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Banda Island & Ambon

The Banda Islands probably are one of the few places in Indonesia where you can find the perfect combination of excellent diving, interesting history and beautiful nature and landscape. These ‘spice islands’ certainly are a most suitable destination for a combination of land trips and diving or snorkelling.

The cone shaped volcano pointing out of the sea is a beautiful landmark in the landscape and gives an amazing view on the area to those who have the energy to climb to its top. In the mornings and evenings the sea between the main island Neira, Banda Besar and the volcano (called Gunung Api) can be flat like a mirror giving a serene relaxing atmosphere. Neira and Banda Besar have roads, but only a few cars. An airstrip on Neira serves the occasional planes flying between Neira and Ambon.

The last eruption of the volcano, which is 656 metres high, was in 1988. A big stream of lava entered the sea at the north and south-western side of the mountain. It is surprising to see how this underwater lava flow, which became basaltic boulders up to 27 meters depth, has been covered with coral already.

The Banda Islands consists of eleven islands located in the Banda Sea, about 200 km south-east of Ambon. The three main islands are Neira, Banda Besar and Gunung Api. The administrative centre is located at the island Neira in the little town called Bandaneira.

Small Boat on the Beach

The largest island is Banda Besar which measures about 12 km in length and about 3 km in width. The islands are part of the district Maluku Tengah in the province Maluku Selatan and have a total land area of 172 km2. Their total population is about 19,000. The Banda Sea is Indonesia’s deepest sea, reaching at some places 6,500 m depth.

The islands have attracted regional and international traders for more than 3,000 years. Prior to 1500, no European had ever landed on the shores of Maluku, but there have always been Asian traders. The biggest and most valuable commodities were nutmeg and cloves. The production and export of nutmeg was under VOC monopoly for almost two hundred years. The Banda Islands was for a long time the only place where the nutmeg was allowed to be grown.

Banda Island

Neira harbours historic buildings and places that have their origin in colonial times. Two of these are Fort Belgica and Fort Nassau, once important strongholds of the Dutch. Fort Belgica is one of the largest remaining European Forts in Indonesia. Further there is the old Dutch cemetery and some colonial houses. In one of these houses Hatta (who later would become Indonesia’s first vice-president) was living when he was kept in exile by the Dutch.

Other interesting colonial buildings are the governors’ house and the old church. On Banda Besar there is a fascinating nutmeg plantation. Near to this you can find Fort Hollandia in Lontoir and Fort Concordia in in the village of Weyer.

The most westerly Banda Island, called Run, has played an important role in English-Dutch rivalry. Finally, under the Treaty of Breda (1667), the British traded the small island for Manhattan, giving the Dutch full control of the Banda archipelago.

Let’s not forget the diving. This is what the people of the “Sea Horse” say about diving around the Banda Islands:

There are steep drop offs, impressive hard coral and some fast currents that make this area absolutely breathtaking. Schools of jacks are a familiar sight, as are large tuna, many turtles, Napoleon wrasse, groupers, rays, sharks and large lobsters. Great visibility is a blessing here, and there are also some very special critter sites. Both Pulau Run and Pulau Ai have pristine clear waters, lovely walls and good fish life. You might go a bit deeper in search of more hammerheads. Other big fish that can be seen here are napoleons, schools of black snappers and bumpheads. If you are looking for other critters, cockatoo wasp fish, flying gurnards, frog fish, juvenile barramundis, juvenile emperor angle fish, juvenile sweetlips, there are plenty of chances!

The hard coral garden under the lava flow of Gunung Api should not be missed. It is a miracle to dive in a garden that has grown in such a short period of time after the eruption of 1988. Batu Kapal, at the entrance of Banda offers some of the bigger fans you will see and it is full of life, a real fishy dive. A bit south is Hatta, consisting of an underwater coral garden with a friendly school of bumpheads and some white tips among its highlights.

AMBON

Ambon Island is the capital of Maluku Province and its main town, Kota Ambon is the largest and most developed in the region. The island has an area of 775 km2, and is mountainous, well watered, and fertile. Ambon Island consists of two territories: The main city and seaport is Ambon, which is also the capital of Maluku province and Maluku Tengah Ambon has an airport and has a safe harbour on Amboina Bay.

It is on the north side of the Banda Sea, part of a chain of volcanic islands that encircle the sea. It is 51 kilometres long and is of very irregular shape, being almost divided in two. The south-eastern and smaller portion, a peninsula, called Leitimor, is joined to the northern Hitoe by a narrow neck of land. Ambon city is on the north-west of Leitimor, facing Hitoe.

In the 17th century when the spice trade was at its peak and the Dutch monopoly on cloves was at its strongest, they made Kota Ambon their base in the Moluccas because of its superb natural harbour offered, and the town was known as the “Queen of the East”. While it is still possible to find the odd legacy of those days, most of the Dutch colonial era buildings were destroyed during the WWII battle for Ambon between the Allied forces and the Japanese.

Ambon Shoreline

The diving in Ambon is mainly done in the Amboyna Bay and is famous for the great muck-diving. There are an array of interesting critters exhibiting amazing behaviour. The most well-known dive site, the Twilight Zone lies close to the airport on the northern side of Ambon Bay, close to the Maluku Divers and is an area, where you can find some very special animals like Rhinopias scorpionfishes, frogfishes, seahorses, stonefishes, ghostpipefishes, pegasus sea moths, mandarin fishes, nudibranchs, harlequin and coleman shrimps, kauris, wonderpus, mimic and flamboyant cuttlefish. This is also the area where the famous psychedelic frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelica) was found.

Ambon offers a variety of diving and you can find coral diving for example Pulau Tiga, a group of tiny islands in the western tip of Ambon or Pintu Kota or Hukurila Cave in the south side of Ambon Island where you can do wall diving and cave diving, plus a number of swimthroughs. There is more, good diving, around Saparua, especially to the south, around the cape and Molana Island and Nusa Laut. Here you can find many large schools of fish, pelagics like tunas and jacks and sharks. To get to these non-muck diving sites may require a special trip from one of our resorts, but are often visited aboard a liveaboard.

The best months for diving are September to December and March to April but there are good diving conditions all year round. The Moluccan islands have the seasons reversed from the rest of Indonesia, when they have the dry season, its rainy season in Indonesia and vice versa Visibility is usually good (20-30m) except some muck sites close to the harbour or where sand is easily stirred up.