Scuba Diving Banda Islands
Once known as the Spice Islands, the condition and health of the coral reefs are breathtaking.
Isolated from the rest of Central Maluku, the 10 little volcanic islands that make up the Banda archipelago are the most wanted tourist destination in the whole of Maluku. Fortunately, as these pretty little islets remain somewhat time-consuming to reach which keeps the crowds away.
Beautiful, quaint little Bandaneira on the island of Neira is the capital town of the Banda Islands and is full of relics of the colonial era: forts, cannons and beautiful colonial homes. Walking in Bandaneira there will be green and peace views along the road. You may see the remnants of the history of the islands when conquered by the Portuguese, Dutch and English. There is also some historical building from the pre-independence period such as, the exile house of the first vice president, Mohammad Hatta, Sutan Syahrir, and Dr. Cipto Mangunkusumo. If you want to feel the thrill of mountain climbing, Gunung Island with it’s Mount Api summit is the right choice. By hiring a local fishing boat about IDR 10.000, you reach the island. After climbing about 90 minutes long with or without a guide, you can see the sunrise view of the Banda Islands.
The volcanic island of Gunung Api (the name simply means “Volcano” in Indonesian) dominates the entire Banda group. It has been quiet for many years now, but impressive lava flows can still be seen on its northern side. Once home to 4 villages, only a few houses remain now on the island. This must be about the easiest volcano to climb in Maluku, and is therefore a popular attraction among visitors to the Bandas.
HIGHLIGHT DIVE SITES
This islands has about 25 diving points. Some of the most popular places is the Ai island, Batu Kapal, Hatta Reef, Keraka Island, and Nusa Sea. The following are some dive sites spread across Banda islands.
Sonegat: It lies between Banda Neira and Gunung Api.
Keraka Island: Keraka Island or Crab Island is just minutes from the entrance way of the islands, north of Gunung Api-Neira. It’s north coast beach is perfect for picnics. Pulau Keraka offers a very interesting marine life diversity. Currents are rarely strong here, which makes it a very easy site to dive -and take pictures. Its mix of rocky walls, coral boulders on a sandy bottom and a rich reeftop host an amazing variety of small critters like Candy crabs, nudibranches, Ornate Ghostpipe fish, Leaf Scorpion fish and many more, that make this site a macro photographer’s favourite, for both day and night diving. And if you manage to take your eyes away from the small critters, you will also find Giant Moray Eels, Great Barracudas swimming out in the blue, Napoleon Wrasses, turtles and much more.
Sjahrir Rock and Ship Island: formerly called Banana Island, 20 minutes by boat from Bandaneira. Both are is a good combination for morning diving or evening diving, and beach picnic.
Lontar Island: it is the hollow part of the caldera that offers you some amazing diving sites.
Dutch stone: there are lots of barrels, foam tubes, small caves, and cracks. Fishes here are varied, including snappers, banner fish and many other species.
Hatta Island: 25 km from Banda Neira. Skaru Atoll, is the name of a coral, few hundred yards south of the island, there is some colony of unicorn fish, Fusiliers, jacks fish and rainbow runners, white-tip sharks measuring almost two meters, napoleon wrasse, dogtoothed tuna, and turtles.
Pulau Hatta is known for its great snorkeling sites but it is even better for diving. In front of Hatta’s west shore beach, a 5 m wide whole in the reef top opens up to the open sea. You can dive down through it and will then find yourself looking back to what looks like a bridge in the coral reef. The bridge is covered in soft corals of all colors and underneath it, large Gorgonians, home to a couple of Pigmy seahorses, are found. You can continue the dive as a relaxed drift along the wall, one of Banda’s most diverse sites in terms of reef fish, shrimps, mollusks and corals. Sea turtle encounters are also quite frequent in Hatta.
Hatta’s other dive sites are similar to the wall of Hatta bridge. Fish and coral diversity is great everywhere, including schooling barracudas, batfish, Napoleon wrasses and much more.
Karang Hatta is a reef located South East of Pulau Hatta. Its dive sites are the ones closest to the 6000 m deep Banda trench, which makes diving interesting as the chances to see big pelagics are the best here. Schooling trevallies, barracudas, tunas and even chances to see bigger sharks (hammerheads and grey reef sharks), as well as many turtles can be seen close to this underwater mountain. The reef flats had been bombed years ago but are showing good signs of recovery already.
The dive sites of Batu Kapal belong to our personal favorites. Batu Kapal is a rock sticking out of the water north of Pulau Pisang. Below the surface, deeper rocks and boulders can be found. The largest of them is located west of the main rock. It starts on 8 m and its peak can easily be seen from the surface. It is connected to the next deeper rock to the north. Both are forming a valley in between them and both are going down to more than 50 m. Huge gorgonias and barrel sponges grow on the walls, hosting large Moray eels and the biggest population of red tooth trigger fish we have ever seen. The eastern side of Batu Kapal forms a channel with some boulders. The wall of the channel is colorful and rich in fish and invertebrate species. For example, 4 differently colored scorpion leaf fish have already been found on the dive site. The safety stop area close to the main rock is also an eye catcher as most of its boulders are covered in bright orange soft corals.
In general, Batu Kapal stands out because of the amazing visibility that often reaches 40-50 m. This is also the place with a chance to see larger pelagic fish. However, Batu Kapal is also known for its strong changing currents that make diving impossible some times of the day.
Quite a few things make this place one of the top dive sites in Banda. A steep slope covered in coral, a straight and spacious 15-meter long swimthrough full of gorgonias that exits next to a beautiful wall covered with sea fans and huge sponges, a rocky plateau full of small critters where big Napoleons and other fish like to play with the current and an amazing visibility that wraps it all into a perfect package for divers who enjoy current.
Ai Island: north and south-west coast surrounded by beautiful reef wall, full of caves also the habitat for harbors fish. Just as Pulau Hatta, Ai offers some of Banda’s best reefs. The northern sites of the island, for example the dive site Batu Payung (= Umbrella rock), have a rather steep wall with lots of cracks and overhangs whereas the southern reef areas are sloping off down to the sand bottom at 40-50 m. In the south of Ai, occasionally Hammerhead sharks have been sighted, giving this dive site its name “Hammerhead point”. Napoleons and turtles can often be seen here, as well.
Banda Besar offers a number of beautiful coral dive sites with the hard coral reefs usually end in a soft coral-, sea fan- and barrel sponge- covered wall. Along the southern coast aggregations of fish such as rainbow runners and redtooth triggers can be found. Napoleons are also frequently encountered at most of the dives sites. Some dive sites to be mentioned here are Karnopol, Tanjung Cengke, Batu Belanda and Pohon Miring. Apart from its beautiful wall and its large cave that can be discovered at a depth of 10 meters, Batu Belanda is famous for some eagle rays that are often “flying by”. Pohon miring, on the northern tip of Banda Besar impresses with its picturesque rock structure as a colorful and large swim through can be found here. Pohon miring is also a point where the currents from the southern and northern site of the island meet, which attracts a lot of fish.
The Lava flow in the north of Gunung Api is probably one of Banda’s most extraordinary dive sites. After the volcano erupted in 1988, the gravel on the bottom of this dive site was covered with lava. Very soon, corals (mostly Acropora) started to grow on the cold lava and since then have formed a huge coral reef with nearly 100 % hard coral cover. Why corals were able to grow so quickly is still not totally clear but the surface structure of the lava seems to play an important role. This dive site demonstrates very well how succession in a coral reef can take place. It is not only interesting for coral experts but is also a must for every diver who is visiting the Banda islands.
Mandarin city – Just in front of Hotel Maulana , you find a dive site that we call Mandarin city because it is nearly impossible to miss the colorful Mandarin fish living here. If you go for a sunset dive the chances are great to become witness of their daily mating activities. In vicinity to the Mandarin fish’s home is the main pier of Banda Neira. It is overgrown with ascidians, sponges and soft corals and hosts juvenile batfish, crocodile fish, a variety of different scorpion fishes, hundreds of pipefish, large moray eels, a.s.o. There is still so much to discover that it is always worth getting a tank and jumping in directly in front of the dive center.
Pulau Rhun – Thanks to its remoteness, Rhun and the little island of Nailaka offer outstanding reefs and large amounts of fish. After putting your head under water and having lunch at the beautiful white beaches of Nailaka you will definitely have forgotten the 2 hour boat ride it takes to get there.
The “Banana Island” Pulau Pisang, the “Banana island” is just a 20 min boat ride from Banda Neira and is surrounded by healthy and species-rich coral reefs that are home to a larger number of colorful reef fish such as Butterfly-, Surgeon-, Trigger-, Parrot- and Angelfish. The reefs are also discussed to be one of Banda’s top spawning grounds. The reef slopes are all ending in a wall going down to 25-50 m, which is covered with Gorgonians, sponges, anemones, whip corals, a.s.o. The dives here are usually moderate drift dives with strong currents only at the most northern and southern tips of the island.
DIVE SEASON: Diving can be done throughout the year, but during the southeast monsoon (July-September), you are restricted to choosing some places to dive. Because of limitations to access most dive sites, condtion for diving are unpredictable during this time. Every season in Banda has its own appeal: the transition seasons from October till December and from February till May are spoiling you with magnificent visibilities whereas the more turbid plankton-rich times after the southeast monsoon in August and September will surprise you with incredible numbers of fish and more frequent encounters with larger pelagics. The raining season is Dec – April, good visibility but can be raining at anytime.
VISIBILITY: average 15-30 meters in the calm water conditions
WATER TEMPERATURE: around 26-29 C
BANK: There are no ATMs around the Banda Islands, prepare some cash before visiting the island. Save your money in a safe place, especially when you are around the harbor.
Mobile telecommunications provider is limited to Telkomsel and XL. You can refill your prepaid card in Bandaneira.
HOW TO GET THERE: The gateway to Bandaneira is from Ambon. The Banda islands are easiest accessed from Ambon but the transport situation changes every year. As the flight route is subsidized, it is decided every January anew which airline will fly and how often per week. Pelni ships are travelling between Ambon and Banda on a regular basis. Most divers visiting this area by live-aboard.
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