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Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 5
West Coast from above
PICTURE: John Bisset
A photo taken from a drone, looking towards Rapahoe in September 2014. The shot was taken from the edge of Runanga, with Dunollie to the far right in the middle distance. The railway line runs from the left foreground.
entatively creeping through
the shady forest, we are
on high alert. Speaking in
hushed tones, only our feet
crunching on the man-made
shell path give away our
position. Eerily, the white stones resemble
tiny bones, which adds to the nail-biting
“ What ’s that?” someone whispers,
We all look round eagerly, cameras at
the ready, but to our disappointment, it is
only a group of skittish wild deer. What
we are really looking for is the dangerous,
dinosaur-looking Komodo dragon — a
creature I had imagined existed only in fairy
More than 2000 roam freely in the group
of lush green Indonesian islands that
make up Komodo National Park, which is
deser vedly ranked as one of the New Seven
Wonders of Nature.
The world’s largest lizard can grow up to
3m, and has shark-like teeth and poisonous
saliva, so it is no surprise we are not allowed
off our Holland America Line cruise
ship, MS Rotterdam, without a planned
As well as preying on other animals living
on the islands, the cannibalistic dragons
feast on their young . . . and, to our horror,
If you sur vive their initial bite, it is likely
you will die from blood poisoning a few days
later. But flanked by two guides clutching
fork sticks for protection, we are daring to
trek through Komodo Island in search of
these incredible reptiles.
As with all wild animals, though, there is
no guarantee we will find them. After 45
minutes in the blistering noon heat, we are
about to give up hope when, suddenly, our
guides stop and usher us to move for ward
We enter a clearing to find six huge
dragons, deliciously evil looking, with scaly
skin, long tongues and black beady eyes.
My heart is hammering as one creeps
behind us and sprawls lazily under a tree.
It is easy to see why this is the most talked
about excursion on our two-week Indonesia
Clicking away, everyone gets the photos
they are after, and we head back to the
ship to sip cocktails on sun loungers while
listening to live jazz.
That is the beauty of cruising around
South-east Asia. After exploring historic
temples and perusing bustling markets, you
can retreat to the luxury of the mid-size
ship with its champagne bars, fine dining
restaurants, casino and lavish spa. Most
exciting of all, you nearly always wake up in
a new destination every day.
We had started our adventure in Bogor,
about 60km south of Jakarta, with a visit
to the Taman Safari Park, one of the
world’s most successful breeding centres
for endangered species. Tigers, rhinos and
Chinese bears are just some of the animals
But organised tours can be a bit rushed,
so when we reach Lombok, we explore
alone. We barter with a taxi driver, then for
the next five hours he amazes us with his
“Lombok is the Bali of 25 years ago,” he
A new, bigger airport opened there a few
years ago, but the island remains unspoiled
and lush. Fringed by beaches strewn with
coconut palms and covered with rainforest,
it has all the beauty of a honeymoon
We visit Sukarara, a weaving village, to
watch women at work.
It takes a whole month to make one
sarong, and although the workers do not
pressure us, we cannot resist buying one of
their intricate designs. After wards, we find a
boutique hotel on Mangsit beach for a spicy
But the food is just as delicious on the
ship. Choosing from different menus every
night, we enjoy meals of succulent lamb,
juicy prime rib and hot chocolate puds.
This is our first cruise, and three days in we
are still discovering new things — like the
library, quizzes and dance classes.
It is also possible to while away the hours
doing nothing at all. Little nooks with
comfy seating and giant windows can be
found around the ship, to simply admire the
The evening entertainment is also
impressive. Talented musicians and dancers
cater for all tastes and languages, and shows
deliberately do not have dialogue.
One waiter in the Italian restaurant,
Canaletto, used to be a guide in Bali, and
over a feast of Tuscan steak and delicious
red wine, he recommends the best beaches
to visit and how much we should pay for a
Following his suggestions, we head to
Kuta Beach for our first of two days in Bali.
Tourists of all ages are learning to surf or
shopping at stalls selling cheap beachwear
and jewellery, and we enjoy chatting with
On our second day, we opt for another ship
excursion and witness a traditional Barong
dance performance, where a battle between
good and evil is represented with colourful
masks and acrobatic moves.
For lunch, we enjoy an Indonesian buffet
at a restaurant overlooking active volcano
Mount Batur and the biggest lake in Bali.
Full from the food and relishing the
stunning views, we head to Tirta Empul,
the temple of holy springs. Balinese people
travel from across the island to bathe in its
Our hilarious guide keeps us entertained
with fascinating stories of Balinese beliefs,
religion and culture. He tells us there is
only a 0.2% divorce rate here, and because I
am the firstborn in my family, my Balinese
name would be Wayan.
We fi nish the day at an art gallery in
Ubad, and while some travellers treat
themselves to some souvenirs, others
collapse in the shade. Some do not get off
the bus at all.
But back on the ship, there is plenty of
time to relax. We have completely forgotten
what day of the week it is, and are reminded
only by “calendar” carpets in the lift, which
staff change every 24 hours.
I spend every spare minute sunbathing
on the top deck or looking out to sea, and
I even glimpse a pod of dolphins on one
occasion. It is like a scene from a fairy tale,
and I can hardly believe it is real. Just like
those mysterious dragons. — PA
Spellbound by magical Indonesia
PICTURE: Getty Images
A Komodo dragon, native to Indonesia, prowls its territor y.
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