Nutmeg. Flavour saviour of curries, the razzle-dazzle in puds, elixir to mulled wine... you get the gist. But have you ever considered where it originated? Introducing the Banda Islands (otherwise known as the "Spice Islands"), the sole producers of nutmeg and mace in the 17th century and the beating heart of the world's spice trade. These days, this little-known archipelago is largely overlooked. But dive a little deeper (literally) and you'll find that the Banda Sea is still very much a trailblazer...
The Banda Islands
Located in the eastern part of the Indo-Malayan archipelago, the Banda Islands consist of 11 tiny volcanic islands scattered across the vast Banda Sea. While no longer the centre of international trade, this isolated archipelago is vying for a new crown as the matriarch of mega-marine biodiversity.
Sailing Across the Banda Sea
The best, and only real way to explore the Banda Sea is by liveaboard and, to follow in the footsteps of the spice traders of yesteryear, a traditional phinisi is just the ticket (although I'm not sure the spice traders enjoyed the same level of luxury). The Banda Sea is only accessible between March and April and September and October, and those who make the journey will be treated to some of the least dived sites in Indonesia, with plenty of hammerhead action, muck diving critters and even blue whales. While itineraries vary, some of the highlights include...
Most liveaboard itineraries will either start or finish in Alor. The diving is truly extraordinary with thrilling currents, pristine corals and a diverse array of marine life, not to forget some incredible muck diving sites in Kalabahi Bay. The water can get a little chilly and the currents can be strong (especially at Clown Valley, an incredible site carpeted with anemones and their accompanying anemonefish), but it's worth it for the incredible array of marine life on offer. For a breakdown on some of the best diving in Alor, read our blog on the Top Five Dive Sites in Alor.
While liveaboard itineraries vary, you're likely to drop by the Wetar area, which has some of the best wall diving in the region along the Reong Wall. Glide along walls covered in ginormous bommies and sea fans matched in colour by clouds of redtooth triggerfish and parrotfish. If you're lucky, you might spot your first hammerhead here.
Located east of Damar, the tiny volcanic island of Serua is one of the main draws to the Banda Sea. Why? Because huge schools of hammerheads cruise beneath the waves. The site features a sloping reef that drops to a wall and the currents here can be strong so carry a reef hook, but you'll be rewarded with plenty of hammerhead action out in the blue. Aside from these predators, there are plenty of sea snakes hunting in the nooks and crannies of the reef, as well as bumphead parrotfish, cuttlefish, tuna and jackfish.
One of the most unique dives in the Banda Sea, if not Indonesia, lies off the active volcanic island of Gunung Api. One of the most remote volcanic atolls in the Banda Sea, Gunung Api is home to hundreds of banded and olive sea snakes, giving rise to another nickname, the Volcano of the Sea Snakes. While these snakes are venomous they aren't aggressive and are very curious, allowing some incredible photographs if you have a camera. Usually solitary hunters, the sea snakes here have been known to hunt in packs, making for some very interesting observation.
Place two feet on dry land to explore the main island of Banda Neira. The island's chequered past is evident in the ruins of Dutch forts, with the central Belgica fort offering incredible panoramas over Gunung Api volcano. Under the waves, divers can witness the mandarin mating ritual under the island's main jetty while the nearby Lava Flow is a unique site in that huge fields of cabbage corals have sprouted following Gunung Api's eruption in 1988.
Above water, Ambon isn't pretty. But below water, Ambon is simply spectacular. One of the original muck diving spots, Ambon houses a prolific array of macro critters in the black sand, including octopus, seahorses, frogfish and rhinopias. The psychedelic frogfish was also first discovered in the rubble of Ambon. The perfect end to an epic liveaboard adventure (or start, depending on the route you take!).
Thinking about setting sail to discover the Banda Sea? Get in touch to plan your once-in-a-lifetime liveaboard trip to the Banda Islands.