Creatures & comfort
The Amanikan is far from a pedestrian island-hopping jaunt. A 32-metre cruiser with an ironwood hull painted black to resemble a pirate ship, with teak decks sanded smooth, it's spacious yet intimate, with two levels of cabins, a dining and lounging area, as well as several sun decks.
Waking up in the queen-size bed to rattan-woven walls, a generous-sized shower and brass fixtures, it's easy to think you're in a luxury villa, but a wander out on deck is a quick wake-up call. For much of Amanikan's multi-day itinerary, the backdrop is an endless stretch of water the truest shade of turquoise and small uninhabited islands marked with wild goat trails, mangroves and the odd volcano.
The private-charter Amanikan offers an extraordinary journey in Indonesia, dubbed the Komodo Expedition. Up to three couples can cruise the centre of the Indonesian archipelago, through the expanse of Komodo National Park. The UNESCO World Heritage Site envelopes the waters of western Flores and 30 rugged volcanic islands - including Komodo Island, home to the rare Komodo dragon.
While the Komodo Expedition includes two nights at Aman's luxury tented resort on Moyo Island, Amanwana, the private-charter boat doesn't feel like a simple add-on. It's a rare opportunity to explore pristine parts of Indonesia with upscale amenities.
Our journey takes us east from Labuan Bajo to Rinca Island, along the north coast of Sumbawa to Satonda Island, and then onto Moyo Island. With the Flores Sea meeting the Indian Ocean here, the differing temperatures create an unusual platform 0for marine life (there are about 1,000 species of marine fish alone).
For a city dweller, the daily scenes are surreal. On day three, we hike around Rinca Island, spotting half a dozen Komodo dragons flicking their long tongues as they lounge in the sun. The large lizard-like creatures are as wary of us as we are of them. On the trek itself, there are many more Komodo dragons as well as their prey, slow-moving filthy water buffalo.
Later, back on the Amanikan, the guides sight some ominous flashes of black on the ocean's surface and we head out in a small boat to investigate. Visibility in these protected waters is at least eight to 18 metres underwater. Goggles on, we dive in and almost immediately fight the urge to clamber back onboard, as menacing black manta rays with three-metre-long wingspans glide head-on towards us. We've been assured that they're harmless, but primal instincts to flee are hard to ignore, particularly when a grey reef shark starts circling.
The next day brings even more gasps when we land at Satonda Island, a collapsed volcano that's now a large lake fringed with fruit-bat colonies living in massive trees on the crater's edge. Banging the kayak with our oars, we send thousands of bats shrieking at the disturbance and flying off to find a quieter place to hang.
For all of the communing with nature, however, the Amanikan is still very much an Aman experience. There are special touches like a candle-lit dinner of barbecue lobster on a tiny island, set up by smiling staff (complete with parasols and man-made steps in the sand). It's about lying on a crisp white sunbed, being lulled into semi-consciousness by the hum of the boat's engine, interrupted only by the crew's shouts as they spot leaping dolphin. It's also about circumnavigating an island alone on a Tiffany-blue kayak, without a person in sight until spying a crew member watching discreetly atop a rise.
When it seems like this leg of the journey can't be matched, we enter the cove on the western side of Moyo Island to be greeted at the jetty by the staff of Amanwana. There are only 20 tents on the property, tucked away in the tropical forest. Cheeky macaque monkeys play on the tents' canvas roofs, undeterred by the roaming wild deer. Each tent has its own path to a patch of beach where loungers await. After all this, nature seems much more welcoming.
The dragon's den
While the Komodo Expedition is a package deal, encompassing five nights on board the Amanikan and two nights at Amanwana, travellers can bypass the boat and stay exclusively at the luxury tented resort. The 20 spacious tents have solid walls and a waterproof roof. Inside, the floors are Indonesian hardwood, the bed is king size, the toilet flushes and the drinks from the bar fridge are cold - a fitting setting for reported guests like the late Princess Diana.
An open pavilion by the sea houses the restaurant and bar, where daily specials can include ayam pelalah: spicy grilled chicken salad with lemongrass, lime and shallots. Moyo Island is remote; there are only a few small villages sharing the 36,000 hectares with Amanwana, so staff treat each other like family, and this rubs off on the guests too.
While it's easy to swing in a hammock under a banyan tree all day, there are plenty of activities, including a snorkel or dive along a busy expanse of reef called Turtle Street, or a drive in a restored 1940s tank-like Toyota jeep (allegedly left behind by the Japanese during the second world war) past rows of cashew trees to a pristine waterfall. The perfect end to it all, departure from the resort is via a small Cessna floatplane back to Bali as the staff wave goodbye from the jetty.
Getting there: Major airlines such as Cathay Pacific and Garuda operate daily flights from Hong Kong to Denpasar airport in Bali. From there, Aviastar operates daily flights to Labuan Bajo, while Lion Air operates several flights a week. To go directly to Amanwana, guests can take a floatplane from Denpasar Airport to the resort for US$400 per person; flights can be arranged through Amanresorts. Before or after the trip, there's the option of staying at Amanusa in Nusa Dua, which is about 20 minutes from Denpasar airport.
Pricing: The all-inclusive Komodo Expedition starts at US$28,040 per couple (includes Amanikan's crew, all meals, non-alcoholic drinks, two dives a day and ranger's fee for the Komodo National Park, as well as two nights at Amanwana with all meals, non-alcoholic drinks and one dive per person per day). Individually, Amanwana starts at US$750 for a jungle tent, while Amanusa starts at US$850 for a garden suite. High season is around May through to December.