So easy to step beyond busy Bali

A Lahona village man in Sumba. Picture: Stephen Scourfield

First I fly direct with Garuda Indonesia to the hub that is Bali - and then the spokes fly off in surprising directions.

With the Garuda Explore Jet, we can step so easily beyond busy Bali.

It is the culmination of the five-year Quantum Leap plan announced in 2009 to better connect the Indonesian archipelago.

Under that plan, Garuda ordered new Bombardier CRJ1000 jets and leased ATR 72s to fly from hubs such as Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali to smaller airports across Indonesia.

Twenty-six new aircraft were ordered as part of Quantum Leap. The ATR 72-600 turboprop can land on runways of less than 1600m - too short for jets.

But today, I am in a Bombardier, which has a small business-class section with leather seats but ample room in economy (in fact, I have happily jagged an exit seat, and with my lap belt done up, I can only just touch the back of the seat in front with my fingertips).

The Bombardier is a good plane. Bright and spacious for a smaller jet, and fast.

The crew are cheerful and welcoming, and snacks are served.

And, on Explore Jet, or Explore, just where might I go?

I might fly to Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. Once Labuan Bajo might have just been a sleepy fishing village, but it's busy now as the starting point for trips to Komodo to see the dragons. But near Labuan Bajo itself, there are beaches, world-class diving, waterfalls and trekking

Or I might fly to Ende, on the southern coast of Flores - a long island of more than 14,000 sqkm, which rises to 2370m and where, in 2004, paleoanthropologists found the metre-tall skeletons of Homo floresiensis - "Flores man" or so-called hobbits.

Today, most people on Flores are Catholic, and most visitors today will see Kelimutu, a volcano with three coloured lakes that change from blue to green or vivid red, depending on their level of oxidisation.

Or to Bima on Sumbawa, an island in the Pacific Ring of Fire and shaped by volcanoes.

I might fly to Ambon Island, on the northern lip of the Banda Sea, still with wild areas of tropical rainforest.

Or I might arrive again in Makassar, on the island of Sulawesi, and leave this historic port, shaped by generations of long-voyage navigators, and drive north. Up past Erotic Mountain and the coffee growers high in the mountains, and on to Toraja Land. Here is deep, animist belief; a place of ancestor reverence, where carved effigies of the deceased are placed in rows in high galleries cut in rock faces.

But today I am flying just an hour and 20 minutes south-east to Sumba - an island bigger than Bali but with not many more than 600,000 people. An island of deep spiritual belief and reverence for ancestors, of megalithic stones, and feisty Sumba ponies, used for racing and traditional games. And a place of rainforest, waterfalls, beaches and surf breaks. Oh, such surf breaks.

It has all been easily booked on one ticket and, as I am flying straight through, my luggage was tagged in Perth for Tambolaka, near the town of Waikabubak in Sumba.

Explore, indeed . . .

FACT FILE

Fly with Garuda from Perth economy return from $463 via Bali to Bandung, Kupang, Labuan Bajo, Lombok, Makassar, Surabaya or Yogyakarta.

Fly with Garuda from Perth economy return from $513 via Jakarta to: Balikpapan, Bandar Lampung, Banjarmasin, Batu Besar, Bengkulu, Jambi, Makassar, Malang, Padang, Palembang, Pangkalpinang, Pekanbaru, Pontianak, Semarang, Surabaya, Solo, Tanjung Pandan, Tanjung Pinang or Yogyakarta.

garuda-indonesia.com, 1300 365 330 or travel agents.

Stephen Scourfield was a guest of Garuda Indonesia.

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