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I booked a four day boat trip from Lombok to Flores with Wanua Adventure, and it was quite possibly the best decision I’ve made on this trip so far. I had the most incredible little journey, met some exceptional people, snorkeled in some of the clearest water I’ve seen, and was constantly mesmerised by the ever-changing beautiful big blue. I think I would totally rock as a pirate.

I stayed in Bangsal, which is the west harbour port on Lombok island, the night before departure to be close to the meeting point early the following day. The closest accommodation that I could find was at Arnel Bungalows, in the smallest room imaginable. The room was literally the size of the bed (for real, literally), but it was dirt cheap (Rp145,000 which is about ZAR130) and I wasn’t exactly planning on doing anything aside from sleeping so it served its purpose. The bathroom was super teeny tiny, with a handheld shower and no basin, but like I said, I was only there for a night so it really didn’t phase me. It’s been interesting to see the difference in facilities in the various places I’ve stayed so far. I haven’t by any means been exposed to half of what I imagined before starting this adventure. My rooms have all been clean and bed bug free, and the only thing that I sometimes miss in the way of western bathrooms is showers that hold themselves and are partitioned from the rest of the amenities, but I’m getting used to it. I’m not exactly “backpacking” in the real and rough sense of the word, so generally my quarters have been pretty decent for what I’m paying.

DAY 1 – Lombok / Kenawa Island / Gili Bola

The Wanua Adventure meeting point is at Pandu Restaurant, where I joined two boats worth of eager passengers. While we met at 8am, we only left there about 3 hours later for a 3 hour, highly uncomfortable minivan drive to Kayangan harbour on the opposite side of the island. I didn’t realise that I could’ve arranged to meet at the actual departure point rather than transfer from Kuta to Bangsal ahead of time, which may have saved me a day and possibly a little cash, but aside from losing all feeling in my ass during that squishy drive, I can’t really complain and the view was super pretty along the north coast of Lombok.

The boat was impeccably clean when we boarded, and remained that way for the entire trip – massive props to the incredible crew, not only for being super rad humans, but also for running a tight ship. I booked a private cabin on the boat, which I highly recommend if you can afford paying a little extra. While the communal upper deck was adequate for an adventure at sea, it was really cool having a private space of my own when I needed it, and to have somewhere dry, with a little more space to store my gear. It rained on the first night and the sleeping deck got a little flooded, which isn’t ideal when you’re carrying a bunch of electronics (although they do also store luggage in a cabin on the lower deck). Private cabins are nothing fancy, just a raised bed with plug points (which work when the generator is on) and a fan. The sliding door to my cabin tended to slowly edge itself open whenever the boat was moving, but I didn’t really need to keep it closed anyway and a little extra fresh sea air is always a good thing.

We sailed to Kenawa island, which is a short ride from Kayangan, swam to shore and hiked up the small hill, which didn’t feel all that small to my post-surgery knee, or in the heat, but the view was beautiful and totally worth the sweat!

As the boat sailed further east, eventually anchoring at Bola island for the night, I cracked open a large Bintang with dinner to watch the first gorgeous sunset at sea, while sharing travel stories with my new sea mates. This trip is all-inclusive (3 meals a day, tea, coffee, and water), and you can pre-order extra snacks, cold drinks and beer for the trip before you depart, and I’d recommend you over-cater just a little. It will be 3 days before you come across small boats selling supplies (at premium rates) at Pink Beach, and heaven forbid you run out of beer before you get there!

DAY 2 – Moyo Island / Open Ocean

The boat started up at around 2am (which surprisingly didn’t disturb my nap all that much) to sail to Moyo Island for an early morning hike to the waterfall and a snorkel in the bay after breakfast. The water was crystal clear with beautiful coral gardens and a massive army of garden eels poking their heads out of the sand – I’d never seen them before so the excitement was real. Despite a few sneaky little jelly fish stings, it was an exquisite morning.

I felt like I couldn’t take enough photos of the ocean on this trip to capture the exquisite way the colours changed and flickered throughout the day, and how it framed the fleeting landscape of this breathtaking part of the world as we sailed past. I have become so much more fiercely captivated by the ocean during the course of last year. Being out on the open ocean at night is not something I’ve ever done before and it is, as expected, an exquisite experience listening to the waves lap against the side of the boat with an endless night sky of stars overhead and the moonlight flickering on the water. This is the stuff of dreamy fantasies.

Our next stop would be Gili Lawa, a 20+ hour boat ride away. During the only long-haul non-stop part of this journey, the seas were a little choppy at times but nothing major, and we spent our time chilling on deck, playing beer pong, napping, Bintang-ing and generally chilling super hard. I’d heard a few horror stories about these boat trips, ranging from sea sickness to capsizing, but we were lucky with conditions at sea and aside from a handful of people suffering from some mild sea sickness on the second night, it was smooth sailing all the way.

DAY 3 – Gili Lawa / Manta Point / Pink Beach / Pulau Koaba

My knee hasn’t been particularly happy with all the walking I’ve been doing lately, and was more than a little grumpy about the steep uphill hike on Gili Lawa, but the spectacular 360° view more than made up for it. How’s that view?!

A 30 minute ride from there, we stopped off at Manta Point in search of the winged pot of gold. After failing at the search on our first attempt and struggling against some harsh current, we all hung onto a rope tied to the back of the boat while it tugged along. All the effort eventually paid off and just as the current subsided, we stumbled across a group of beautiful manta chilling on the bottom of the sea floor. I’d never seen manta before, so was decidedly stoked about finally seeing these majestic winged creatures. The visibility wasn’t amazing and they stayed firmly put at depth, but knowing that I would be diving here in the next few days, with any luck this wouldn’t be my only encounter (…and I was right, but I’ll write about the ridiculously epic Komodo diving adventures soon).

We then set sail for Pantai Merah, better known as Pink Beach, stopping for 2 hours at this alluring destination. It really is pink. Looking closely at the white sand, it’s speckled with dark pink grains which is what gives the beach it’s unique colour. The shoreline is a beautiful blend of hues, with off-white sand and varying shades of pink set against the turquoise blue of the water and the bubbling white of the waves as they roll in. It’s pretty darn exquisite to look at. Note that the currents can be really intense here, so be sure to enter and exit the water at the right angle if you need to. (See, my “Tides, Waves and Currents” speciality really is coming in handy.)

Boarding the boat after the swim back from the shore, I managed to do something really really silly. You know when you stub your toe and writhe in pain but it subsides after a few minutes? Well, 3 weeks later, mine is still throbbing, because I didn’t just stub my toe, I went all the way and broke it. I’m not a clumsy person, I never have been, but lately I’m having the most random bad luck and keep breaking myself, and the worst part is that none of it is the result of a rock ’n roll story. Granted, I’ve been on rocking adventures while breaking myself, but at the actual time of injury, I’ve just been doing run-of-the-mill stuff, like crouching down (which is how I injured my knee last year) or in this case walking. Facepalm. There’s not a whole lot you can do about a broken bone when you’re on a boat in the middle of the ocean and still a day away from civilisation, so I popped a few pills and simply continued the adventure, very thankful for my high pain tolerance.

We sailed to Pulau Koaba, otherwise known as Kalong Island or Fruit Bat Island, to anchor for our final night on board the MV Fahri Jaya, and as we arrived at dusk, hundreds of flying foxes took flight. The Sunda flying fox is a large (like, REALLY LARGE!) fruit bat endemic to Indonesia, and they inhabit coastal regions, this teeny tiny island (approximately 500 metres in length) being one of the most famous. While our encounter wasn’t as prolific or lengthy as some of the images and videos I’ve seen, it was beautiful to see the colony take flight from deep in the mangrove forest of this petite island just as we arrived, almost as though nature was intentionally setting up one last exquisite party just for us. We soaked in the splendour of sunset, watching a kite hunting for dinner and I realised that I honestly don’t remember a time in my life when I felt this carefree.

DAY 4 – Rinca Island / Pulau Kelor / Labuan Bajo

On the last day we stopped at Rinca island, which is one of two islands you can go to in search of the famous komodo dragon – Pulau Komodo being the other option. Rinca is lesser known and supposedly less touristy – I can’t compare the two personally as I didn’t go to Komodo Island, but at an educated guess I’d say that’s probably true.

While the 1½ hour hike took us through the beautiful landscape of Rinca (in the blazing heat), my grumpy knee and newly-broken toe would’ve appreciated a heads up that the dragons are actually all congregated at the end point (which is right next to the starting point), chilling in the shade of the wooden huts. I would’ve far preferred to just chill there for 2 hours watching these lazy-looking lizards, who really don’t look like they can kill you – nature is a sneaky little devil. Granted, it’s always better to encounter wildlife in its natural habitat, but finding a dragon while wandering the island seems to be a very rare occurrence and let’s be real, you just want to see a komodo dragon and snap a few pics. It was a slightly underwhelming experience to be honest, perhaps because of the trekking heat, perhaps because of the man-made surroundings when we finally came across the dragons, or perhaps because they just look so damn lazy and harmless, but I’m still super stoked I got to see the dragons in real life. (Note: you will need a camera with good zoom to get decent pics here – which I clearly don’t have – because you’re not allowed to get very close to them, for good reason.)

Our last stop before landing at Labuan Bajo harbour was one final epic 2 hour snorkel at Kelor Island, another popular stop for most of the day tours that come out of Labuan Bajo. As you can see, I played with my dome for a bit (which I haven’t really used much yet) and captured our boat with some new friends I made during the stopover.

The wildly beautiful landscapes, exquisite sunsets and dynamic oceanscapes of this ridiculously rad little adventure have totally stolen my heart. From days spent floating in crystal clear waters, to nights under the stars playing uno and beer pong while getting to know some exceptional humans from around the world, the Wanua Adventure boat trip will definitely be one of the ultimate highlights of my journey across Southeast Asia, and I truly hope that life brings me back this way one day so that I can do it all again.