NORTH FORGOTTEN ISLANDS
13 Days/12 Nights Saumlaki – Ambon Cruise Itinerary
Day 1 Embarkation in Saumlaki
Days 2-7 Forgotten Islands
The Forgotten Islands are part of a remote archipelago in the southeast corner of the Moluccas (Maluku Tenggara). Despite the remote feeling in other parts of Indonesia (such as Alor or Banda), the Forgotten Islands are isolated even by Indonesian standards, covering a 1,000 km long chain of islands staring at Timor and extending up to West Papua. The Tanimbar group of around 65 islands that separate the Banda Sea from the Arafura Sea include the island of Yamdena where the capital Saumlaki is where this cruise begins.
There are many groups of islands in this area and the Forgotten Islands are relatively undiscovered and still being explored. The exact itinerary around these islands will depend exclusively on the weather and current conditions. Also due to the big distances between island groups some of the days will include three day dives before heading off in the afternoon and travelling overnight. When the next location is closer and there are anchorage spots in sheltered bays we will offer a fourth dive, usually a night dive.
Dive sites in the Forgotten Islands are characterised by endless reefs and spectacular deep walls covered in soft corals, sea fans and huge sponges. These islands usually experiences amazing visibility and warm water around 27-30C (81-86F). Here are the names of the islands we may visit (weather permitting) during your cruise:
Dawera Island (4 dives)
This small island is in the northern part of the Babar group of islands. There is a seamount where the reef is untouched and so full of fish you won’t know where to look! Along the north side of the islands there are numerous wonderful dive sites ranging from Tanjung Raja where there are stunning soft corals to Sponge Delight where there is a huge resident school of barracudas and even a chance to see hammerhead sharks. The diving in this area is so good we may even stay an extra day.
Dai Island (3-4 dives)
The villagers on this island still practice traditional hunting with bow and arrow. Steep slopes provide hunting grounds for schooling barracuda and trevally. Large sea fans on the reef are surrounded by very healthy reef fish life. The shallows here are full of hard corals decorated with anthias.
Pulau Damar/Nusleur/Terbang (4 dives)
Close to the big island of Damar the small islands of Nusleur, Terbang Utara and Terbang Selatan are surrounded by pristine beaches that stretch out to coral reefs that then drop down to the most beautiful, untouched walls. From top to bottom, the reef is an explosion of different colours and forms and seems to be in constant motion from the swarms of fish darting about. You may find yourself floating in the midst of a huge school of fish as the sea creatures here appear quite curious, perhaps because they are generally not used to seeing many divers. Another unique attraction in this area is the wall of sulphur formed as a result of its proximity to the volcano on Damar. There is a possibility to visit a village on Damar where there is also a black sand night dive.
Teun, Nila and Serua, often referred to as TNS, are all small, very remote volcanic islands only accessible by liveaboard, located just east of Damar. You will feel as if you have reached the ends of the earth and that may be why there is a growing interest in diving in this zone. Although the sites here remain relatively unexplored, experiences so far have revealed tremendous diving potential and splendid coral reefs.
Close to the small island of Nila are two atolls Dusborgh and Nil Desperandum. Weather permitting we will spend two days in this area, making a small bay on the east side of the island of Nila our base. There is also a night dive opportunity here.
Nila/Dusborgh (3-4 dives)
Dusborgh is a submerged atoll with a surrounding reef that reaches all the way up to the surface. The reef then slopes steeply to deep walls. As with all of the Forgotten Islands the walls are covered in huge sponges and sea fans. With the amazing visibility keep an eye into the deep for passing pelagics. A small bay on the east side of the island of Nila has a night dive opportunity.
Nil Desperandum (3-4 dives)
Nil Desperandum means “don’t despair” possibly referring to a ship wrecked here centuries ago. It is a big atoll with very deep drop offs. Schooling sharks have been spotted in the deep here with a chance to see hammerhead, silky and grey reef sharks.
Pulau Serua (3-4 dives)
Serua is a group of islands between Manuk and Nil Desparandum. The big island of Serua has a small village with around 40 inhabitants. The smaller islands are called by the locals Keke Besar and Keke Kecil. Tanjung Keke is on the corner of Keke Besar. There is a ridge extending all around the island where maybe you can see hammerhead sharks. Also look for jacks, napoleon wrasses, groupers and schooling of fusiliers. Keke Reef is on the south side of the small island and between Keke Kecil and Keke Besar. There is a beautiful shallow plateau with very nice hard corals and then drops into a very deep wall. Alot of different fish can be seen on the wall with bumphead parrotfish, pinnate spadefish, blue-fin trevallies and schools of red tooth triggerfish, fusiliers and surgeon fish.
Manuk (3-4 dives)
The island of Manuk is the eastern-most volcano of Indonesia and presents two very unique highlights above and below the water. Topside, it is possible to revel in the spectacle of thousands of seabirds, including comical yet beautiful frigate birds and boobies. The sight is unforgettable. One of the few phenomena able to rival that display is the vision of a dozen sea snakes undulating and swimming underwater. Some divers have even been lucky enough to watch them hunting in a pack. It is thought that the warm geothermal vents present in these waters attract these cold-blooded creatures in large numbers. In addition to these singular wonders, the island’s reefs are also stunning and there is a good mix of coral-covered walls and slopes in all colours and sizes. Besides an outstanding variety of reef fish, you may also see some tuna, jacks and sharks.
Days 8 & 9 Banda Islands (8 dives)
Most widely known as one of the main stops along the old spice route, the Banda Islands are an isolated group of islands in the midst of the wide expanses of the Banda Sea. The remoteness of these islands has given it a fascinating, colourful history, including the fact that it was once the only place in the world where nutmeg grew.
The diving here is usually fairly relaxing with mild current, good visibility and calm waters, but there are spots with strong currents. However, our experienced dive guides will of course properly brief you on the conditions to be encountered and will plan the dives according to divers’ experiences. Here is a list of possible dive sites:
Karang Hata is a huge atoll close to Hata Island. The walls and steep slopes are covered with hard corals, massive barrel sponges and some gorgonian sea fans – with the chance to even see pygmy seahorses. In the deeper part we will look out for hammerheads and schooling jacks. Hundreds of fusiliers and red tooth triggerfish swim in the blue, especially on the corner area. We will end our dive in the shallows where we can find reef octopus, scorpionfishes and the famous soap fish.
We will start this dive at a huge swim-through before heading to the steep walls that surround the island. Visibility is usually very good here and hammerheads have been spotted out in the blue. It is also a great spot to look for leaf scorpionfishes and hawksbill turtles. Finish your dive in a pretty hard and soft coral garden in the shallows.
Tanjung Noret is on the south-west corner of Run Island. Tanjung means corner and from the shallows the reef slopes down steeply into very deep water. There are gigantic gorgonian sea fans and sponges here. Drift along the slope with great visibility and enjoy the view of thousands of tiny reef fish darting in and out of the cracks and crevices. Look out into the blue once in a while for a chance to see hammerhead sharks.
Here there is a submerged pinnacle next to the main dive site which has a rock breaking the surface that is in the shape of a boat, hence the dive site name Batu (rock) Kapal (boat). Fish are present here in incredible numbers along with huge gorgonians and some truly monumental sponges. Look out for Napoleon wrasses in the deep and a very special fish only seen in the Banda Sea area, the soap fish.
At most sites in the Banda Islands, you will see enormous schools of fusiliers, thousands of redtooth triggerfish and hundreds of schooling pyramid butterflyfish. At this dive site there is a large crack in the reef that creates a deep swim-through. Drift through the hole and then enjoy the wall covered in sponges on the other side. On the top of the wall see many moray eels and perhaps a school of Bumphead parrotfish munching on the rocks.
A famous dive site in the Banda Islands it is at the bottom of a lava flow coming down from the peak of the Banda Api volcano. Underwater be amazed by the growth of hard coral when you take into account that the lava flowed into the sea in 1988, not so long ago. Staghorn coral gardens stretch off into the crystal blue water as far as the eye can see. One unusual coral formation to look out for here is table corals that have collapsed on to their sides but continue to sprout mini table corals off its flat edges.
The sunset dive in the harbour can prove to be one of the best sites in the world to see Mandarin fish. In the very shallow water, among the stones from old, collapsed sea walls and jetties live many Mandarin fish. We will jump in just before dusk and they will ‘walk’ around on the rocks right in front of you preparing for the nightly mating ritual. Be patient, you may get lucky and see them flutter up off the reef, cheek to cheek. If you’ve had enough of the Mandarin fish, the rocks and volcanic sandy bottom are also covered in other macro critters.
Day 10 Banda Neira Tour/Banda Islands (1 dive)
Intriguing remnants of the old lucrative spice trade are still present in Banda Neira and give a taste of colonial times. Explore Pulau Neira and spend the morning walking through its historic little town. The town is full of interesting houses dating back to the Dutch and English periods. There is also the well-preserved Fort Belgica with its fantastic views overlooking the waters around the island. We’ll visit a traditional nutmeg plantation where you will see nutmeg, cinnamon and clove trees nestled around the plantation farmer’s house. Enjoy a plantation tea under the shade of cocoa trees and try nutmeg jam, candies, cake and cinnamon biscuits. Take a look at our Banda Islands photo album here.
After the tour we will do one more dive in the Banda Islands before heading north to Nusa Laut.
Day 11 Nusa Laut/Pulau Molana (4 dives)
Even though it is located only a few hours away from Ambon, Amet Reef at Nusa Laut presents quite different scenery and is the best example of the positive effects of a village taking care of its reef. The reef remains as unspoiled as it was hundreds of years ago. The locals have taken steps to protect it and the result is an outstanding site that is the favourite of many dive enthusiasts. There are white tips and grey reef sharks patrolling the depths and playful turtles can be spotted as well. Look out for the big group of bumphead parrotfish munching on the reef. For the very lucky hammerhead sharks and dugongs have occasionally been spotted here.
After two dives at Amet Reef we move to the island of Molana for the third dive and night dive. This shallow wall breaks in places where you can find ribbon eels in the sandy slopes. On the wall look for small pipefish and moray eels. On the top of the reef turtles might be seen feeding in the beautiful coral gardens.
Day 12 Ambon Bay (3-4 dives)
Ambon Bay is a perennial favourite destination among divers simply for the staggering array of creatures that can be found here. There are even new discoveries of species still being made here such as the recently named psychedelic frogfish.
Some of the critters encountered here are wunderpus and mimic octopus, frogfish, zebra crabs and dozens of different nudibranchs.
It seems as if all the members of the scorpionfish family are gathered here including spiny devilfish, stonefish, lionfish, leaf fish and even Rhinopias. Another family group well represented here are moray eels and you can generally find snowflake, fimbriated and curious white-eyed morays residing in crevices or even gliding among the reefs. This area is also a good spot for catching a glimpse of ornate ghost pipefish and the extremely rare halimeda ghost pipefish.
On the last full day of the cruise there will be one or two dives depending on the flight times out of Ambon the next day.
Day 13 Disembarkation in Ambon
Total dives: 39-45 dives