for a relaxing snorkel amid schools of fish large and small, and plenty of pretty coral.

As well as great places for a hike, or a stroll, followed by a well deserved rest on a serene beach, Padar is a great place to swim or snorkel with several notable diving sites and a host of other tempting places, each with their own appeal.

But you don’t have to sticks to just Padar, there are squillions of great spots in Komodo National Park.

At Manta Point, you can swim with a manta ray or two. Bidadari Island has long white sandy beaches, wonderfully clear water, colourful fish and corals – all perfect for snorkelling or scuba diving. But C