SAMPLE CRUISE ITINERARY "MALUKU-BANDA-RAJA AMPAT"
14 Day/13 Night Ambon-Sorong Cruise
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 (3 dives)Amet Reef
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.
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:Little Manhattan
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.Batu Payung
Meaning Umbrella Rock this dive site is on Ai Island so called because there are many overhangs along the walls of the island. Drift along the walls with great visibility and enjoy the view of thousands of tiny reef fish darting in and out of the cracks and crevices.Batu Kapal
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.Pohon Miring
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
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.Banda Jetty
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 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.
After the tour we will do two more dives in the Banda Islands before heading north to Koon.
Day 6 Koon Island (2-3 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 Raja Ampat.
Day 7-10 Misool, Raja Ampat (13-14 dives)
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).
Misool is in the south of Raja Ampat and we will dive at the many small islands in the southeast. Southeast Misool is famous for the profusion of colourful soft corals and sea fans beautifully draped all over the reefs. Take a look at some photos taken in this area in our SOFT CORAL HEAVEN PHOTO ALBUM.
We will stay three and a half days in the Misool area, on Day 10 we will complete 1-2 dives before traveling to the central part of Raja Ampat. There is a possibility to visit Tomolol Cave that has a river-sized waterway running through it. We take a 30-minute tender ride through a pearl farm and into the rugged interior. Once at the cave we float and paddle our way inside to enjoy the amazing rock formations. There is a large opening at the other end and also a ‘secret’ cave to explore. This tour is dependent on receiving permission from the pearl farm and local village.
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 our BOO WINDOWS PHOTO ALBUM. 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.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.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 a wobbegong shark or even a huge grouper 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 turtles here. Wedding Cake and Wayili Rock offer chances to see schools of batfish, trevallies, barracuda, pygmy seahorses and even a walking shark at night.Misool - Sagof/Wagmab/Farondi Area
This area offers several different dive sites. At 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. At Wagmab and Farondi dive into Eddy Cave and surface inside to see the stalactites hanging from the top of the cavern. Outside the wall is full of overhangs and caves where divers are likely to encounter groups of snapper and large groupers resting at the bottom. At Three Sisters, Grouper Net and Wagmab Corner look for wobbegong sharks resting under ledges or on top of cup corals. Sea fans fill the walls and slopes so be on the look out for pygmy sea horses. Between dives there is a chance to go on our Jungle River Tour to see the secret lagoons around Wagmab Island.
Day 11 Manta Sandy/Arborek (4 dives)
The first two dives of the day we dive at Manta Sandy, well-known for the much bigger visitors as it is one of the most consistent spots for finding congregating mantas. It is easy to spend a whole dive observing these majestic animals as they somersault through the water while being cleaned by several species of wrasse and even butterfly fish. In addition to the cleaning, they come to feed on plankton carried along by the currents so can be seen lining up on the surface. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to witness the unforgettable sight of what is called a ”manta train”, where half a dozen or more mantas glide around and follow each other head-to-tail. Take a look at a video of the mantas at MANTA SANDY.
The afternoon and night dive are at Arborek Jetty. In the shallows the jetty posts are covered in soft corals and below look for pipefish and cuttlefish. The local children love to jump off the jetty and pose for the cameras, great fun! On the reef see the huge giant clams nestled among pulsing soft corals. At night listen for the toadfish croaking from under the rocks and look for the blue ringed octopus. The reef also provides shelter for many interesting small animals like hermit crabs, flatworms and skeleton shrimp. See our ARBOREK JETTY PHOTO ALBUM.
Between the dives there is an opportunity to visit the village on Arborek 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 Arborek. Obviously the children love sweets but we encourage people to bring pencils, pens, notebooks, colouring books all of which don’t rot their teeth! The school always needs more materials and the girls love hair clips and bands.
Day 12 and 13 Dampier Strait (5-6 dives)
The strait that flows between Waigeo and Batanta is rapidly becoming known as having some of the most spectacular 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.
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 block 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. Cape Kri, Chicken Reef, Kerupiar Island and Mioskon are all dive sites in Dampier Strait full of these wonders. 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. Blue Magic is a submerged seamount where there is a chance to encounter Giant manta rays.
On the last full day of the cruise there will be one or two dives depending on the weather conditions and also on the flight times out of Sorong the next day. After the dives we will travel back to Sorong.