We left the interesting and friendly Banda Islands and headed for Triton Bay on Tuesday 26th of November. It was a lovely sunny morning as it often was during the cruise. One of the lecturers gave an illustrated talk about the area we were approaching. Triton Bay is an unusual scenic group of small mushroom-shaped islands with steep cliffs covered with jungle foliage. The shallow bay is a haven for birds and fish – birds like Hornbills, Cockatoos and Birds-of-Paradise. As soon as the Caledonian Star dropped anchor the zodiacs were lowered and off we went – all 120 passengers – to explore these fascinating islands. We set off in convoy but soon lost touch with other boats as we found all kinds of interesting plants and birds to admire on shore. We didn’t actually set foot on land, but there were signs of life. Several times we passed small fishing huts and dug-out canoes. Our ‘driver’ stopped from time to time to give us a chance to just sit there and absorb the jungle sounds and the unusual place it was, without the noise of the engine. I have never been anywhere I felt so relaxed and in awe – it was like entering a different world. Triton Bay lies on the Indonesian side of New Guinea, named Irian Jaya,and it reminded me of the fabulous exploration films we see on TV when the experts go in search of the world’s least visited spots. All the passengers were quite excitable that evening as we gathered on deck for a barbecue dinner, and watched the sun set over the ocean. It would have been great to see more native fishermen and people, but that was not to be. It is very humid in this part of the world, but the rain is warm and comes in short, sharp bursts.
Wednesday 27 November: Our next, and last, stop before leaving Indonesia was an island named Karang. This little uninhabited island lies within the Aru archipelago, and the islands are spread across the sea between Timor and Irian Jaya. We went ashore in the usual zodiacs, watched by fishermen and pearl fishers! It was not expected to find people there, but it was an added bonus I felt, although I thought (we all did really) that the men looked rather hostile.
When we came ashore we found there were three boats which had come from Buton, near Sulawesi in order to catch sharks. They remove the fins and tails, which we could see drying onboard their ships. These would then be taken to a trading centre and exported to Hong Kong. Their journey took 10 days and they remained in these waters for a month. It is a journey only undertaken once a year. The little boats didn’t look very sturdy for these, sometimes, wild seas, and they didn’t bring much water or food. A tough life!
The pearl-divers came from Aru and was part of a fleet of five – the same man owned all the ships. They were fishing for oysters which were brought to a farm for cultivated pearls. It takes about two years for a pearl to grow inside the shell. They normally catch 100 a day. The oysters are kept in wire cages alongside the side of the ship – to prevent the shells from damage.
During the evening there was a cocktail party, hosted by the Captain. A jolly time was had by all. As the sun set we caught a last glimpse of Indonesian islands before heading for the Barrier Reef and Thursday Island.