Indonesia: The Kai Islands (Kei Islands)

Nestled into the turquoise waters of the Banda Sea, the largely untraveled Kai islands are a microscopic jewel in the Indonesian Archipelago. With the vast majority of backpackers and travelers skipping these paradise isles for the easier prey of Sulawesi, Bali and Lombok, nine times out of ten you will be the only Robinson Crusoe on your very own deserted beach.

Even though the Kai’s have been pegged as having some of the finest beaches this planet has to offer, development is sloth-like and tourism very low. Strolling along the sugar white sand of Kai Kecil with Palm trees bending overhead and vibrant sea snakes lazing in the shallows, you would be forgiven for thinking that you had died and gone to your very own tropical heaven.

These islands do not offer the same nightlife as the fabled Gili islands; neither do they provide the diving and hiking of Borneo or Sulawesi. What the Kai islands do supply is peaceful solitude, unspoilt serenity and intense sunshine. The order of the day is hanging a hammock and sipping a beer as the crystal clear waves wash over the star fish and coconuts that dot the shore.

If snoozing in a hammock with a chilled beer and uninterrupted sunshine becomes boring, there are plenty of things to see and do to fill your days. The Guan Lian Hawan caves, not far from the village of Letvuan provide the chance to swim in a fresh water lagoon within the mouth of the small cave. The hike down to the cave is brimming with tropical birds and massive butterflies and is worth a visit in itself; having said that the utterly transparent yet vivid blue waters are a captivating entity that is definitely the main attraction.

The petroglyphs at Ohoideratas provide another break from the copious beach bumming that the Kais provides. At low tide it is possible to walk over the sand flats and stare up at the different images of ancient warriors, the sun and various other images. The walk across takes some time but the tide is low for several hours so you have plenty of time to take in the petroglyphs and also watch the locals drag in the seaweed that they harvest and sell.

With what can only be described as perfect beaches alongside some embarrassingly friendly locals to accompany them, the Kai islands can definitely seem too good to be true. Luckily (and unluckily) getting to these emerald green, secluded islands is a challenge which demands that you will have to rack up some serious air miles. There are no direct flights to the Kai’s and if you are travelling from a place like Bali and are on a budget, prepare to plane hop.

Starting from Denpasar in Bali you will hop on a one hour flight to the Javanese town of Surabaya. Then, you must make a quick dash through the small airport to your next flight which takes you to the town of Makassar on Sulawesi. After an even faster sprint, through an even smaller airport you will find yourself on your third flight of the day to Ambon, a small island to the north of your destination.

Provided that you don’t get caught up in the frequent delays and cancellations, you will now board the last and smallest aircraft which will take you to the beautiful Kai Islands. Upon arrival you must wait in a small building to the side of the airstrip and wait for your luggage to be launched through a small hole in the side of the wall with ‘Baggage claim’ written above it. After collecting your bag amid the scramble of locals, you must do you best to find transport to your accommodation if you haven’t already arranged it.

Do not despair. Although the journey can be arduous and sometimes frustrating, you will forget all your worries the second you step out of the airport and into the laidback pace of the tiny Kai Islands.  Do not expect a Best Western with an infinity pool and don’t rely on a Radisson right by the beach, this is homestay territory. Make sure you confirm that your hosts will provide fresh water and three meals a day and try and do a bit of research before landing. The majority of the time you will be met by accommodating and enthusiastically friendly locals who make the trip as worth will as the lush and  idyllic slice of utopia just a few steps away from your front door.

June 26, 2014