The Banda Islands, about 132 kilometers southeast of Ambon, consists of three larger islands and seven smaller ones, perched on the rim of Indonesia’s deepest sea, the Banda Sea. Near the island Manuk, the water reaches a depth of more than 6,500 meters. Of the three biggest islands Banda, Banda-Neira and Gunung Api, the first two are covered with nutmeg trees and other vegetation. The third however, is entirely bare and highly volcanic. The seas around Banda are the site of the famous Maluku sea gardens with their bright corals and colorful fish darting through the crystal- clear waters and makes it suited to dive, snorkel or even just sightseeing.
The Banda Islands Dive Sites
Sonegat: The nearest site for a decent dive is just five minutes by boat from the hotels. It is in the sonegat-sea arm- between Banda Neira and Gunung Api, just offshore from a little seaside house owned by Des Alwi, the Bandas most famous son. The drop off here is steep and the wall extends down 25 meters to a grey, sandy bottom. There were few fish around, but a good sized dogtooth tuna cruised by and some beautiful blue girdled and emperor angelfish.
Keraka Island: Pulau Keraka or Crab Island is just a few minutes further out, and protects the north entrance of the Neira ” Gunung Api sea passage. A nice sandy stretch on the north coast is perfect for picnic. At the south shore, there are some 18 meters down a mini-wall covered with hundreds of large blue-and-yellow tunicates. To the east shore, you may see at 10 meters a good assortment of reef fish and a school of half meter long barracudas.
Sjahrir Island and Batu Kapal: Sjahrir Island or formerly known as Pisang Island (Banana Island) and Batu Kapal (Boat Stone) are just 20 minutes by boat from the hotels on Banda Neira. These two sites combine well for a morning dive, a picnic on the beach, and an afternoon dive.
Gunung Api: In May 1988, the explosion from this mountain has killed of most of the off-shore coral formations around Gunung Api, but amazingly spared many sponges. Some corals are beginning to to grow back, but by and large the seascape remains bleak. There are no walls off Gunung Api. The bottom slopes gradually to 30-35 meters.
Lontar Island: The outer edge of Lontar Island, which represents part of the rim of a sunken caldera, offers several good dive sites.
Batu Belanda: On this site, you will find many barrel and tube sponges and small caves and cracks. The fish were varied and plentiful: a school of snappers, large emperor and blue-girdled angelfish, wrasses, a large pinnate bat-fish and numerous bannerfish
Ai Island: Together with Hatta Island, this island offers Bandas best diving. Both the north coast and the south “west of Ai are ringed with flawless coral walls, which are rugged and full of caves, the kind of habitat that harbors fish.
Hatta Island: Hatta Island is about 25 km by sea from Banda Neira. Skaru atoll, a barely submerged reef a few hundred meters off the southern point of Hatta. On a coral outcrop, watch the passing parade of Unicornfish, Fusiliersm Jack Fish and Rainbow Runners, often seen Whitetip Sharks (almost 2 meters) and Dogtoothed Tuna, Napolean Wrasse, and Hawksbill Turtles.
First you need to get to Ambon. You can fly either direct from Denpasar, Bali or transit in Ujung Pandang.
From Ambon, you can get to Banda Islands by a small plane or using Merpati Airlines. Or you can schedule to arrive in Ambon in time for the ferry (which is available once every two weeks).
Non divers need not worry about boredom. Beside snorkeling in the lagoon right off Banda Neira, you can try the tennis courts or the short pleasure trips around Banda Neira.
For those who bring children, they can swim in calm waters or watch the fish and turtles in two enclosures in the lagoon. There are a few sharks in an enclosed area., so they won’t bother your swimming. Don’t worry, the guys in charge have watched Shark.
Many days can be spent around these lush islands. Spices are still grown here and the local people still make traditional food and snacks using these once very rare and sought after spices.
You can also take short walks to see the forts left behind by the Dutch, visits plantations of nutmeg. The trek up Gunung Api will surely leave a lasting impression with amazing panoramic views if the islands surrounding Banda Neira.
There are plenty of small, very inexpensive places to stay around Bandas that you can choose to stay with varied price and facilities.
There are only a few small restaurants serving a variety of Indonesian foods.
Try to buy some local souvenirs here or traditional foods and snacks. Hint: if you can’t recognize what it is, chances are, they’re traditional.
* Diving is possible all year round, but the monsoon may restrict your choice of dive sites from July to September
* Diving is usually comfortable, with good visibility and calm waters, but some of the dive sites are subject to conditions that make them suitable for experienced divers only
* Don’t forget to equip yourself with diving equipments, surf board and snorkel
* Try to hire equipment from larger firms as these tend to be more reliable, but remember the responsibility of checking the equipment is ultimately yours
* Bring a bathing suit and extra clothings