After Bali, perhaps one of the best known places in Indonesia is Komodo, famous for its dragons. But do you know what else it's famous for? Easily accessible and a beautiful destination to visit, Flores should be on every Australian's list of places to go.
Heading east from Bali, you have the islands of Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Sumba and Alor (just east of Flores). Each of these islands have their own quite distinct cultures, languages and landscapes. The broader island chain east from Bali to the Tanimbar Islands makes up a chain often referred to as the Lesser Sundas or you might hear people referring to Nusa Tenggara ('Tenggara' means south east).
Here we explore the islands of Flores and Sumba and the famous Komodo Island, just offshore from Flores, which is reached by boat from Labuan Bajo. Labuan Bajo is situated right on the western tip of Flores and is a short flight from Bali.
In July 2018 we published an entire magazine edition all about the region.
The Port of Labuan Bajo
Much of Flores is unexplored and still today, visitation centres around the port city of Labuan Bajo - gateway to Komodo National Park - which maintains a quaint old-world charm, dotted with masts of traditional wooden ships.
A Pinisi Schooner in Labuan Bajo
In Komodo there are some great island resorts and quiet beachside stays outside Labuan Bajo with stunning colonial-style gardens. As with everywhere else in Indonesia (or the world), it’s only a step away from maddening crowds, before you discover places few tourists visit.
The islands of Komodo's famous national park first appeared during the jurassic, about 130 million years ago, lifted skyward by volcanic eruptions along the boundary between two tectonic plates. Flores remains to this day, a volcanically active region, with 17 in all. Everywhere you look there's evidence of a volatile geology and convulsive land formations. And of course there's the famous Komodo Dragon. Facing a rare creature of epic proportions, with a dangerous reputation, in a place whose landscape alone engenders prehistory, just adds to the experience. There’s no doubt, encounters with Komodo Dragons are a special privilege.
Guests and guides with a 'moderately-sized' Komodo Dragon
Komodo Island is big enough to find peace. The park guides are quiet and knowledgeable. Get there early enough and you’ll likely miss most tourists. There are options to stay on board an overnight vessel anchored offshore and visit early.
Flores Cultural Highlands
Wander further afield, into the highlands with our Floresian tour operators and guides and there are home-stays on mainland Flores that welcome foreign visitors.
Stay next to volcanic lakes, travel by car through the highlands, stopping at roadside places for meals, tasting the variety of famous locally-grown, locally-ground coffee. Or explore highland villages, sleeping in thatched cottages in cool overnight temperatures and walking in stunning scenery. Hang out with the local villagers while they continue their daily lives and brush up on some local language. A pleasant and simple 2-day walk culminates in a couple of hours soaking in hot springs in the forest.Arnoldus describes the experience you can have on tour in the Adat (means 'cultural') highlands of Flores.
Resorts and vessels
There are a range of different resorts on Flores, from colonial-style beach stays to luxury dive resorts. The other way to explore is on board a liveaboard boat for a night or two.
View from a resort restaurant on a small island between Labuan Bajo and Komodo
Traditional 'Tenun Ikat' Fabric Weaving
What's unique about the villages in the central highlands of Flores is that land is handed down through matriarchal lines. Women's skills are also an important and prominent part of the culture, nowhere more visibly demonstrated, than in the worn woven fabrics of 'tenun ikat'. Critical for cultural occasions, these cloths are an important art form and complex production techniques are handed down through generations. The first step is to tightly bind yarns in a desired pattern, to resist dye, prior to weaving. Once dyed, the fabric may be bound again and a separate pattern applied. So the process can be very complex. imagine tye-dying but instead, you're dying individual vertical threads, before weaving them horizontally! To make traditional natural-dyed cloths - from harvesting and creating the natural dye to final product - can take up to three years. The natural blurriness of the motifs is a result of the extreme difficulty of lining up dyed yarns, so the patterns come out perfectly. These days, brighter chemical dyes are often used but individual villages have their own typical colours and motifs, some of which are trademarked across the region. Here a local artisan uses a traditional loom to cross-thread yarns prepared earlier. This painstaking process grows the cloth vertically thread by thread. Nearby and you have the island of Sumba, where the world-famous artwork is even richer and more complex. There are tours that tag these islands together.