Tribal Weavings of the Lesser Sunda Islands

The most exciting textile tour you are ever likely to find – the trip of a lifetime!

The remote ikat-weaving islands of eastern Indonesia have one of the most diverse textile cultures on the planet. Hand-woven cloth plays a pivotal role in the cohesion of all these societies, cementing clan alliances through complex gift exchanges, reinforcing tribal loyalties and underpinning the annual cycle of rituals. As some islanders emphasize: ‘without cloth we cannot marry’.

Sadly the encroachment of the modern world means that the number of communities where
women still continue to spin their own cotton, prepare their own natural dyes and weave on traditional back-tension looms is limited. Their numbers are dwindling, and within a generation many could be gone.

One of the last remaining strongholds for these textiles are the stunningly beautiful Lesser Sunda Islands, which stretch out eastwards beyond Bali.


Description: The Ombak Putih moored in Larantuka Bay

The Ombak Putih moored in Larantuka Bay with the islands of Adonara and Solor in the distance


Description: Gunung Inierie

The massive cone of dormant Gunung Inierie, Ngada Regency, Flores island


The Textile Tour Itinerary

Our 2018 cruise begins on Thursday 17th May and finishes on Monday 28th May.

The price for the cruise is US$ 7,425 per person. This includes accommodation in an air-conditioned en-suite cabin, full board, tea, coffee, soft drinks, limited laundry, snorkelling gear and experienced tour leaders. It does not include international and domestic airfares, personal insurance, alcoholic beverages or crew gratuities.

There is also the option to join a short pre-cruise tour, which begins on Tuesday 15th May.

We begin our cruise at the port of Maumere on the island of Flores and finish at Labuan Bajo, also on Flores. Both places are connected by short inexpensive direct flights to Bali.

After exploring the district of Sikka we sail along the north coast of Flores into the spectacular bay of Larantuka. From there we pass Adonara before visiting the villages that lie at the foot of Ile Api volcano on the north of Lembata Island. We continue eastwards to the rarely visited island of Alor, inhabited by Papuan people with a very different culture. On our return, we spend a day at the famous whaling village of Lamalera on the southern coast of Lembata.

A long overnight sail brings us to the city of Kupang, West Timor, where we travel by bus to see two quite different weaving villages and enjoy an audience with the King of the Amarasi. From Kupang we sail westwards to visit the tiny island of Savu, whose people are renowned for their horsemanship and their dependence on the lontar palm. In the evening we sail northwards across the Savu Sea, heading for the dormant Gunung Inierie volcano on the south coast of Flores, so that we can visit the Ngada people who live high up on its rugged slopes.

We then zigzag back south for the first of two fantastic days on the island of Sumba, where we will see huge megalithic tombs and visit royal villages which produce some of the most complex weaving in the region. After crossing the Savu Sea for the final time, we moor at Rinca Island and after an early morning hike come face to face with the infamous Komodo dragons. From Rinca it is just a few hours to our final port of call, Labuan Bajo.

In village after village we will see every aspect of ikat production and natural dyeing and have the opportunity to purchase fabulous textiles directly from the women who made them. Before each visit guests will be fully briefed so that they completely understand the type of textiles and techniques they will encounter and the role that cloth plays within the local community. We also see villagers dressed in the same ceremonial outfits that they wear for their own private traditional rituals and festivals - costumes that you would never see if you visited these villages alone.

Our journey will take us through a dramatic volcanic and non-volcanic landscape during which there will be time to write-up journals, relax, swim, snorkel, sunbathe, and beachcomb.

Come and join us on a fantastic, adventurous and unforgettable voyage!


Description: Village welcome in East Flores

Village welcome in East Flores



Women from the Abui tribe dancing on Alor Island


Description: Young girls on Savu

Young girls on Savu, dresssed in traditional sarongs


Description: Textiles for sale on Savu

Textiles for sale on Savu


Description: Weaving in East Sumba

Weaving one half of a man's blanket in a small village in East Sumba


Description: Weaving in East Sumba

The Ombak Putih at anchor at Rinca Island


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Life On Board

Life on board is laid back, with few formalities. The itinerary is planned so that we spend most of each day ashore, but always return for lunch. Meals are almost always taken on deck, under the shade of a large awning. Nothing beats having a delicious breakfast watching the stunning scenery as we arrive at our next port of call. If we are unlucky and there is a rain shower we can retreat into the lounge, which has plenty of seats and tables. Before dinner guests can enjoy a cocktail, wine or beer as we brief them about tomorrow's destination. We hand out detailed printed notes after each talk, so that guests can return home with a complete record about the history, anthropology and textiles of every destination.

We go ashore using two small motorised tenders. Some landings are dry at a dock, while others are wet. Crew members are always on hand to assist.

Dress is casual, most people preferring shorts and t-shirts on deck and of course swimwear when they are sunbathing. However many of our guests like to wear something a little smarter for dinner, while still remaining informal. On shore we advise our guests to cover their upper arms, shoulders and knees. The people of the Lesser Sunda Islands are very conservative and, while they are all far too polite to criticise, we want to dress appropriately. For swimming and snorkelling we advise our guests to wear a t-shirt for protection against the sun.

Returning by tender from our village visits you will be welcomed back on board with cold, freshly squeezed fruit juice and cool, damp towels with which to refresh yourself. Tea, coffee, soft drinks and mineral water are all complimentary, as is daily laundry and the use of the snorkelling equipment and sea kayaks. A selection of beer, wine and spirits is available at reasonable prices.

We usually arrange a beach barbeque on one evening, and hold a farewell dinner on the last night.

Captain Fery and his dedicated crew hail from all regions of the archipelago and work extremely hard to ensure your trip is a remarkable and memorable experience.


Watch this short video to get a great idea what a cruise on the Ombak Putih is like. The destination of the cruise illustrated was the northern Maluku islands, which unfortunately do not produce textiles


Description: The partly shaded foredeck

The partly shaded foredeck



Relaxing in the shade on the foredeck



Cooking lunch in the galley



A 'wet landing' on a sandy beach


Description: Relaxing on a beach

Winding down in the warm sea just before sunset



Preparing for the end-of-tour dinner party



The Ombak Putih orchestra


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The Ombak Putih

The Ombak Putih (White Wave)is a traditional Indonesian schooner, custom-built by Buginese shipbuilders, which had a major interior refit in early 2015 using only the best traditional materials, shaped by highly skilled Indonesian craftsmen.

She is 42 metres long, with accommodation for up to 24 guests in 12 comfortable cabins. All cabins are located below deck and offer private en-suite bathrooms, portholes, individually controlled air conditioning, and ample storage space.



Deck plans of the Ombak Putih


On the main deck there is a spacious lounge and bar, with a 60-inch AV monitor where we give a short lecture before supper each evening.

The top deck has the wheelhouse and two different areas to relax – one shaded and one open to the sun. This is a great place to go after dinner and lie on a sunbed watching the star-filled sky and trying to spot a shooting star. There are even sleeping bags for guests who want to try sleeping outdoors.


Description: The crew of the Ombak Putih

The crew of the Ombak Putih


Description: Cabin with double bed

Cabin with double bed showing door to the shower, washbasin and toilet


Description: Cabin with two bunk beds

Cabin with two bunk beds showing door into the shower room


Description: Cabin with double bed

Cabin with double bed


Description: Lounge and bar with monitor

Lounge and bar with monitor. The 30-inch monitor shown has now been replaced with a much larger 60-inch monitor


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The Pre-Cruise Tour

Because there is an important ikat-producing region on Flores Island that cannot be easily accessed by sea, we decided to offer our textile cruise guests the opportunity to begin their adventures with a short pre-cruise tour. This gives them time to adjust to the slower tempo of life in the eastern islands, and for the group to gel ahead of the cruise. For the past three years only four of our guests have not taken up the pre-cruise option.

We meet guests on their arrival in Flores Island at the small airport of Ende city, which is reached by a direct flight from Bali (with a short 20 minute stop at Labuan Bajo on the way). They get an immediate introduction to local textiles in a nearby hamlet where a small weaving group produce traditional ikat using natural dyes. It is typical of the many small-scale weaving ventures that we will be encountering over the next two weeks. After heading into the mountains we spend a few hours in a fascinating hill-side village inhabited by the local Lio people, enjoying our packed lunch in the village school.

Our home for the next two nights are the modern ensuite bungalows at Kelimutu Crater Lakes EcoLodge in Kelimutu National Park, set beside a babbling mountain stream and surrounded by rice fields. The climate is cool and fresh, and the EcoLodge gardens are a haven for wildlife.

The following day we leave with our second packed lunch to visit a remote Lio weaving village that is renowned for the quality of its ikat textiles. We will be shown all stages of the weaving process, will be invited into local houses, and will be served local coffee and fresh coconut with our lunch. This evening the EcoLodge will entertain us with a traditional feast and local music.

After early morning coffee on the third day we drive up to the Kelimutu volcano where we can walk to the crater lakes using a concrete staircase with safety handrails. Not only does each lake have a different colour, but the colours vary over time. Back at the EcoLodge we enjoy a well-earned late breakfast before driving to the port of Maumere, where we board the Ombak Putih in time for lunch.



Master weaver and dyer Ibu Yusef, with her indigo- and morinda-dyed ikat



Some of the bungalows at Kelimutu EcoLodge, Moni



The most important Lio weaving village in the Ende region



The amazing volcanic crater lakes in Kelimutu National Park tinted with three different colours - the only place on earth where this colour variation takes place


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Guest Testimonials

To read a fantastic blog about the 2015 Textile Tour by one of our guests, Catherine Mortensen from Canada, please click here.



It was the best trip I've had in years. I loved it. Thanks for making it so special.


JR, Australia

This trip has been an amazing adventure and I have learnt so much about Indonesian textiles from remote islands, their cultures and their dyes. It was truly an honour to be guided through the process by David and Sue, whose knowledge, love and passion for not only the textiles but also the people, is immense. They were generous to a fault and it is hard to imagine, in fact impossible to imagine trying to do a similar trip by yourself.



It went far beyond any expectation I had of seeing what's left of natural dyeing, handspinning and backstrap weaving.


TH, Canada

Thank you also for putting together such an amazing trip. Using your knowledge and research you really did put together a fabulous itinerary that gave us a perspective into Indonesian culture (and its textiles!!!!) that I don't think we could have got on any other trip.


JC, Malaysia

Sue and David. Many thanks again for all your hard work and efforts to make this challenging trip a truly memorable, enjoyable and adventurous one.



Having Sue and David Richardson as subject matter experts made all the difference between a generic trip and an informative learning experience. The time and effort they put into developing the itinerary, creating professional PowerPoint slides, delivering lectures every evening, answering questions, etc., was huge and enabled all of the guests to understand how and why the textiles are made and used. The rapport they had already established with people on each island enhanced our interactions greatly.

This trip was one of the best I have had, due in large part to David and Sue and the entire crew.


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How to Book

Although we act as the onboard experts for this tour, your contract is with SeaTrek. All bookings are made through them - although we are of course happy to try to answer any queries you may have. The price is per person in a shared cabin. Solo travellers are most welcome and can either guarantee sole use of a cabin by paying a supplement, or agree to share a cabin with another guest (who will be allocated by SeaTrek - no need to find a cabin mate). The best way to book is by visiting the SeaTrek website and submitting the contact form.

To see details of the Textile Tour please click here.

To see details of the Pre-Cruise Tour please click here.


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External Links

To visit our Textile Tour Facebook page please click here.

To visit the SeaTrek website please click here.


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Background to the Textile Tour

In 2013 SeaTrek Sailing Adventures, an American- and French-owned company based in Bali asked us to design and lead an annual 'expert-led' textile tour around the Lesser Sunda Islands. We had previously travelled throughout Indonesia for many years, some of our most adventurous trips being aboard SeaTrek vessels.

Travelling through the more remote islands of Indonesia is normally a challenging affair with few air links, poor accommodation and food, noisy ferries and long waits at airports.



Waiting to embark the noisy fast ferry to Lembata Island, which takes two hours from Larantuka



Savu Island can only be reached from Kupang, West Timor, using 12-seater Cessnas operated by Susi Air


By contrast, travelling by sea is sheer joy. You unpack your bags only once and then relax while the world comes to you!

We initially spent a tough month travelling through the archipelago, visiting all our old haunts to assess which would be the most suitable to introduce to our future guests. We whittled down the list to the most scenic and least visited villages - especially those still producing the highest quality textiles - planning a balanced itinerary that would allow our guests to explore the full diversity of the region.

We scheduled the tour for May, in the early months of the dry season when seas are especially calm. The itinerary is designed so that the majority of the sailing takes place at night, allowing us to make the most of our time ashore. The Ombak Putih has an Indonesian crew of 15 who are professionally trained and do all they can to satisfy the needs of every passenger.



The Ombak Putih in sail at sunset


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This webpage was first published on 24th January 2016. It was last updated on 21st March 2017.