Celestia Indonesian Archipelago

Photo: Celestia

Home to magnificent Komodo dragons, diverse marine life and biodiversity, stunning hiking paths, and one of seven pink beaches in the world, Komodo National Park—a UNESCO World Heritage site comprising the larger Komodo, Rinca, and Padar islands and clusters of tiny, uninhabited islands—remains a relatively untouched treasure of Indonesia.

Celestia Indonesian Archipelago

Insulated from mass tourism, these stunning islands can be explored by way of a single or multi-day boat tour from Labuan Bajo, a small port town on the west tip of Flores island. Enter Celestia, an all-inclusive, liveaboard phinisi yacht—brainchild of Indonesian brother-sister duo Jason Tabalujan and Jasmine Chong. The double-masted, 45-metre beauty is hand-built by legendary boatbuilders from the Bulukumba regency using UNESCO-recognised methods, and boasts interiors designed by renowned Cape Town-based design studio Deirdre Renniers.

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Celestia features seven well-appointed staterooms—two owner suites on the upper deck and one master suite on the main deck complete with private terraces, daybeds and spacious writing desks offering panoramic views of the ocean, plus four deluxe suites on the lower deck with porthole windows—that comfortably accommodate 14 guests. Designed with the utmost luxury, each suite includes teak and rattan-panelled furnishings with brass hardware, its own private ensuite bathroom with white Carrara marble counters and Villeroy & Boch finishings, and understated, delightful details such as earthy bed runners, cushions and a patterned bathrobe featuring moon phases designed by co-founder Jasmine, who is also a fashion designer (you may remember her from Amazon Prime Video’s Making the Cut). Locally-made tiles hand-glazed in the softest of blues and bins crafted from Celestia wood cutoffs are a testament to the siblings’ commitment towards sustainability and Balinese craftsmanship.

I loved taking in views of the surrounding landscape on the main deck while indulging in a hearty breakfast. I found both a classic English breakfast made with scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages, homemade jams, artisan pastries and more, as well as traditional Indonesian fare like burbur ayam (Indonesian chicken congee), mie goreng (a stir-fried noodle dish) and nasi goreng kampung (garlic fried rice) with spicy sambal matah (a special Balinese shallot salsa) on the side—all lovingly prepared by award-winning Balinese chef Wayan Kresna Yasa (former Global Executive Chef and Culinary Director at Desa Potato Head Bali). The talented chef, who served up impressive creations that melded heritage recipes and flavours with modern culinary innovation over family-style lunches and alfresco dinners which I’ll get to later, is one of the 16-person crew led by cruise director Jennifer Tan.

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Over four days and three nights, I embarked on a wholly immersive and completely off-the-beaten-path adventure. During the day, I discovered incredible marine life in glassine waters and untouched nature on pristine islands. There were sweaty 800-step climbs up the peak of Padar to take in morning views of its jagged bays, lazy afternoons spent lying around dazzling sand bars and private beach set-ups, and many a trek across Rinca Island to observe the infamous Komodo dragons in the wild (note to the uninitiated: always stay close to your trained ranger!).

A personal highlight was the unbeatable experience of snorkelling around Karang Makasar, where I was transported into the surreal, aquatic world of graceful manta rays, gentle sea turtles as well as colourful schools of fish and coral reefs. Thanks to my personal instructor Jennifer—who was instrumental in getting me comfortable in open water, breathing through the snorkel and spotting elusive creatures underwater—I got the most out of my unforgettable first, and overwhelmingly positive, snorkelling experience.

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If you’re not a diver or snorkeller, there are a variety of water activities available to keep you occupied, such as water-skiing, wakeboarding, or island-hopping via a kayak or stand up paddleboard. Alternatively, go out on an excursion in Celestia’s trusty dingy. No matter what activity you choose, the in-house crew will always be ready to hand you fresh tropical fruit juices and a cold face towel as you reboard the yacht.

In between adventures, I eased into the slowness of cruising on water. The yacht is equipped with comfortable nooks located on various parts of the boat—my favourite being the bowsprit lounge where I sipped on hand-crafted cocktails and lost myself in the vastness of the ocean surrounds—as well as an air-conditioned saloon stocked with books, movies and board games.

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Come evening, I witnessed awe-inspiring sunsets both on and off Celestia. Padar Pink Beach’s glowing pink sunset was nothing short of stunning, but a truly magical experience was the bat symphony at Kalong Island. Picture a burning sky filled with a million bats leaving the mangrove forest in search of food as dusk approaches, giving way to twinkling stars (shooting stars included!) that scatter the inky night sky. Later that night, I indulged in a heavenly massage on the open deck, washed over by the night sea breeze, while Celestia literally rocked me to sleep. 

Alfresco dining under the stars was another major highlight. On our last night, the crew led us through a path lit by the glow of candles that unveiled a beautiful dinner set-up. We had heartfelt conversations while feasting on tender satay, mouthwatering steak, grilled side dishes, and bubur ketan hitam (an Indonesian dessert made from black glutinous rice porridge with coconut milk and palm sugar) specially prepared by Chef Wayan. After dinner, the amazing crew surprised us with campfire-style song and dance for the perfect send-off.

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Celestia Islands

My time onboard Celestia was made most memorable by the magical landscapes unique to the Indonesian Archipelago and life-changing experiences; not forgetting the crew who made sure we were well cared for every step of the way. Celestia not only offers trips from Labuan Bajo to Komodo, it also sails to Raja Ampat, the Spice Islands and other destinations across Indonesia’s surreal Coral Triangle—where you can become one with nature while lost at sea.

All photos courtesy of Celestia