FORGOTTEN ISLANDS

Diving in the Forgotten Islands you can expect to find plenty of rare and unusual critters and stunning corals, but you will also have fantastic opportunities for pelagic sightings and schools of larger fish such as barracuda and mackerel, as well as the chance to meet schooling hammerhead sharks.
Dive sites in the Forgotten Islands are in the Banda Sea and are particularly noticeable for the crystal clear blue sea, deep walls and huge sponges. The stunning walls of the Banda Sea are beautiful and healthy due to the isolation of these areas. The sunlight in the shallows of the dive sites light up the dancing anthias that really look like someone is throwing up ‘confetti fish’!

Dawera Island is a definite stop on our Forgotten Islands itinerary. As well as the diving we can visit the isolated tropical island village nestled on a beautiful white sand beach and sheltered by a line of palm trees and a bamboo forest. There is a seamount off this isolated island, which in our eyes counts as one of the best dive sites in the world! The local villages don’t even fish here because they can catch all that they need from the surrounding area. It has hardly been dived either, hence an immaculate, untouched reef so full of fish you don’t know where to look. On the current side the entire reef is covered with pyramid butterfly fish and when they mix in with the hundreds of neon fusiliers and surgeon fish the colourful effect is striking. There’s a resident school of thousands of big-eyed trevallies that zoom back and forth across the dive site. A big school of batfish also make this pinnacle their home. White tip reef sharks, eagle rays, grey reef sharks and, most excitingly, silver tip reef sharks can be spotted here.

The Forgotten Islands are fast becoming famous for the schooling and individual hammerhead sharks that can be seen there. There are several areas where the sharks have been seen – at Dusborgh, Nil Desparandum, Manuk and in the Banda Islands. Dusborgh and Nil Desparadum are sea mounts far from any islands and are surrounded by very deep water. Manuk is the most eastern volcano in Indonesia. Here sea snakes are abundant and very curious! Diving here you will soon got used to the snakes coming at you from all directions to take a sniff at your fins or even your face!! Manuk attracts frigates and brown and red footed boobies so surface intervals can be spent watching these birds souring above the volcano.

Always a very popular land excursion with our guests is the tour of Banda Neira in the Spice Islands. You will visit the Banda Islands during the North Forgotten Islands cruise. Disembarking by the old colonial balustrades of the seafront hotel you feel that you have stepped back in time. The clean, quiet streets of Banda Neira are a pleasure to stroll around. The quaint little museum is the first stop on the tour and an old diving helmet is one of the other artifacts on show there. A short stroll up the hill takes you to the old Dutch fort with wonderful views over the harbour and to the neighbouring volcano. The town is so peaceful and undeveloped that it feels like the view really hasn’t changed in centuries. Back down the hill on the other side and through a nutmeg plantation your guide will demonstrate how to pick the ripe nutmegs. With the clove and cinnamon trees, the fresh smell of spices assails your nose. The final stop on the tour is at the plantation owner’s house for a mid-morning snack of cinnamon tea and nutmeg cake and jam under the shade of the cocoa tree.

Indonesia is not greatly affected by seasons that prohibit diving, so instead it is more important to factor in the weather and the calmness of the seas in terms of enjoying the crossings, when planning a trip to this remote archipelago. There are usually calmer seas between September and November, so our cruises are scheduled to fit within this window. Any earlier in the year can be affected by strong winds, but then any later into December or the early months of the year can be prone to monsoons and the rainy season.

RAJA AMPAT

In addition to varied corals, critters and pelagics, this destination offers vibrant and colourful underwater scenes plus also majestic landscapes, making it a perfect destination for keen photographers. The only problem with diving here, in Raja Ampat, is that you’ll be so spoiled by the near-perfect conditions that you may never want to leave or dive anywhere else again.

Spread across 1,500 virtually untouched islands, the waters of the Raja Ampat region are home to the most colourful, pristine and photogenic soft coral reefs, as well as a wide range of creatures from walking sharks to mantas to pygmies. Raja Ampat can boast over 1,300 reef fish (25 endemic species), 13 marine mammals, 5 species of endangered sea turtles, 600 hard corals and 75 % of all known coral species.

When you join a cruise featuring Raja Ampat, all the famous dive sites such as Dampier Strait, Manta Sandy, Boo and Misool are on the agenda. Most cruises start and/or end at the provincial capital – Sorong – in West Papua (previously known as Irian Jaya). Sorong, which sits on the western coast of Papua island, is almost equidistantly located between Indonesia’s famous “island of the gods” – Bali – and the capital of neighbouring Papua New Guinea – Port Moresby (roughly 1,060 nautical miles east of Bali, versus 1,080 west of Port Moresby).

Raja Ampat, translated directly as “four kings”, was named for the 4 main islands in the area – Batanta, Misool, Salawati and Waigeo. We cruise by these 4 main islands, as well as many smaller ones, as we take you to explore dive sites truly fit for a king.

PAPUAN DIVE SITES
West of Sorong, Batanta Island will give you the chance to experience the amazing diversity of diving in Indonesia. Along the south coast are 2 incredible muck dives, where divers enjoy close encounters with all sorts of intriguing critters. At Black Beauty and Happy Ending look for tiger shrimps, ghost pipefish, mimic octopus and many nudibranchs. During the night bobbit worms, white V octopus and frogfish can be found hiding in the black sand.

In the south of Raja Ampat, we dive various sites around the large island of Misool. Dive at Nudi Rock, Whale Rock, Batu Kecil, Fiabecet Corner and Kalig Ridge. Wobbegong sharks hide under colourful coral shelves and the elusive Epaulette “walking” shark comes out at night. Marvel at the overhangs and bommies of Wedding Cake. At Wayili Rock, witness large schools of batfish, trevallies and barracuda. Explore Boo Rock and Boo Point, for large Napoleon Wrasse and Green Turtles. Try out your photo skills at Boo ‘windows’ as dive-buddies swim through the opening in the submerged rock past a reef draped in soft corals and brimming with fish.

South-east Misool is famous for the profusion of colourful soft corals and sea fans beautifully draped all over the reefs. If you’re not one already, then diving in Misool will undoubtedly make you a huge fan of sea fans. Jump in at Neptune Fan Sea for a great drift dive, rushing along a gulley past giant and exquisitely-coloured gorgonian seafans.

East of Misool, we visit the Wagmab area. Drop in at Edi’s Cave for something a little different, as we pop up half way through the dive to take a breath inside the cave! At the Wagmab Corner dive site, look for wobbegong sharks resting under ledges or on top of cup corals.

Back in central Raja Ampat, just north of Batanta (in the Gam area, south of Waigeo island), expect huge schools of fusiliers, snappers, surgeons, batfish and barracuda. Wobbegong, black tip and white tip sharks cruise the reefs here and look out for the elusive blue ring octopus creeping around the hard corals.

In south-west Gam, we dive at Arborek Jetty for pipefish, cuttlefish and octopus. The fish life in this area is plentiful. The newly discovered Pontohi pygmy seahorse can be found on the coral heads and see the giant clam nestled among the pulsing soft corals. At night listen for the toad fish croaking from under the rocks.

Also nearby, Manta Sandy is well-known for much bigger visitors, as it is one of the most consistent spots for finding congregating mantas. It’s easy to spend a whole dive observing these majestic animals as they somersault through the water while being cleaned. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to witness the unforgettable sight of a “manta train” – where a dozen or more mantas glide around and follow each other head-to-tail.

Heading to the northern Raja Ampat area, we visit a pearl farm in Aljui Bay (north-west side of Weigeo), to explore underneath the main jetty for wobbegong sharks, stonefish, hundreds of schooling scads, ghost pipefish, juvenile batfish and more. Nearby, the night dive is probably the best of the whole cruise, with a chance to see velvet fish, ghost pipefish, waspfish, coconut octopus, helmut flying gunnards and even the walking shark.

West of Waigeo, the rocks and seamounts in the Kawe area are truly singular as they actually sit on the equator. Kawe is one of the few places in the world where you can travel between the northern and southern hemispheres while diving! Yet, this is not the only reason to be excited about this dive. A combination of currents and feeding stations in this area combine to draw in a profuse amount of fish life, as well as huge mantas.

Cruising even further to the north, we visit the Wayag area. This isolated, uninhabited area sprinkled with verdant limestone islands, bordered by slivers of white sandy beaches and palm trees, represents what people usually have in mind when they think of paradise. The only thing to rival the landscape here is the diving. It is truly spectacular, with extensive and untouched hard coral reefs. As the majority of Wayag’s islands have yet to be explored, it is very likely that many more dive sites will be found in this still remote area.

Returning to central Raja Ampat, we head to Dampier Strait (which flows between Waigeo and Batanta), where nutrient-rich ocean currents create an incredible underwater environment. Everything which makes for a wonderful dive can be found here. Explore the dives sites of Cape Kri, Blue Magic, Chicken Reef, Otdima Reef, Kerupiar Island and Mioskon. Ironically, sardines are about the only reef fish not found at the site of Sardine Reef, but you won’t even notice as fusiliers, surgeonfish, trevallies, rainbow runners, sweetlips and bannerfish practically block out the sky, as they swarm over a reef decorated with sea fans, soft corals and huge orange elephant ear sponges encrusted with pastel colonies of tunicates. One of the more unique thrills of this site is being able to hear “fish thunder” – the loud booming sound made when a large number of fish move rapidly through open water.

PAPUAN BIODIVERSITY
As many divers know, Indonesia is located in the very centre of the Coral Triangle and the variety of species seen underwater is truly astonishing. In certain bays and around small islands, you can find more species than in the entire Caribbean.

Specifically, in Raja Ampat, Gerald Allen (world-famous ichthyologist) counted the incredible number of 284 different species of fish during a single dive (at Kofiau Island). If that wasn’t enough, 64% (505) of the entire world’s known coral species have been found in the waters at Raja Ampat and 75% of the world’s total species of scleractinian (hard) corals cover Raja Ampat sea beds! As a result, scientists nowadays believe that this destination is the world’s current no. 1 spot in terms of biodiversity.

Basically, very few places can compete with Raja Ampat’s unparalleled and untouched marine environments: underwater caves, mangroves, rainforest fjords inhabited by the most extraordinary and varied underwater life.

Raja Ampat is supported by currents extremely rich in plankton, resulting in huge schools of fish and shoals of pelagics. Fans of macro and strange creatures are sure to get their fill as well, with regular sightings of many oddballs, both big and small. If all of that isn’t enough, wreck aficionados can also enjoy the World War II ships and planes that have come to rest in the region.

With excellent diving possible year round, is it any wonder that Raja Ampat is considered the world’s hottest spot of biodiversity?

KOMODO

This region features an extremely rich biodiversity born of a land of contrasts: from warm waters and tropical species, to cooler currents with temperate ocean life. Offering such a diverse range of dive sites and special features, it’s no surprise the Komodo National Park was awarded ‘New 7 Wonder of Nature’ status in 2011.

For divers, Komodo is a great chance to enjoy all your favourite types of diving styles. Pack your log-book with everything from exhilarating drift dives, to treasure-hunting muck dives…. shallow reefs to deep water sea mounts …. coral gardens and fantastic wall dives to pinnacles and open ocean dives. Meet creatures great and small, from manta and mola to pygmies and nudis. All this, while sailing through a stunning island landscape.

This famous dive destination is located in the within the Coral Triangle, an area that boasts the world’s highest marine biodiversity. Situated 200 nautical miles east of Bali in Nusa Tenggara province – in the Lesser Sunda Islands – the Komodo National Park has a total land area of 75,000 hectares and encompasses a number of islands, the largest of which is Komodo (34,000 hectares). A total of 112,500 hectares of the surrounding waters is also under the jurisdiction of the park rangers, allowing for the protection of over 1,000 species of fish and hundreds of different corals.

Komodo’s dive sites stretch from the warm waters of the Flores Sea in the north to the chillier waters down south in the Indian Ocean. The underwater terrain presents many contrasts, with sheer cliff walls, pinnacles, sandy flat bottoms, underwater plateaus, slopes, caves, swim-throughs and channels – all with differing colours, sizes and types of both hard and soft corals.

As an example of how Komodo truly represents diving diversity, 2 popular dive sites at Gili Lawa Laut – Crystal Rock and Castle Rock – offer opportunities for critter spotting, as well as big fish action. In fact, Castle Rock offers a nice opportunity to try out a ‘reef-hook’ dive, as you secure yourself to the rock and float in the current, watching the schooling fish and predator/prey action!

Dive at other famous sites such as Cannibal Rock, Manta Alley, Yellow Wall, Angel Reef, Torpedo Alley, Pink Beach, Unusual Suspects, Crinoid Canyon and Gazer Beach. Visit the very best that Komodo has to offer, from Pulau Moyo, Pulau Banta and Bima Bay, to Pulau Satonda and Pulau Sangean.

In Moyo, you’ll find spectacular corals and crystal clear waters. Banta is famed for its stunning wall dives and drop-offs, with beautiful corals covering the walls like an Andy Warhol painting. Bima Bay offers world-class muck diving with black coral covered reefs. Satonda is famous above the water for its fruit bats (which take off every sunset for a nights feeding) and below the waves for its sheltered bays and remarkable critters. Try something unique at Sangeang Island as we dive in the shadow of an active volcano, feeling the hot springs bubbling up under the black sand.

Experience for yourself why this destination has been rated one of the world’s greatest diving areas. You may be familiar with photos of the area, both topside and underwater, but nothing compares to experiencing this fascinating destination in person!

Although there is diving year-round in Komodo, the best period is considered to be April through November. Currents in parts of Komodo can be quite strong – so we dive according to the tides – but with so many great sites to choose from we can always adapt the schedule for the best diving.

ALOR & FLORES

As well as being one of the best kept secrets for diving in paradise, including rare finds like the beautiful rhinopias but also plenty of pelagic action, this area boasts stunning topside scenery and impressive volcanoes.

Cruises in Alor and Flores offer widespread muck diving, sharks and large schools of fish, WWII wreck dives, untouched reefs and unexplored coral gardens, magnificent soft corals and stunning hard coral formations. We also visit the famous Pura Island villagers, who splash out of their wooden dugout canoes and dive underwater with home-made goggles fashioned from wood and glass bottles.

SPECIAL FEATURE: Located in a highly volcanic region it’s no surprise that the scenery is superb and dramatic but sailing through these remote waters also brings you face-to-face with one of the country’s most active volcanoes. It erupts every 30 minutes and makes for fantastic photographic opportunities, as you take a relaxing break from the fascinating underwater world.

Most cruises that cover the Alor or Flores area start or end at the post of Maumere, on the northern coast of east Flores island. Maumere is roughly 430 nautical miles east of Bali in East Nusa Tenggara province (Nusa Tenggara Timur) – in the Lesser Sunda Islands. This region is home to a world record, established when a scientific expedition recorded 1,200 species of fish, including some new to science, all found in Maumere Bay alone!

Take time out of diving for some land excursions here; trekking through the park to find ‘Varanus Riungensis’ – another giant lizard, slightly smaller and brighter than its cousin on Komodo). Another unmissable land tour is our visit to the traditional village of Bena, where the population has maintained their original way of life – preserving their buildings (such as megalithic tombs) in keeping with their ancient customs. Marvel at the pairs of Ngadhu and Bhaga buildings made solely from wood and cane, (Ngadhus being 3m tall umbrella-shaped structures, representing male ancestors, Bhagas being miniature houses, representing the female ancestors), which together symbolise the continuous presence of the ancestors of every family in the village.

MALUKU & SPICE ISLANDS

Unlike other areas, with high populations and subsequent pressure from fishing, the Bandas’ relatively small human population has been a blessing for divers – offering a vibrant, healthy reef system with fish life in incredible numbers along with huge gorgonians and sponges and some truly monumental hard corals. Expect plenty of pelagics, widespread muck diving and unexplored coral gardens, as well as a rich colonial heritage on land.

Cruises that take in the Banda Sea, often start or end at the famous port of Ambon, offering the chance to dive with the unusual critters of Ambon Bay. Ambon is roughly 830 nautical miles north-east of Bali, or roughly 250 nautical miles south-west, situated within the Maluku Islands archipelago (sometimes seen labeled as the Moluccas or the Spice Islands). Ambon Island lies off the south-west coast of the much larger Seram Island and consists of 2 territories – Maluku Tengah and the main city and port of Ambon, which is also the capital of Maluku province.

Diving in Ambon Bay is at the top of most people’s to-dive list. The Laha sites are a hidden treasure of amazing critters, including the recently discovered species of frogfish (the psychedelic frogfish) but also Rhinopias, mimic octopus, zebra crabs and dozens of different nudibranch species. A very popular find is the eponymous Ambon Scorpionfish in differing hues of red, pink, green, yellow and orange, keep an eye out for many other members of the scorpionfish family too, including the spiny devilfish, stonefish, zebra lionfish, ragged-finned lionfish and leafy scorpionfish – all venomous but gorgeous! For those who want a change from nosing around after tiny creatures, a shipwreck covered in deep pink and purple soft corals offers a great alternative and is an irresistible lure for the profuse amount of fish in the area.

The Banda Islands are most widely known as one of the main stops along the old spice route. The remoteness of these islands, in the midst of the wide expanses of the Banda Sea has given it a fascinating, colourful history, including the fact that it was once a home to exiles of all sorts. The Banda Islands themselves, are also renowned for presenting picture-perfect views topside.

These rarely visited seas claim some of the world’s richest marine environments, making them a macro-lovers paradise due to the number of rare and new species found here, but the region is still home to many pelagics and schooling fish.

A very popular dive area is found at Nusa Laut, which showcases the positive effects of a village taking care of its habitat, where the reef remains as unspoiled as it was hundreds of years ago and a favourite of many dive enthusiasts. We also visit Hukurila Cave, to experience a dive site located underneath two rock arches. These natural formations can be seen from the surface and lead to a swim-through covered in sponges and soft corals making for a great descent into your dive. This site is quite an unusual dive, offering the thrill of making your way through twisting passages and caverns and canyons swarming with life.

One of the major highlights for this trip is the island of Manuk, which offers delights above and below. Topside, it is possible to revel in the spectacle of thousands of seabirds, including comical yet beautiful frigatebirds 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.