Travel to Indonesia for Komodo dragons, manta rays and Sumatra | Metro News
Westhill Consulting Travel and Tours
Forget postcard-pretty Bali and go deep into the planet’s wildest archipelago.
With around 18,000 tropical volcanic islands, this archipelago is easily the world’s largest. The Indonesian islands are the stuff of legend – lush, forested gems scattered in the turquoise seas, steamy jungles, storybook monsters and exotic locales.
From the north-western tip of Sumatra to the south-eastern corner of Irian Jaya, this unique destination spans more than 3,000 miles. It’s seen huge growth year on year for Brits travelling beyond Bali and the first direct flights from Britain to the booming megacity of Jakarta (on the island of Java) with Garuda, launching on May 29, will make getting there easier. Thanks to a slump in the value of the Indonesian rupiah against the pound, there’s never been a better-value time to visit.
THERE BE DRAGONS
Komodo is home to deep waters, black volcanic rock and the eponymous dragons, the planet’s most fabled species of lizard. Growing to more than 10ft long, they have inhabited the remote landscapes of Indonesia for millions of years but were unknown to the wider world until around 100 years ago, when stories of fire-breathing monsters sparked a search, resulting in a capture.
Most are found in Komodo National Park – a Unesco world heritage site and major tourist attraction – although in February, a new population was discovered living in Mbeliling Forest on Flores Island. A new off-the-beaten-track itinerary, On The Trail Of The Dragons, is available at responsibletravel.com (from £1,699pp for 13 days, excluding flights) focusing on the eastern part of the Indonesian archipelago and Flores itself.
The trip includes tribal villages – where the supernatural is still part of everyday life – and the eerie crater lakes of the Kelimutu volcano, along with a boat trip to see the dragons. The few who make the trip this far are rewarded with a sense of discovery.
DISCOVER THE DEEP
This year marks a huge milestone for Indonesia’s mammoth ocean dweller, the manta ray. The Indonesian government is set to establish the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary, encompassing 6million sq km of ocean. New legislation will enforce blanket protection for the fish, in a nation where many coastal communities rely on manta tourism for their livelihood. The fish is a threatened species due to poaching – its gill plates are sold as a medicinal tonic despite there being no scientifically proven health benefit.
EXPERIENCE THE ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME…
Sumatra – a near-mythical destination high on everyone’s ‘if only’ list. Until now, that is, as the island, the fifth largest in the world, slowly opens up to tourism and its natural wonders make themselves known.
The equator rests across the western part of Sumatra, where towering volcanoes, ancient forests and steamy mountain ranges are a major feature of the landscape. Each of the nine provinces has its own distinct ethnic group, meaning that custom and cuisine change endlessly. If you can drag yourself away from curious tribes and their skull-studded longhouses, some of the planet’s rarest creatures are waiting to be seen. Orangutans, tigers, elephants and the Sumatran rhinoceros are all found in Mount Leuser National Park, whose accessible dry season runs from April to September.
… OR DO NOTHING AT ALL
Those more comfortable with beaches than beasties should head to the genteel Gili Islands, just off Lombok. They featured heavily in the film Eat, Pray, Love, and are the car-free desert islands of a thousand Bounty adverts. Year-round good weather, horse-drawn transport and a slew of boutique beach shacks make them a hot ticket for 2014.