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Exploring the Indonesian Archipelago
The nation of Indonesia includes an incredible 17,000 islands, ranging from ones that are home to bustling metropolises to others that are uninhabited, palm-fringed islets. There is no better way to visit them than on a ship, and specifically an expedition cruise with Ponant. Its 15-day Exploring the Indonesian Archipelago itinerary is a sampler of some of the astounding variety and beauty of the country. 

You’ll begin on Indonesia’s most famous island, lush Bali, with its volcanic peaks, emerald green rice terraces, and Hindu temples. Indonesia’s highlights are natural as well as cultural. From Bali, you’ll continue on to Komodo, home of the famous dragons—the world’s largest lizards. As your journey continues, you’ll call at the fabled Spice Islands, coveted by the Portuguese, British, and Dutch who all left their mark on the islands’ architecture and culture. In Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province, you’ll encounter a region of remarkable biodiversity and tribes that continue to follow traditional animist religions. Your cruise will end in Australia, with a stop at Lizard Island, on the Great Barrier Reef, before you disembark at Cairns. 

There’s no better way to go island hopping than on your own private yacht, and the brand-new Le Lapérouse, with only 92 staterooms, offers a unique combination of luxury and intimacy. Its small size also allows it to call at ports that are inaccessible to larger ships.
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    Day 1
    You’ll begin your Ponant journey through Indonesia in Bali which has enchanted travelers for centuries. The island’s beaches, volcanic peaks, and rice terraces create an idyllic tropical paradise. It is, however, the culture and people of Bali that most visitors remember. A Hindu outpost in a predominantly Muslim nation, the island is dotted with temples where worshippers arrive with offerings of flowers and fruit. The Balinese are known for a warm graciousness, welcoming visitors to their home and happy to share their traditional dance, music, and art. Whether you choose to spend your day on a black-sand beach, exploring the crafts markets in the village of Ubud, or visiting a seaside shrine, Bali will likely enchant you.

    One day is far from enough to explore all that Bali offers, and Ponant offers one- and two-night pre-cruise extensions so you’ll have more time to get to know this unique island.
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    Day 2
    Pulau Banta, Komodo National Park
    Having visited one of Indonesia’s most fascinating cultural destinations, you’ll arrive this morning to a group of islands best known for its wildlife. On your first day in the Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll call at Pulau Banta, which sits to the northwest of Komodo. The uninhabited island is best known for its marine life, and offers world-class diving and snorkeling. Cold water flowing from the Flores basin to the north of the island meeting with warmer waters from the south creates an ecosystem with an abundance of diverse marine life. Barracuda, mackerel, dogtooth tuna, seahorses, and manta rays are some of the many species that can be spotted in the island’s coral gardens. You can also head ashore aboard a Zodiac, and explore this volcanic island with green hills and empty beaches on foot.
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    Day 3
    Pulau Rinca, Komodo National Park
    Komodo National Park’s most famous attraction is its so-called dragons, the world’s largest lizards. They can reach up to ten feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds While Rinca is one of the larger islands in the park, it’s not as popular with tourists as neighboring Komodo and has only one small fishing village, meaning that you’ll and your fellow guests on this Ponant cruise will not have to compete with crowds as you go in search of the dragons. You’ll join an expedition team with local park rangers, who will take you to them while also pointing out other flora and fauna unique to the islands. Rinca has both dense monsoon forest and open grassland savannahs, creating an environment with a variety of ecosystems.
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    Day 4
    Kalabahi, Alor
    You’ll arrive today to Kalabahi, the main town on the volcanic island of Alor, in the Alor Archipelago. Located on the only flat part of the rugged island, the town is built along a beautiful beach. You can spend the day there if you’d like, though what makes Alor most interesting is its unique culture. Most of the island’s residents are officially Protestant, but animistic practices continue here. The residents speak at least 15 different languages—some are endangered with fewer than 1,000 speakers and the mostly Papuan dialects may be extinct within a generation or two.

    The island is also famous for its bronze moko drums. The exact origin of these drums is uncertain, though it is believed the earliest were imported from Vietnam with later ones coming from China. Long used as dowries and in other exchanges, the drums can be found throughout the island and many are on display in Kalabahi’s Museum of 1000 Moko, which also has displays of local textiles. You’ll visit the museum on an expedition with a local guide, which will also stop at a local village and the bustling main market in town.
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    Day 5
    At Sea
    You’ll have a day at sea today to explore, and enjoy, all the amenities of your ship, Le Lapérouse. Launching in 2018, the 92-stateroom ship has the feel of a mega-yacht. Most rooms have balconies, and there are also observation areas, two restaurants, a spa, and state-of-the-art fitness center. Whether you want a low-key day of reading a good book in the library or on a chaise by the pool, or meeting new passengers at a ship-board lecture or at the ship’s bar is up to you.
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    Day 6
    Banda Neira, Maluku Islands
    The Maluku (or Molucca) Islands, the next stop on your Ponant adventure, may not look like much on a map, but this group of islands to the west of New Guinea were the focus of a struggle between European powers for centuries. Also known as the Spice Islands, the Maluku Islands’ crops of nutmeg, mace, cloves, and pepper led to their being coveted by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English who all competed for control of the islands. (The Dutch were the ultimate victors, and the spice trade originating here was long central to the country’s economy.)

    You’ll call today at Banda Neira, the largest settlement in the Banda Islands, a group of ten islands that is part of the larger Maluku archipelago. They were long the world’s only source of nutmeg and mace (which is made from the red coating of nutmeg seeds). You’ll have a chance to explore town, with its unusual mix of British, Dutch, and Portuguese buildings including the Dutch fort, Old Church, and many colonial-era houses.
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    Day 7
    Kei Islands, Maluku Islands
    The Kei Islands are another group within the larger Maluku archipelago, and are best known for their beautiful, and largely empty, white-sand beaches and excellent snorkeling and diving. Far off-the-beaten path of most travelers who visit Indonesia, the islands offer the chance to swim in crystal-clear waters where dolphins outnumber tourists. You’ll have the opportunity to board a Zodiac and head out for a snorkeling excursion on the reef that surrounds the islands. According to local legend, the islands’ inhabitants originally migrated here from Bali, though today most of the population is Christian—largely due to the missionary efforts of the European powers that dominated the Spice Islands for centuries.
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    Day 8
    Triton Bay, Papua
    Near the western end of New Guinea, in the Indonesian province Papau, Triton Bay is quickly becoming a favorite of divers as well as anyone looking for a beach destination that has avoided the impact of mass tourism. Part of what has kept this part of Indonesia from being spoiled is how remote they are, with multiple internal flights required to reach them. On your Ponant expedition cruise, however, you will simply wake up to a view of the bay from your stateroom this morning.

    You can join a Zodiac expedition to view the stunning seascape of rain-forest capped karst islands, and then head out snorkeling. The waters here in the so-called Coral Triangle have a greater variety of fish and coral species than anywhere else in the world. Soft coral gardens and black coral forests are home to seahorses, squid, puffer fish, and countless other species. The crystal-clear waters and cloudless skies mean that visibility is excellent and the bright colors of the tropical fish are especially vivid.
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    Day 9
    Sail to Agats
    You’ll have another day at sea today, to enjoy life onboard Le Lapérouse. Relax with a treatment at the spa, visit the fitness center, or claim a chaise in the sun by the pool. You can also attend a lecture for insights on the histories and natural wonders of the islands you are visiting, or one of the ship’s shows for some lighter entertainment.
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    Day 10
    Agats, the capital of the Asmat region in the province of Papua, is an extraordinary town of some 1,400 people. Due to the tides here and the flooding of the river that flows along one side of town, most of the “streets” are boardwalks, sitting above the high water line. You’ll have an opportunity to explore its markets and shops, including those along Bazaar Street, the center of life in Agats. While Agats is a unique town, different from other settlements in Papua and the world generally, its region is hard for most travelers to get to. It’s another port that becomes accessible thanks to the small ships that Ponant uses on its expedition cruises.
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    Day 11
    Sail to Thursday Island
    As you make your way towards the northern tips of Australia today, you’ll have another opportunity to enjoy the services and amenities of Le Lapérouse. Perhaps you’ll want to relax in the spa or by the swimming pool. You can also attend a lecture or a show, visit the boutique for shopping, or reserve a time to have a portrait taken by Ponant’s photographers. Or perhaps head up the upper deck and just watch the seascape and look for dolphins and other marine life swimming alongside the ship.
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    Day 12
    Thursday Island, Australia
    There are more than a hundred islands in the Torres Strait, which separates Australia and the Papua New Guinea. Your ship will stop at one of them today, Thursday Island, which sits 24 miles to the north of Australia’s Cape York Peninsula. While the island was economically important when its pearl industry boomed at the beginning of the 20th century and it was a military base for both Australian and American forces during World War II, it has now slipped into a very laid-back existence. You’ll have an opportunity today to visit the fort on Green Hill, with magnificent views of the island and the sea, and learn more about Thursday Island’s history and pearling (which continues to this day, on a smaller scale) at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre.
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    Day 13
    Sail to Lizard Island
    You’ll sail along the coast of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef today, enjoying the warm sun and breezes while you’ll want to keep your binoculars handy for sightings of seabirds and landmarks on the mainland and the islands you will sail by. You can do all that from your stateroom—all on Le Lapérouse have balconies—or head to the public areas instead. As this is your last day at sea, it’s also a good time to make sure you get the email addresses of new friends so you can stay in touch and swap your best snapshots after you return home.
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    Day 14
    Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef
    Today you’ll explore Lizard Island, the largest of a group of six islands, at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Along its perimeter, there are 24 powdery white-sand beaches with coral reefs just off shore while the interior is dominated by grasslands and eucalyptus. You’ll go ashore aboard a Zodiac, landing at Watson’s Beach, and then can either find a spot on the beach or head out on a walk with a naturalist—keep your eyes peeled for the yellow-spotted monitor lizards that are the island’s namesakes. There are also a number of well-maintained walking trails if you want to explore on your own. Ornithologists will want to bring their binoculars: The island is an important bird area and you may be able to check off pheasant coucals, yellow-bellied sunbirds, and pied imperial-pigeons among other species.
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    Day 15
    Your Ponant cruise will end today when you arrive in Cairns, located on the northeast coast of Australia and washed by the warm waters of the Coral Sea. While you will have to disembark, you may want to spend some time in the city and the surrounding area before returning home. The seafront esplanade in Cairns is a popular place for a stroll, while some of the world’s oldest rain forests are nearby. The Queensland Rain Forests have been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with their flora and fauna that date back to the Gondwana era.