NORTH FORGOTTEN ISLANDS
13 Days/12 Nights Ambon – Saumlaki Cruise Itinerary
Day 1 Embarkation in Ambon
Day 2 Ambon Bay (4 dives)
There are many terrific dive sites and even a shipwreck with massive quantities of fish and nice corals around enchanting Ambon Bay, 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.
A close look in the sand can reveal crocodile fish while a careful study of the gorgonians might surprise you with the sight of a pygmy seahorse. This area is also a good spot for catching a glimpse of ornate ghost pipefish and the extremely rare halimeda ghost pipefish.
Day 3 Nusa Laut / Pulau Molana (3 dives)
We will do the first dive at Molana Island. 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.
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. We will do two dives here before heading to the Banda Islands.
Day 4 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, 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:
On the island of Nailaka next to the island of Run is the dive site Little Manhattan. The reason for the name of the dive site is that in 1667 the English traded the small island of Run for Manhattan, giving the Dutch full control of the Banda archipelago. White sandy slopes interspaced with large coral heads and a healthy reef makes this dive site very beautiful. A resident school of Bumphead parrotfish may be spotted here and look out into the blue for a passing eagle ray.
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.
Princes Reef is just outside the bay of Banda Neira. It is a long reef covered with a myriad of sponges, usually decorated blue with hundreds of fusiliers. Ribbon eels can be found in the sandy patches and pygmy seahorses have been found on the sea fans here.
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 5 Banda Neira Tour/Banda Islands (2-3 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 to three more dives in the Banda Islands departing on the length of the tour.
Day 6 Banda Islands (3 dives)
We will travel to the East side of Banda Neira to Hatta Island for our last dives in Banda Islands before heading south to Manuk.
At the top of this stunning wall and creating a gap in the reef is a hole that makes a huge swim-through. The tender will drop you up current of the hole and after a short drift along the reef-top you will drop down through the gap into a beautiful coral garden. Huge sea fans house pygmy seahorses and leaf fish rest among the soft corals. Once you have explored under the swim-through and enjoyed the view the dive continues along the wall. Finish your dive in the reef shallows with big coral heads where schools of batfish shelter.
This huge submerged reef south of Hatta Island creates a large dive site well worth two dives. The top of the reef is rocky and reef octopus and turtles can be seen here. Along the edge of the reef there are walls in some parts and steep slopes in others, dropping off into very deep water. As with the rest of the Banda Islands there are enormous sponges all along this reef. Look out into the blue, maybe there will be a ray or a shark passing by.
Days 7-12 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 experience 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, along with how many dives we will do if we stop there:
Manuk (3 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the last full day of the cruise there will be one or two dives depending on the flight times out of Saumlaki the next day.
Vaiwar Slope (1-2 dives)
At a little island called Vaiwar just outside of Saumlaki we will do our final two dives. Vaiwar Slope is mostly a critter hunt with a sandy and rocky slope extending out from the island. In the shallows there is a hard coral reef where juveniles such as the juvenile bi-color parrotfish can be found. Out in the sand we have spotted ghost pipefish, nudibranchs and even a mimic octopus!
Day 13 Disembarkation in Saumlaki
Total dives: 33-37 dives