MALUKU-BANDA RAJA AMPAT
14 Days/13 Nights Sorong – Ambon Cruise Itinerary
Day 1 Embarkation in Sorong
Raja Ampat means ‘Four Kings’. In an archipelago of over 1,500 small islands there are four main islands or ‘kings’– Waigeo, Salawati, Batanta, Misool. The majority of Raja Ampat is in Marine Protected Areas. These islands usually experience varying visibility depending on the weather conditions and warm water around 27-30C (81-86F).
Day 2 Dampier Strait (4 dives)
The strait that flows between Waigeo and Batanta is rapidly becoming known as having really good diving in Raja Ampat as a result of the nutrient-rich ocean currents passing through. Everything that makes for a wonderful dive can be found here. But even beyond the usual delights and the satisfaction of spotting prized macro subjects such as the newly discovered Pontohi pygmy seahorse on the coral heads, there are surprises to be found in every dive.
The fish life in this area is as plentiful as can be expected at sites with a great deal of healthy hard and soft coral. Wobbegong sharks can also be found at any of these dive sites, especially at Mioskon. Cape Kri holds the impressive record of 374 fish species identified during one 90-minute dive. Blue Magic is a submerged seamount where there is a chance to encounter Giant manta rays.
Ironically, sardines are about the only reef fish not found at the site of Sardine Reef, but you won’t even notice as you see swarms of fusiliers, surgeonfish, trevallies, rainbow runners, sweetlips and bannerfish practically blocking out the sky swarming 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.
There is also a small village with Sawandarek Jetty. In the shallows the jetty posts are covered in soft corals and below look for sweetlips, big eyed jacks and massive green turtles. On the reef see huge giant clams nestled among pulsing soft corals. At night look for huge lobsters and maybe even catch a glimpse of the endemic epaulette shark, the ‘walking’ shark. The reef also provides shelter for many interesting small animals like hermit crabs, flatworms and the very cute pughead pipefish.
Between the dives there is an opportunity to visit the village on Sawandarek Island to see the traditional way of life for these island people. Be ready to be greeted by many children who are more than willing to pose for photographs. Anyone joining our cruise is more than welcome to bring along some goodies for the children at Sawandarek. Obviously the children love sweets but we encourage people to bring pencils, pens, notebooks or coloring books – all of which don’t rot their teeth! The school always needs more materials and the girls love hair clips and bands. Please try to limit the amount of plastic packaging, leave this at home where it can be correctly recycled.
Day 3 Penemu (2 dives)
We will travel to the beautiful area of Penemu before travelling south to Misool. Penemu is an island west of Waigeo with a selection of dives sites. Melissa’s Garden is the most well known. Here there are very healthy hard coral reefs in the shallows and a beautiful coral garden sloping to the sides where schooling fish hang out in the current. Wobbegong sharks like to sleep under the coral heads and inside the large cup corals here. Hundreds of anthias dance in and out of the corals where you might also see a sea snake. Penemu Wall and My Reef are also great dives in this area.. After the two morning dives we will visit the viewpoint in Penemu where you can appreciate the iconic Raja Ampat view of the groups of islands nestled inside beautiful blue lagoons. Check out our Beaches & Islands album.
Days 4-6 Misool, Raja Ampat (11 dives)
Misool is in the south of Raja Ampat and we will dive at the many small islands in the southeast. Over the past years Misool has become Raja Ampat best diving area, being famous for the profusion of colorful soft corals, sea fans beautifully draped all over the reefs and a huge amount of all kind of fishes on every single dive. Take a look at some photos taken in this area in our album Soft Coral Heaven.
The islands in southeast Misool are grouped by areas. Here are the names of the areas and dive sites we may visit (weather permitting):
Misool – Boo Area
Boo Windows is the famous dive site in this area. It is best known for the “windows” or rounded openings on the end of the largest rock that completely pierce the reef from the surface down to about five meters/fifteen feet. Although the two rocks appear separate from the surface they are in fact connected underwater by a magnificent reef draped in soft corals and brimming with fish. See photos of the Windows here. Boo Ridge is an underwater ridge coming off the eastern point of Boo Island. Both sides are covered in huge gorgonian sea fans. At these dive sites look out for turtles, reef sharks, pygmies, nudis and schooling batfish, fusiliers and snappers. Shadow Reef is a submerged seamount south of Boo. The fish life here is profuse with napoleon wrasses of all sizes, baby white tip reef sharks sleeping under the table corals, schooling barracuda and batfish and for the lucky ones maybe a manta ray circling the cleaning stations. Birthday Cake is a beautiful ridge in the Boo Area. Look for pygmy seahorses, flatworms and nudibranch in the deeper section and beautiful soft corals in the shallows, where we even have seen the famous “walking shark” – epaulette shark. Eagle Nest is a seamount close to the island of Warakaraket. With the right current we have been lucky to see lots of fish action, including grey reef sharks, giant travellies hunting in clouds of fusiliers and even manta rays.
Misool – Yuliet Area
The tiny islands of Yuliet and Romeo both have surrounding plateaux in the shallows that slope down to reefs or small walls. At Yuliet there is a good chance to see the ‘Santa Claus pygmy’ a red colour variation of the Denise pygmy seahorse. In the shallows are large coral heads completely covered in colourful soft corals. Schools of barracuda and batfish as well as napoleon wrasses are often seen here. Romeo is a great night dive where we will look for the endemic epaulette shark, the ‘walking’ shark.
Misool – Fiabecet
Fiabecet area has a selection of dives where the colourful soft corals and beautiful sea fans literally smother the reefs. The soft corals here are truly outstanding. There is a deep underwater ridge connecting the island of Boo in the east to the island of Kalig in the west. In parts this ridge moves up shallower and forms the dive sites of Boo West Corner, Batu Kecil (aka Tank Rock), Nudi Rock, Whale Rock and Kalig Ridge. Expect healthy fish life, pygmy seahorses galore, nudis, colourful anemones, reef sharks and perhaps a Wobbegong shark. Anti-chovy is a large underwater seamount with some deep pinnacles covered in stunning corals. Mobula rays, golden trevallies and Napoleon wrasses can be found here. On top of the seamount look for turtles, stonefish and reef octopus.
Misool – Wayilbatan Area
Neptune Fan Sea is a small channel between two islands with a shallow wall completely covered in some of the biggest gorgonian sea fans you will ever see. At the start of the dive explore the beautiful coral heads where huge groupers can be hiding. Then drift along the wall and enjoy the view of the sea fans, stopping once in a while to find the tiny pygmy seahorse. Four Kings is a stunning dive site made up of four underwater pinnacles. Swim from one rock to the next enjoying the soft corals and fish life. Look out for schooling big eye jacks, spadefishes and grey reef sharks. Wedding Cake, Dunia Kecil and Wayili Rock offer chances to see schools of batfish, trevallies, barracuda, pygmy seahorses and reef octopus.
Misool – Daram Area
Daram is the most easterly point of the islands we might visit in Misool. The reef at Andiamo is stunning and is large enough for at least two dives. There is a submerged pinnacle where sea fans are surrounded by schools of fusiliers and batfish. A short swim across a sandy bottom brings you to the main reef lush with soft corals. In between the two islets is a gap thick with sea fans and is excellent for wide-angle photography. Look out for black tip reef sharks and napoleon wrasse, if you can see them through all the fish! Candy Store is so named because the first divers to explore this reef felt like kids in a candy store. Huge sponges, beautiful soft corals and sea fans cover this dive site, especially in the valleys where schools of fusiliers, butterfly fish and sometimes barracuda gather. Warna Berwarna in Bahasa Indonesia means “Vibrant Colors”. Expect to see sea fans in all possible colors and watch out for pygmy seahorses. On the northwestern side of the island there is a beautiful ridge coming out where tons of fusiliers and orange spotted trevallies hang out in the blue. The shallows are covered with healthy hard corals and often we get to see schooling bumphead parrotfishes.
Misool – Sagof
The little islets of Baby Rock and Two Tree Island create amazing dive sites with abundant fish life. There is a resident school of batfish at Baby Rock and Two Tree Island is often full of thousands bait fish. The Watch Towers is a massive seamount with tons of black coral in the deeper section. Schools of yellow snappers, barracudas and giant trevallies can be found in the up-current side. On the hard coral plateau look out for wobbegong sharks and crocodile fish.
Day 7 Koon Island (2 dives)
Too Many Fish
Our next stop is Koon Island, located southeast of Seram Island and over a trench that goes down to more than 3000 meters. There is only one dive site here and its distinct name of “Too Many Fish” is aptly deserved. The reason for this name becomes obvious to anyone who dives here. Large schools of all kinds of fish are seen here especially black snappers, batfish, barracuda and fusiliers. The sloping reef is full of beautiful corals interspaced with white sandy patches, going into a steep wall at around 30m/100ft. In the deep look for large groupers, sharks or even a passing eagle ray. In the shallows schools of banner fish, Oceanic triggerfish and red snappers decorate the reef. With all the fish in the usually perfect visibility you probably won’t be looking at the macro residents of this reef but if you do pygmies, leaf fish, nudis and ghost pipefish have been seen here. Depending on the phase of the moon, strong currents can make this dive site very challenging but unforgettable.
Depending on the weather we will do two to three dives here before heading to the Banda Islands.
Day 8 Manuk (4 dives)
Weather permitting we will spent a day diving in this unique and isolated island.
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 even hammerheads.
Day 9 Banda Islands (4 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, colorful 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 currents, 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 (2 dives)
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 two more dives in the Banda Islands before heading north to Ambon Bay.
Day 11-12 Ambon Bay (5-6 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: 34-35 dives