BANDA SPICE ISLANDS
Season: April - May & September - October
Diving, Snorkeling, Cruising
Due to their remote location, the islands known as the Spice Islands are rarely visited by tourists but provide a spectacular cruising ground for yachts.
Located between Celebes and New Guinea it denotes its name from the large numbers of aromatic plants that grew and provided a highly profitable spice trade in nutmeg, mace and clove cultivation. Still, many areas are abundant in some spices including cinnamon and sago palms a food staple in the islands cuisine.
The area which encompasses the Banda Islands, Bacan Islands and Seram are a paradise for many activities and cultural adventures for visitors to explore amongst them; cooking classes, market visits trekking and water sports including snorkeling, diving and bays perfect to explore by watercraft, kayaks or stand up paddle boards.
The islands also boast historical forts which interpret the history of Dutch colonisation and the opportunity to visit the villages of the famous sea gypsies and perkerniers the last of famers who managed the spice plantations for the Dutch.
A visit wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the Belang Boat race festival, a visit to the Kayu Putih (eucalyptus oil) distillery or taking part in a local cooking class using spices and produce cultivated from the area both of which can be privately arranged. Access by yacht or embarking from the international airport at Ambon the islands anchorages are few but make a base for sailing through the islands between the Ceram Sea, Halmahera Sea, Molucca Sea, Banda Sea or Savu Sea and the multiple exploration points to explore a deep underwater topography.
The Banda Islands are best explored by sea and to fully appreciate the lands breathtaking natural environments above and below sea level. For divers and snorkelling the best visibility is between October and December however the high season for sport fishing and spotting larger pelagic are August through September. Hundreds of fish species and hard coral garden types are amongst the undersea drop offs where muck diving between channels of Banda Neira, Api and Banda Besar and the untouched underwater seascapes off the renowned Nusa Laut can be enjoyed. At the base of Gunung Api Banda the lava flow creates a volcanic black sand sea bed, a starkly contrast to the multi coloured coral and an internationally recognised dive spot.
Expect schools of large fish, rays, migrating crustaceans and whale sharks which glide through the waters of this UNESCO world heritage site. Above the water visitors can enjoy land expeditions of trekking the forest, climbing the mountainous terrain of Gunung Api or visiting the variation of historical sites dating back to the periods of Dutch and English colonisation and the fight over Run Island. The Dutch swapped New Amsterdam for Run Island and later New Amsterdam became New York.
In the area lie the Bacan islands best visited for diving opportunities from March through to November. It’s the group’s largest island and part of North Maluku. Its mountainous and forested terrain is where the recently rediscovered giant mason bee is found, thought to be extinct until it was spotted in 2019.
The Maluku’s only black monkey, the Black Macaque, is also living here. Within the areas where mangroves meet deep ocean reefs lie wonderful marine life including grouper, shark, napoleon wrasses, bumphead parrotfish and a well known area for large pelagic and beautiful coral gardens.
Seram Island is a mix of mountainous peaks, caves, small villages and an untouched underwater world of electric fishes and endemic aquatic species.
To the south of Halmahera and north of Seram is Obi Island; sparsely populated with a number of villages to explore, mountains cladded in forest and clove plantations which plunge into the sea and a stop at the lighthouse of Suligi village is worth a trip. Island hopping between the islands is the best way to experience every corner and making a stop by Pulau Hatta and Bisa Islands should not be missed. Bisa Island also known as snake island is home to a healthy population of death adders with caves and waterfalls around Galala on the western side and villages built on stilts sit along the east coast fringe. Pulau Hatta will delight those looking for white sand shores, wrapped in blue water and rich coral reefs, perfect for snorkeling.