At the Surabaya official residence
At the Surabaya official residence

Proud family connection on a trip to Indonesia

It was with great enthusiasm that I was invited to visit my great-grandfather’s official residence in Surabaya in Indonesia, while he was Governor General there in the 1880s.

The family images of him in uniform striding through the tropical gardens are treasured.

The Palace has now become a busy venue for corporate events and the residence of officials and retains a lovely atmosphere of what was a family home.

We arrived early, being allowed in after a police check and taken straight into ballroom which was being set up for a conference. The original reception hall and receiving rooms retained much of their original teak woodwork including the grand staircase.

I stood on the saluting balcony with views over river where guests originally arrived by boat. The gardens now quite municipal however, in my great-grandfather’s day they look lush with mature trees sheltering the ladies from the heat of the day.

Martin Hunt outside his great-grandfather’s former residence in Surabaya

From the Palace we went on to the Dutch cemetery, with no records of my family as my great-grandfather went on to join the League of Nations in Geneva. However, we did find the grave of an infant buried in 1901 who had connections to my Scottish family’s business.

Then, we movd onto the original Dutch Women and Children’s Hospital which operates as such to this day and is likely to have been where my mother was born. Surrounded by tranquil gardens of palms and orchids, the peaceful atmosphere was certainly a good remedy for feeling better.

Visiting Sukarno’s childhood home where we were welcomed by the local Mayor, we then onto the house where he lived as a student, where studied for six years in an attic with no windows. Sukarno then went on to lead the independence campaign from the Dutch in 1945, becoming the first president of Indonesia.

Staying at the Hotel Majaphit was like travelling back in time, with photographs of my grandfather’s Palace and the colonial era hanging is many of the public rooms. Their spa, pool and leisure facilities were all beautifully frozen time and immaculately maintained. Dining in the hotel’s several themed restaurants was a real treat after our long journey.

As a child being brought up on Indonesian food, it was a delight to be eating authentic, local food from street cafes, including Nasi Gorang and Soto Ayam, a delicious chicken soup.

Flower picking for temple offerings

The following day our guide Bagus took us to Mount Bromo, a three-hour drive fit for only the hardiest of drivers, you need eyes in the back of your head with bikes motor bikes pedestrians and wildlife approaching from every angle and absolutely no recognition of lane or directional discipline. Eventually turning off the toll road through villages, we ascended the mountain on what would best be described as a single track Highland Road with heavy traffic in both directions!

On reaching a village of Sukapura, on the slopes of Mount Bromo, we transferred to a seriously impressive 4×4 which still in use since being manufactured in 1991 and we continued up to the rim of the Caldera, a ring of volcanos with the highly active Mount Bromo in the centre some 3 miles away with steam clearly visible.

Descending down the almost vertical slope into the Caldera to drive through the Sea of Sand which is volcanic ash for miles, until we reached we the slopes of the active volcano with the Hindu temple immediately below. Their faith is such that they remain there without fear although completely surrounded by the volcanos, ash and debris.

On the leeward side of Mount Bromo the landscape was transformed into savanna with lush slopes which were not affected by the volcanic ash in an area now nicknamed the Tellytubby Hills as the slopes are reminiscent of the hills in the children’s TV series.

The heavens opened with a tropical storm and the years of hard service given by our 4×4 began to show as every crack allowed the rain to penetrate as we became wetter and wetter!

Sandy Sempiak Beach

The drive back to the capital Surabaya was to say the least knee trembling with flooded roads and drivers taking little no heed in adapting their speed to the conditions.

We took a flight to Flores and then transferred from Labuan Bajo harbour by speedboat to the Komodo dive resort, a 40 minute ride to be welcomed by Dutch national Leo to this stylish Italian owned resort which offers both divers and non-divers alike a haven of peace.

Kingfishers, starlings and the sound of birdlife was a delight to hear in the trees as we sit on the loungers in front of well appointed bungalow with twin beds and enormous shower room.

With no water, the resort relied upon drinking water being brought in and a desalination plant to provide all other water requirements so we were particularly asked to respect water usage and to respect the coral around the island and not swimming freely off the shore.

Snorkelling was a great delight when taken by boat and allowed to float back in the current to the pier, enjoying the colourful sea life as you glide slowly past. While we didn’t dive those who did returned with tales of sharks, mantas and a high diversity of marine life.

A Komodo Dragon

As the sea was a little rough instead of a three hour trip on a boat to Komodo we chose the shorter distance to Rinca to see the Komodo dragons. The dragons on Rinca, we were told were 3 metres as opposed to 3.5 for those on Komodo, what is .5 metre between friends when they looked enormous and quite threatening enough?

We were introduced to a ranger, whose only weapon was a forked stick, who lead us on a half hour walk through the forest where we saw a nest and the female protecting her eggs for the 9.5 month incubation. Some of her offspring were in danger of being eaten by their mother as they ran for cover up the nearest tree to live for the next few months.

On returning to the boat our guide Didi took us to a secluded coral beach for snorkelling where we saw an amazing number of colourful fish and coral just off the shore. At dinner later that evening we spent a happy time talking to one of the four owners Stephano who has the claim to fame of being the only person to trek solo across Papua!

We left for the trip back to the main island with a heavy heart.

A short flight took us to Lombok, arriving late in the evening the view from our luxury bungalow over the bay, peppered with the lights of the boats who were fishing for squid and lobster.

After three intense weeks of travel, all of which was an experience in itself we took the flight from Labuan Bajo a tiny airport and a runway with a noticeable gradient back to Bali and then onto Lombok.

Staying a 30 minute drive from the airport we arrived late evening at the Sempiak Villas, a small collection of octagonal shaped wooden buildings beautifully appointed with large living areas, well appointed open plan kitchen double bedroom and ensuite bathroom.

The layout of the living area compromised the space available for the bedroom. What was described as a messanine area was in the loft space with a gallery overlooking the living space and accessed by a ladder so not really suitable for smaller children.

Our villa was nestled in beautifully maintained tropical gardens which attracted a wide variety of birds and a troop of monkeys who came to visit daily.

Perched high above the beach the views were stunning from the terraces on all sides. The immaculate infinity pool next to villa was shared with other nearby villas however it never felt busy. A complimentary buggy was available on demand to take you up and down to the restaurant beach and spa. We always took the stroll down the steep path but favoured the buggy for our return.

Lombok beach 

The one thing that struck us throughout our trip was the helpfulness of staff. This was mirrored here too in the restaurant, the beach staff, housekeeping, spa and the drivers but the restaurant staff became a little overbearing with fussing about our meal and their service. However, despite these shortcomings my favourite meal was their seafood Nasi Goreng which was absolutely delicious.

Breakfasts were good and healthy with everything prepared individually. I have yet to find out what spice they used in the scrambled egg on our first morning but it certainly had the flavour of the exotic. There is the option to either sit on the cool veranda to eat or amongst the shaded tables overlooking the beach. Beach attendants made sure you are supplied with clean towels on the shaded sun terraces with bean bags to lounge on.

The spa was well run and a good range of therapies on offer. We plumped for back, neck and shoulders on two consecutive days. Run by an enterprising Lady called Roxy her aim is to provide good facilities in peaceful surroundings and we would happily return to this charming small beach resort.

  • Our bespoke three and a half week tour was arranged by the London office of Jon Baines Tours under the guidance of Jon himself who is based in Australia and has specialist knowledge of Indonesia. Our tour included all airport transfers and pick ups which were managed perfectly. on Baines Tours can organise specialist tours and cruises throughout Indonesia from ÂŁ1500 to ÂŁ4000