What makes Indonesia stand out from other countries Superyachts can visit in SE Asia/Pacific?
The question of ‘Why would Indonesia be better to cruise than any other South-East Asian country’ is very simple. It’s diversity. There are over 17,000 islands in Indonesia covering three time zones. That itself allows for our clients whom are superyacht owners and captains to see different areas and cultures through a whole cross-section of very vast countryside.
From the West we’ve got Sumatra, one of the best cruising and surfing destinations in the world. Sumatra itself has got wonderful wildlife, Krakatoa and a whole lot of other features. That itself makes it a wonderful cruising zone. If we then look at central Indonesia we’ve got Kalimantan where the Orangutans are. We’ve got down through Java where we can access Borobudur the famous temples and the beautiful Javanese culture. Then through to Bali, Menjangan and Lovina which are all beautiful areas and cruising destinations within themselves.
If we then move further East we’ve got Sulawesi, Manado, Bitung which are all wonderful dive and cultural locations. Then of course we’ve got the hot spots Komodo and Raja Ampat. They sell themselves for the very well-known reasons of the brilliant diving in Raja Ampat and Komodo dragons and also great diving in Komodo. If we then move further to the East we’ve got the Alor group, the Forgotten Islands and up through Papua. All of these in themselves offer cultural experiences second to none and that which is not available in any other country that you’ll find whether it be South-East Asia or the world.
The cruising diversity of Indonesia makes it a really special place from the point of view of any other cruising destinations whether it be in the Asia Pacific region or in the world.
What are the best times of the year to cruise Indonesia?
The best times of year to cruise Indonesia are very simple. The year you can break up into two very distinct seasons, the wet season which is summer monsoon between late December, January, February and March. In that season the winds come from the North-West and generate high monsoon style conditions with low pressure fronts moving through. With rain and winds not cyclonic, but certainly winds stronger than we would normally get.
That’s the one season that we wouldn’t generally recommend cruisers to come to Indonesia in the eight parallel or in any way to the East of Indonesia, close to Northern Australia. The best location for cruising in that time is Raja Ampat. December through to March is generally considered Raja Ampat season.
We then have what we call the dry season, which is between June and September. Here we get South-East trade winds. They’re cold coming off the Atlantic and come strong, probably up to 25 knots which is good for sailors, but not so good for cruisers. The key thing about this season is the overhead conditions where there are no clouds. It’s blue sky all the way with very little rain. That’s what we would normally term the high season or the best season for cruising the eight parallel, which is Sumatra, Java through Bali, Sumbawa, Flores and Alor.
Of course, the best seasons to be here is the inter monsoon. That’s when neither of these weather patterns have got any strong foothold. April, March is what we call the inter monsoon in the summer then October and November, which is the inter monsoon leading out of winter.
Both of these times, there is no strong weather pattern in position. For our clients motorboats that is when the sea conditions are at their flattest. There is moderate and very, very light winds variable. I would consider those two times the best time to be cruising in Indonesia for motorboats.
What are some challenging aspects of cruising Indonesia?
Indonesia is a vast country where the resources that you normally find in first-world countries are sometimes just not available. Those which include good fuel and provisions that you would normally just go to the local shop and get.
While you’re anchored in some of the more remote parts of Indonesia, you will get quite a few people who are just very interested in seeing the boat. From a privacy point of view sometimes it can look like a little bit of an imposition, but given all of this the cultural experiences, wonderful scenery and different landscapes that you’re going to see in cruising in Indonesia really balance that out.
From a logistics point of view getting clients, owners and guests onto the boat can also be very challenging. Airlines in Indonesia are certainly not what you would call punctual and certainly not what you would call the latest flying technology. All of that leads us to encourage our clients, captains owners and guests to private charter their aircraft for arrivals for certain rendezvous destinations, if this is an option. Relying on domestic air travel, whether it be for passenger or provisioning arrival is again a little bit of a problematic thing due to scheduling and the interesting way that Indonesian domestic air travel happens.
Provisioning is one thing that can be a challenge as most provisioning comes out of Bali. Why Bali? Because Bali is the tourism base for Indonesia where five-star hotels are plentiful and fresh organic produce and vegan products for clients is much more readily available.
For us, as suppliers, to get those to the boats in the outer islands needs careful coordination. It needs good and careful packing and somebody who knows what they’re doing to get it from point A to point B where the boat is. These can create hurdles but across the board we find our clients, owners and captains all of these challenges make for a remarkably memorable trip.
A lot of the time, once the dust has settled on pulling off what we find are some amazing trips for our owners, everybody will sit down and understand that the challenges have brought about a level of satisfaction. One you would normally not find in a first-world cruising zone where you would normally just go from marina to the destination, enjoy whatever the activity was and return again. Indonesia is an adventure. Cruising Indonesia is an even bigger one.
Which ports do you recommend using to clear into Indonesia?
The question often put to us is ‘where is the best port to arrive to when coming to Indonesia?’ The answer to that is quite simple. From the direction of where you’re arriving from, we have a port that best suits for those different locations. If you’re coming down from Phuket, Malaysia or Singapore and going to be arriving through the North-West of the country, we suggest either Nongsa Point or Belitung as the best places to clear boats into Indonesia. Nongsa point is a more sophisticated place for medium-sized vessels but not suitable for anything over 50 metres. Boats over 50-meter should go through Belitung or if it’s got the capability and the range come all the way to Bali and we clear them in there. If our clients are coming from Hong Kong, Philippines or anywhere to the North we will always use Manado, or its corresponding commercial port Bitung. Both are on the Northern tip of Sulawesi – wonderful places and in fact both of them are two of my favourite places in Indonesia to not only clear into, but to cruise around and use as a base and a starting point for any Indonesian cruising.
If we’ve got boats coming from the Pacific we tend to either clear boats into either Biak or Sorong – the two gateways to Raja Ampat. Whether we use Biak or Sorong your and your guests can access the whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay and then onto Raja Ampat or if we got straight into Sorong, then you’re on the doorstep of Raja Ampat. Once you’ve cleared into the country you’re already into the cruising heartland of one of the best destinations in the world.
If you’re coming from Cairns, Northern Australia or Darwin, we will always tend to clear yachts into Bali, or Ambon if they’re looking at going straight to Raja Ampat as it’s an easy passage. If coming into Ambon, you have direct access to the cruising of the Banda Islands, the Forgotten Islands, Raja Ampat and Papua. Ambon is a wonderful port which we use a lot and enjoy the experience of doing that. Then of course, Bali. The true center of Indonesia where you can get everything. You can stock up your yacht provisions and do whatever you need to prepare for the cruising programs that will hopefully manifest themselves from that arrival.
As I say, it’s horses for courses when it comes to ports and when it comes to trip planning. The trip planning aspect is something that we put a lot of emphasis on with our captains and clients. We like to be able to show our experience of knowing all of these ports, from knowing that we have people that we can rely on and that we can trust at all of them to make the captains’ clearances as headache and hassle free as possible.
Because of this we tend to ask captains quite a long time out before they arrive when we’ve got a very clear trip plan. This ensures everything can be prepared for a very smooth transition of a big boat arrival, paperwork, customs and all of the formalities that go into any Indonesian arrival. The arrival procedures and arrival protocols are very similar to other countries however they can be a little more tedious and time-consuming than most.
Of course, when the boats do arrive the team, immigration, customs, quarantine, all want to come on board. An interesting exercise for us but one which we go about with tolerance and patience to work with these officials. “Please take your shoes off, sir.” “Please don’t smoke in the bridge, sir” for example. All of that is part of the service we as an agent offer for our captains and crew to have a very easy arrival and departure clearance protocols.
What are your personal favourite destinations to visit in Indonesia ?
I often get asked what are my favourite destination or favourite locations. It’s very hard for me to be specific with one, so I’ll give you three of my best. One of them is the Asmat region in Western Papua. That is where there’s a little-known tribe that still maintains traditional tribal values and still operate in a tribal sense. It’s a difficult destination to get to and very seasonal. With access to the Asmat tribes only available in the inter-monsoons; between April and May, October and November when there’s no strong, seasonal winds whether it be the summer monsoon or winter monsoons.
To visit the Asmat tribes, we have to do a lot of preparation and a lot of negotiations. They’re not prone to wanting tourists just rocking up in their face or turning up and saying, “Here we are.” For the owners and captains with the heart and desire to experience though, it becomes one of the most memorable trips that I can assure any traveller will want to see.
Close to where the access to the Asmat tribes is are a set of islands called the Kai group. These islands are actually part of a larger string of islands called the Forgotten Islands. The Kai Islands have in themselves a little group called the Tayandu. Tayandu are six islands of white silica sand. The most beautiful jewels in the middle of nowhere that you’ll ever find and off the regular cruising zone. Nobody goes there commercially and I can say that when we do take APS clients and owners there, they have the most memorable experience you can ever imagine.
For me one of the number one things I’ve done in this country is going into the Kalimantan jungle and seeing the orangutans. The orangutans are in a couple of reserves on the coast of Southern Kalimantan and truly, one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve ever done personally is seeing these animals in the wild and the ever-shrinking environment that they are forced to live in. A truly amazing thing and actually got me very emotional watching them operate in their very human-like family circles. Really remarkable.
Those three places are all isolated and reasonably challenging places to get to. Of course, even within the parameters of our regular destinations and locations we have special places. Recently, when I was in Raja Ampat we went to a manta dive with guests that is in a secret location that our Indonesian guide has knowledge of. I’ve dived over 3,000 dives and this manta dive was the most incredible dive I will ever live through. There were 12 mantas just continually on us the whole time, dancing and doing underwater acrobatics that was beyond belief. Same when we cruised in the eight parallel. There are some wonderful villages up in Flores that still hold traditional values and are reasonably easily accessed. We were lucky enough recently to go up there with a television crew, these creatures did this fantastic welcome dance, this welcome ceremony that I can honestly tell you blew this whole TV crew away. They got some of the most amazing footage that you’ll ever see.
You can see now that I get quite passionate talking about the different destinations in Indonesia and I’ve only covered five potential experiences. From my time here, I have had hundreds of memorable experiences that one day I do hope to write about in a book, but I can assure anybody who is wanting to come here through whatever time, whatever seasons if you stick with us, we will show you and create a trip plan for you that will truly be memorable and truly something that captains, crew, owners and guests will always be able to mark down and saying, “We’ve done that and that was an amazing experience.”
Can I bring our firearms into Indonesia?
Indonesia is a country that does not allow firearms. Quite a few world expedition boats, especially if they’ve come from the Northern hemisphere, especially if they’ve come from the Americas, tend to have firearms. We always speak to the captains before their arrival how we’re going to deal with that particular situation. There’s always an answer; whether we bond them, whether we leave them in a place before their arrival or whether we ship them onto the next destination, there is always a way that we deal with the firearms situation. If there is only a couple of small ones we make sure that we declare them to the customs and everything’s fine.
Is quality alcohol available for purchase in Indonesia?
We always advise our clients to fully stock their boat with their favoured alcohol. Indonesia being an Islamic country, doesn’t have a great record of alcohol consumption and it doesn’t have a great record for supply. We encourage clients to fill up their wine and spirits cabinets. Once you arrive, we declare them, we bond them, and we never usually have a problem with customs in any of those situations.
Can yacht owners bring pets into Indonesia?
That’s a red flag for the Indonesian customs and something that we really try to avoid as an issue. They won’t let you come unless they quarantine the animal. I can tell you now if you love your pet, the last thing you want is for it to be quarantined in an Indonesian location.
Can Asia Pacific Superyachts Indonesia support our yacht across the whole of Indonesia?
What we’ve tried to do since our inception with Asia Pacific Superyachts Indonesia is focus on exactly that coverage. The ability to give the confidence to captains that even when they’re in the most remote places, we’ve got them covered. We’ve got them with support. It’s a very interesting logistical challenge because the country is so big, over 17,000 islands with different languages, cultures, customs and very different ways of doing things.
Our experience to date since we started this company, has been that we always like to have somebody on the ground for when the boat arrives. With that skilled and trained personnel, the captain gets a sense of relief and confidence that the local that’s appointed to look after them from their arrival onwards is there for them and cover their every need even in these very remote areas.
Of course, communication is an enormous factor of what we have to do, and it’s got to be clear that the communications between the captain and our service staff is airtight. We pride ourselves on being able to ensure that whatever comes up, we’ve got the captains’ back covered and we’re in a position to support and handle any of the challenges that may pop up.
It’s a big job and something that we’ve worked very hard at trying to ensure that we have the personnel skilled and trained in what the superyacht captain and it’s crew needs. It’s quite a different process from normal boats, cargo boats and commercial boats. It’s taken us a long time to train and get the right people in the correct positions so that the remote area arrival and operations of each yacht is covered.
How can I maximise my guests experience when cruising Indonesia?
Often if the boats are going to go to remote areas, I will always recommend to the captains and through to the owners that they print some T-shirts. This can be done very cheaply and I suggest about 100 pieces with the boat’s name or with some particular logo that may be representative of the vessel. These given as gifts in the remote area really go a long way. Again, if they’re going to be spending any time in remote areas I suggest to stock up on colouring pencils, colouring books, anything that can provide extra education resources for some of these villages in the far-out islands.
It really is the small things that we, as visitors to these different areas can show that we care, show that we’ve got something to give. I can tell you the experience for the owner and the experience for the captains is a very gratifying one. Cultural sensitivity, good sense of humour and tolerance for others, they’re the keys for arriving to Indonesia.
Capt. Jimmy Blee