Spice Islands ----- Time for a Celebration !

It is three years since Spice Islands was first published and it is time for a small celebration — with some bubbles!
In July 2011 I received the advance copies of Spice Islands.
Imagine the excitement of holding the results of so many years of effort in my hands — 200 pages of text with 50 color images — and thanks to Rosenberg Publishing for delivering such high production values.
The reviews were good and how could I forget Brian Geech from the Townsville Bulletin describing Spice Islands as a ‘triumph of passion and scholarship’.
The hardback first edition sold out last year and a second printing in paperback is now available.Spice Islands has also made the transition to e-books and is now available in Kindle and other formats.
It has been a great experience, it lead to the Spice Islands Sailing Adventures and has allowed me to meet so many interesting people.


Posted on July 17, 2014 .

Spice Routes/Spice Wars 2014

Sea Trek Sailing Adventures, the Ombak Putih and Ian Burnet, will be sailing again around the Spice Islands for 12 days from October 8 to 19.  We depart from Ambon and will be visiting the Banda islands, spice plantations, old VOC forts, volcanoes, remote villages, dive sites and Sultan's palaces before the end of the voyage in Ternate.

Eight of the twelve cabins have already been booked so now is time to finalise your travel plans.

More information is available on this website and please go to Sea Trek Sailing Adventures for booking details


Posted on July 4, 2014 .

Spice Islands ----- Paperback Edition

The hardback edition of Spice Islands first published in 2011, has sold out and the second printing is now available in bookstores and online as a paperback for $A29. In Sydney it is available at Dymocks, Kinokunyia, Abbeys, Australian National Maritime Museum and the State Library Bookshop. Elsewhere on order from your favorite bookshop or the usual online retailers.

If you can find a hardback edition of Spice Islands then buy it, because they are being offered to collectors on e-Bay and other sites for many $100's of dollars.  

If e-books are your thing Spice Islands is also available as an e-book in Kindle, Epub, Epdf and MOBI formats from the usual online retailers. Go to Amazon if you are a Kindle person or Dymocks or iTunes for the other formats.


Posted on June 25, 2014 .

Spice Islands and East Indies as e-books

Spice Islands and East Indies are available as e-books for the following devices. Prices may vary according to the vendor. Support your local bookshop by using their e-service if available.

Device                                                                                                  Vendor

Kindle                                                                                                   Amazon

Apple                                                                                                    i-Tunes

All other hand held - EPUB                                                                Dymocks

All Tablets, Mac's and PC's - PDF                                                                     Dymocks


(PDF is recommended to best view text and images as in the book)

Posted on February 5, 2014 .

Spice Routes/Spice Wars -- Ambon to Ternate -- October 8 to 19, 2014

Our twelve day voyage departing from Ambon will first visit the remote Banda islands which were the original source of nutmegs.  Here we visit the nutmeg plantations, the VOC forts and buildings, and the historic town of Banda Neira.

From there the Ombak Putih retraces the marine spice route north through the Moluccan islands to the clove plantations of the fabled sultanates of Ternate and Tidore. Here we will visit the Sultans Palaces, and the historic forts of the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch who fought for control of the spice trade.

There will also be plenty of opportunity to snorkel at some of the best dive sites in the pristine waters of the Moluccas and to visit the sea villages of these remote islands.

Posted on January 28, 2014 .

Spice Discovery Sailing Adventure - 2013

This year we had a multinational group of 5 Canadians, 6 Australians, 3 English, 2 Dutch and 2 Germans making up our passenger list, we were ably led by our guides Jennifer and Arif, and the whole crew of the Ombak Putih. We also added some new islands to our itinerary -- Run, Lei Lei, and Machian.

The Ombak Putih sailed overnight from Ambon on October 24 and the next day arrived at the island of Run. For those who know the history of the Banda Islands, the English famously swapped Run in 1667 for the Dutch island of Manhattan, in what was the real estate deal of the millenium. Who knew that Manhattan would become the 'world's capital' and that the valuable nutmeg producing island of Run would sink into obscurity?

Run village was delightful, the people friendly,  the houses freshly painted and tidy. We even found the Manhattan Guest House for those who are interested in staying there overnight. Modern technology has also come to the village as we saw some recently installed solar panels and storage batteries which will provide electricity. We then explored the nutmeg plantations in the upper part of the island and remembered the islands colourful history in the struggle between the Dutch and the English East India Companies for their share of the nutmeg trade.

Banda was as delightful as ever and we enjoyed our two days exploring the island and the old colonial buildings built by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the perkeniers they installed on the island. Perhaps the highlight of our visit was the 'nutmeg dance' performed for us on the bastion of Fort Belgica by a dance group of 12  accomplished Bandanese girls. The following day we had a spirited departure from Banda with chants and drumming from two kora-kora racing either side of the Ombak Putih as they accompanied us through the 'Sonnengat'.

Again, some of the best snorkelling was off the white sandy beach of Molana Island near Saparua. The small dive resort must do some business in other times of the year but was deserted when we arrived, so we had the whole island to ourselves.

Thanks to the generosity of the 'friends of Ombak Putih' we were able to deliver boxes of medical and school supplies to the villages on the more remote islands of Manipa, Obliatu and Daworolama. The crew of the Ombak Putih especially enjoyed handing out the school supplies to the enthusiastic school children in these villages.

A new divespot was in the Guraici archipelago just north of Bacan. Here, money has been spent constructing a road of paving around the island of Lei Lei, and building some very nice villas and a dive centre for the tourists who are expected to come from Ternate. It would be a great experience to fly to Ternate,  then voyage down the Patinti Strait with its line of volcanoes rising directly from the sea, before spending a few days diving off your own tropical island. No sign of the tourists this year, but perhaps it will be fully operational next year.

This year we were able to go ashore on the island of Machian which was recorded as being the most prolific of the clove bearing islands, and sailors have written how they could smell the sweet aroma of cloves far out to sea. We landed in one village and then did a 'jungle walk' through the clove, nutmeg, and coconut groves to the next village. For me the highlight was the native orchids we found growing in the jungle.

Captain Ibrahim managed to time our arrival at Tidore in the late afternoon and the spectacular sunset had all the cameras clicking. We then spent the morning exploring Tidore and the afternoon exploring Ternate before our final shipboard party and fond farewells the following day.

A date has been set for next year's Spice Islands Sailing Adventure which will be from October 8 - 19, 2014, please go to www.seatrekbali for more details.

Posted on December 8, 2013 .

Interview published in Tempo magazine -- 8 September


Very early on in his life, Ian Burnet knew he was destined for a life of adventure. Growing up in a small isolated country town in his native Australia instilled in him an obsessive ambition to get out of town a fast as possible. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology and Geophysics from the University of Melbourne in 1966, he resolved to see the rest of the world, starting work as a geologist on some of the first off shore oil field explorations in Indonesia.

Along the way, the young man became intrigued with the fascinating history of this maddeningly complex country. In 2011, Ian published Spice Islands , a history of the archipelago’s spice trade. Following up on his successful first book, he wrote East Indies, which will be published in September 2013. Ian presently organizes sailing voyages to Maluku, the original spice islands of Dutch colonial history. He shared his story with Tempo contributor, Bill Dalton.

When was your first visit to Indonesia?

In 1968, just after the events described in the book The Year of Living Dangerously took place. The first off shore oil exploration contracts had just been awarded to foreign companies, and as a young 24-year-old geologist, I came here to work for an American seismic exploration company. I spent more than 12 years living in Indonesia and another 10 years travelling back and forth during my career as a geologist. I now spend about 3-4 months a year here, researching and writing. As long as the stories keep coming, I will continue writing about this incredible and mystifying country.

When did you start writing?

Not until 2006, when I first started work on the manuscript for Spice Islands. Most of the first draft was written when my wife and I were living in Bali. Spice Islands was also the first piece of writing I ever published. Although the book has been well received, it was a labor of love and I don’t make my living from it. Fortunately, I have a retirement income. Otherwise I would be a ‘starving artist’.

What is your book Spice Islands all about?

The book tells of the disproportionate effect that the tiny and largely forgotten islands of Ternate and Tidore in northern Moluccas have had on world history. These islands were the only place on the planet in the 16th and 17th centuries where cloves grew, and where the global spice trade began. On reaching Europe, these simple flower buds were literally worth their weight in gold. It was the Portuguese and Spanish who competed to reach the Spice Islands that drove what is known as ‘The Age of Discovery’ and the first circumnavigation of our planet. We all know about the great explorers Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Magellan, but we don’t know how they are linked together in their quest to reach the Spice Islands, and profit from the fabulous riches of the spice trade.

How did you get the idea of writing a book on the subject?

Kids going to school in Australia in the 1950s learnt nothing about Asian history. When I knew I was coming to work in Indonesia, I read all that I could find on Indonesian history and the ruthless Dutch East Indies Company. But it was a real surprise when I arrived here to learn that the Portuguese and the Spanish had been in Indonesia for 100 years before the Dutch! More than 30 years later, I realised that no one had written a complete history of the spice trade from an Indonesian perspective. This was an ‘untold story’ that had to be told.

Where did you do the historical research?

Fortunately, the inspiration for the book came in 2001 when I was living and working in London, so I had access to all the excellent research materials in the British Library. Subsequently, I spent a lot of time in the National Libraries of Indonesia, Singapore and Australia.

Where did you find the wonderful historic maps in your books?

They say that a picture is worth 1,000 words, but a historic map is worth 10,000 words. I took great pleasure in collecting all the images that go with both books, in particular the historic maps and paintings. The most memorable book talk I have given was at the State Library of NSW when, in conjunction with the presentation, my hosts had on display original copies of three of the historic maps in the book, plus an original copy of Linschotens’ magnificent Itinerario.

During your field research was there any time that you were in danger?

The mass killings occurred in Ambon, Halmahera, Tidore and Ternate in 1999, 2000 and 2001 respectively. I realized that I could not complete the book without travelling to the Spice Islands, and was planning a trip in 2005. I asked the Indonesian travel agent if he had heard of any unrest,he said no and that it had all been quiet for a couple of years. The next day we read of a bomb exploding in a market in Ambon. So my trip was delayed until 2006. As it turned out, there were no problems.

What was your vivid recollection of that trip?

Visiting the Sultan’s Palace in Ternate and meeting the sultan’s sister, Ibu Rini. A marvelous woman! She showed me around the museum in the palace, pointing out the most arresting Indonesian, Portuguese and Dutch historical artifacts. When the Japanese invaded Indonesia, the Dutch evacuated the sultan and his family to Australia. As a young child she went to school in Brisbane. Ibu Rini showed me a photograph of the family standing outside their house in Brisbane. So there’s a real Australian connection there.

Any advice to a beginning writer?

I am inspired to write stories that I would be interested in reading myself. I think that if you were not self-motivated, it would be very difficult to actually finish a book that contains so much research. My advice would be to first find an ‘untold story’ that you are really excited about. Secondly, it is really all about doing a lot of deep research to dig out unknown facts. Thirdly, although I am writing about factual history, I am trying to tell an adventure story, which will hopefully motivate the reader to turn the next page.

Tell us about the sailing voyages you organize to the Spice Islands?

With the publication of the book, there was great interest in the Spice Islands, but most foreigners were unsure how to travel there. Together with a company called SeaTrekBali, our voyages allow guests to explore the islands from Ambon to Banda to Ternate for 12 days on a traditional Indonesian built Bugis pinisi boat.We filled the vessel in 2012, and we expect to do the same again this October.

What is your next book about?

East Indies follows the old trade routes and the historic port cities across the East Indies and the Orient. Beginning in Malacca, which was one of the world’s largest trading ports in the 16th century, it tells the story of the 200-year struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East Indies Company and the English East India Company for trade supremacy in the Eastern Seas. The story takes us to the ports of Banten, Ternate, Banda, Ambon, Solor, Johor, Tanjung Pinang, Penang, Macassar and Bencoolen (Bengkulu—Ed). The book documents the founding of the historic port city of Batavia and concludes with the founding of the modern port cities of Singapore and Hong Kong.

Just out of curiosity, do you personally like spices in your food?

Yes! My favorite Indonesian food has always been fiery nasi padang. I cook what my wife calls ‘survival food’ without many spices, but I have recently become an expert at making a really delicious Indonesian nutmeg cake!

East Indies is available in Asia at Periplus and Kinokuniya

East Indies is available in Australia at Dymocks, Abbeys and Kinokuniya

also on order from your favorite bookshop and all the usual online retailers

Posted on October 1, 2013 .

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival -- October 2013

I am looking forward to the whole vibe of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, meeting interesting people and attending some really interesting writer talks and events, including those below


Sunday October 13 — 9 to 10:15 am, The Neka Art Museum

Two men who have dedicated their lives to spices: Ian Hemphrill – a modern-day spice merchant & Ian Burnet – authority on Indonesia’s spice islands & trade. Join them in an exotic journey from India to Indonesia along the legendary spice route, discussing the romance of spices & their impact on the modern world.


Tuesday 15 October — 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, Kamandalu

Join our esteemed guests for a glorious Indonesian feast of food & mind, celebrating the most important ingredient in Indonesian cooking – rice. Anthropologist J. Stephen Lansing will discuss his lifelong passion for Bali’s majestic paddy fields & his part in creating the UNESCO world-heritage site of Jati Luwih. Ian Burnet will spice it up with swashbuckling stories of the ancient spice trade of the East Indies, while Ketut Yuliarsa will wax lyrical about his home. Janet DeNeefe will share tales from Fragrant Rice & celebrity chef Farah Quinn will add glamour with anecdotes about her favourite rice-based dishes. William Wongso – acclaimed authority on Indonesian food – will prepare traditional culinary dishes from Sumatra to Bali in a taste sensation you’ll never forget.

Posted on September 2, 2013 .

East Indies

Copies of 'East Indies' have arrived and there is nothing more exciting than holding the final result of five years work in your hands. The books should be going out to the bookshops in the next few weeks and there are number of events lined up from mid-September for those who are in Sydney.

Book Talk, Tuesday 17 September --- Sydney MSA 6pm

Book Talk, Thursday 19 September ----- NSW State Library 12:30 pm

Book Launch, Saturday 21 September  ---- Gleebooks 3:30 for 4pm

The book to be launched by Adrian Vickers, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Sydney University

Book Launch and Book Talk, Sunday 29 September 2pm  ----   Australian National Maritime Museum

I hope to see you there ! 

Posted on September 2, 2013 .

Spice Discovery Sailing Adventure 2013 - update

The Ombak Putih sails on October 24 from Ambon for 12 days of cruising the Spice Islands. A modified classical Indonesian wooden schooner or Bugis Phinisi it has 12 double or twin cabins all with ensuite bathrooms and individual air conditioning. Last time I checked we had four couples and two singles who have already booked for the voyage.

East Indies

Good News!! I have just signed off on the publisher proofs for the book East Indies and it has gone to the printers. After five years of research and writing you can imagine the relief, as well as the anticipation of first holding the finished book in my hand. Rosenberg Publishing has once again done a great job in putting the text and all the historic images into a quality publication.

The book will be in the same size and format as Spice Islands, hardcover with a cover jacket, 224 pages, and 70 historic maps and images.  

It is expected to be in the bookshops and the online bookstores by the end of August or early September and I will keep you updated if there are any changes.

Spice Discovery Sailing Adventure 2013

SeaTrek wins National Geographic "50 Tours of a Lifetime" award

The SeaTrek team is delighted that National Geographic Traveler has selected one of our adventure cruises to include in their "50 Tours of a Lifetime" featured in their May 2013 issue.

This important award comes to us after also having been recognized by The Active Times for providing one of "The best 30 new adventure travel trips of 2013"

We are happy to see the Indonesian archipelago and its many treasures recognized so vividly, and are proud to be the one bringing these adventures to your doorstep. Leveraging on our 25 year long history in the archipelago, SeaTrek continues to pioneer new expedition opportunities.

Our company offers exclusive small group cruises, many of which are led by renowned experts in their field, offering strong and targeted cultural as well as naturalist content. SeaTrek sails traditionally built ironwood motor sailing schooners providing timeless accommodation from which you will immerse yourself in our nomadic journeys of discovery and adventure.  

Come choose your own tour of a life time!