The thousand-odd islands of Maluku – the Moluccas to the Western world – are the original spice islands. The islands’ many havens of sunny, powder-white shores graced by palm trees went unheralded at a time when nutmegs, cloves, and mace were worth their weight in gold. Today, Maluku is undergoing a rediscovery by the world for its excellent diving.
In the 19th century, renowned naturalist Alfred Wallace declared the fishes of Maluku “perhaps unrivalled for variety and beauty by those of any one spot on earth.” On the brink of the 21st century, divers are just beginning to understand what Wallace meant.
The Bandas offer stunning tropical scenery, a remarkable history, friendly villages, and some of the globe’s most pristine, biologically diverse coral reefs. Scuba is new here, but the pioneering divers didn’t have to work hard for their thrills. The undersea world around Ambon and the nearby island of Saparua have top-rate dive sites. Highlights among reef walls here are the presence of large marine life – sharks, enormous turtles, schools of Napoleon Wrasse, giant groupers, tuna, rays, and huge lobsters – neighbors to generous schools of reef fish.
When to Visit Banda Islands
Maluku’s weather pattern is a little different from most of Indonesia’s. The best diving is said to be from March to June, and again from October to November. Diving is possible all year round, but the monsoon may restrict your choice of dive sites from July to September.
The Banda Islands have two dive seasons, one centered around April, the other in October. The months before and after these are generally also good. The off seasons bring high waves and relatively turbulent seas: December through January during the northwest monsoon, and early June through August for the southeast monsoon.
With enough time and patience, one can enjoy good diving even off season, as there are always breaks in the weather. Visibility, however, remains restricted to 10 – 20 meters off season, as opposed to 30 – 40 meters in the ideal months. The cost of diving-boat, tanks, weight belts, etc. is quite reasonable. For trips further out, it’s easier on the wallet to form groups of 4 to 6 divers.
Getting to Banda Islands
If it were any more convenient to reach the Banda Islands, they would be overrun with tourists. The only way to reach them is to island-hop the Indonesian archipelago by small planes, ferry services, or eco-friendly cruises for serious divers
The Banda Islands are situated southeast of Ambon. Access is by air, via small twin-engine aircraft to an airstrip on Banda Neira Island. The biggest town in this archipelago is Bandeneira, and it has, at last count, 12 vehicles. Sleepy Bandeneira belies the powerful pulling strength of its immaculate reefs, paradise to expert and novice divers alike.
Domestic flights from Jakarta and Ujung Pandang to Ambon, followed by small aircrafts to Banda Neira on hapless, uncomputerized Merpati Airlines. Beware of getting stuck in Ambon for a day or so because of one of Merpati’s frequent “mechanical problems.” . The thrice-weekly flight on the 20-seat turboprop is also often overbooked. The plane only takes 14–unless someone’s got luggage, in which case it takes 12.