DAY 1-2: U.S./Fly To Koror, Palau/Overnight Hotel
Depart for Palau, crossing the international date line (lose a day). Transfer to our hotel in Palau for overnight.
DAY 3: Palau, Micronesia/Embark Ship
Of the thousands of idyllic islands that dot the vast Pacific Ocean, Micronesia,™s westernmost island chain, known as the Palau Archipelago, is a best kept secret rich in natural beauty, steeped in ancient culture. Relax at your hotel this morning, then join us for an alfresco lunch in Palau Pacific Resort,™s open air restaurant. After lunch, we,™ll depart on an island tour that will include visits to the Coral Reef Center, the Etpison Museum and the National Museum before embarking National Geographic Orion. (B,L,D)
DAY 4: Palau,™s Rock Islands
Spend today in the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where hundreds of mushroom shaped limestone islets form emerald chains in the blue seas. Divers and snorkelers may head out into the lagoon to get a first taste of the vibrant coral reefs, and those who wish may visit famous Jellyfish Lake for an extraordinary snorkeling experience. After centuries of biological isolation, the jellyfish here have lost their ability to sting. Alternately, you may choose to explore this exquisite area by kayak, discover rich flora and fauna ashore, relax on the whitest beaches you will ever see, and snorkel or dive among gardens of coral. (B,L,D)
DAY 5: At Sea
Sail south towards the Raja Ampat archipelago. A day at sea allows us time to settle in to life aboard, stop up at the bridge, and hear presentations from our expedition team preparing us for the days ahead in Indonesia. (B,L,D)
DAY 6-8: Raja Ampat, Indonesia
The Raja Ampat Archipelago encompasses more than nine million acres of land and sea in the Coral Triangle, which has been found to have the richest coral reef biodiversity for its size in the world with 75% of all known coral species and more than 1,220 types of reef fish. Above sea level, the experiences are just as amazing, with lush islands, towering limestone pinnacles jutting out of the water, and hidden white-sand coves to discover by Zodiac or kayak. Zodiacs take us ashore to receive a big Papuan welcome, with cultural events such as a mock wedding ceremony, cooking displays, and a visit to the school. Birders may join a nature walk to hopefully catch a glimpse of the ethereal red bird of paradise, sulphur-crested cockatoos, beach kingfishers, and varied honeyeaters. The Misool Islands, one of the famed ,˜Four Kings,™ of the Raja Ampat region, are a mecca for snorkelers and divers, and there will be plenty of time for water activities. (B,L,D)
DAY 9: Kokas & Arguni, Fak Fak, Indonesia
Soaring mountains, pristine rain forest, and dozens of the most ancient, primal tribes on the planet can be found on this amazing section of Indonesia. Use Zodiacs to get up close to 20,000-year-old rock art near the fishing village of Kokas. Explore the fascinating skull caves and rock art of the Macassan culture. See the remains of the secret underground Japanese bunkers built here during World War II. Witness the traditional gabagaba, or stick dance, and learn about the myriad cultures that have passed through this region. (B,L,D)
DAY 10: Bandanaira, Banda Islands, Moluccas
Sail into the Molucca archipelago, also known as Maluku or the Spice Islands. In the heart of the Moluccas lay the Banda Islands, where a kora kora, or traditional war canoe, escorts us to the enchanted isle of Banda Naira, once the center of the Spice Island trade and a hub of the Dutch East India Company. Stroll past Dutch architecture, and visit Fort Belgica, built to protect the spice trade. Next to Bandanaira, the near perfect conical volcano of Banda Api will be visible, quietly steaming away. And the crystal-clear waters provide us with some great swimming and snorkeling. (B,L,D) DAY 11: Banda Run, Banda Islands, Moluccas
The island of Run should be one of the best known islands in the world given its history as the island exchanged for Manhattan! In the 17th century, British-occupied Run was at the heart of the lucrative spice wars between the Dutch and British, until the Dutch agreed to give up their possession of New Amsterdam (renamed New York) in exchange for Run. There are still, however, 400-year-old nutmeg trees growing on Run today, and we,™ll stroll among them as we explore this fascinating history. (B,L,D)
DAY 12-14: Exploring the Southeast Moluccas
Known as Indonesia,™s Forgotten Islands,, the Southeast Moluccas or Maluku Tenggara are a series of archipelagos within the Banda Sea. Covering nearly 200,000 square miles of ocean, and strewn with hundreds of islands, the Banda Sea offers us exceptional opportunities for exploring. As a center of marine biodiversity, the undersea world of the Banda Sea is extraordinary, while the remote islands offer interesting opportunities for encounters with local cultures and endemic flora and fauna. Our schedule is flexible, allowing us to take advantage of the unexpected. We,™ll explore by Zodiac and kayak, on land and in the water, using our full arsenal of tools for exploration.
DAY 15: At Sea
Our last day at sea gives us time to relax, pack, hear a few last lectures, and reflect on all that we have seen and done. (B,L,D)
DAY 16-17: Darwin, Australia/Disembark/U.S.
Disembark in Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory. Relax in dayrooms at our hotel, or explore this multicultural city, before transferring to the airport for a late evening overnight flights home. (DAY 16: B)