Sandwiched by two Indonesia’s diving capitals, Lembeh and the world- famous Raja Ampat in Papua, Maluku Islands (or the Moluccas) boast less-explored ocean with many secrets
Often overlooked for other marquee diving destinations in the archipelago namely Tulamben, Bunaken and Komodo, Maluku’s capital, Ambon is still an unknown quantity to many – and sadly its neighbouring Banda Islands are even less so. However, thanks to the ever-growing regional airline routes, many of these islands’ best diving spots are now more accessible than ever.
Ambon, being an up-and-coming destination, known for its spectacular critters dive in Ambon Bay and the mesmerising corals in Hukurilla Cave, and neighbours to the untouched reefs of Banda Islands, is also hosting an abundance of the rhinopias scorpionfish rarely found anywhere else. As a promised heaven for underwater photographers, it is also home to one of the rarest living underwater treasures in the world, the psychedelic frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelica), only formally found in 2008 and has been rarely spotted ever since. The swirling patterns of white on a darker red and brownish colour give the fish a unique appearance resembling psychedelic colour patterns.
Signing up to a dive trip to the amazing Ambon Bay means you signed up to a scenic welcome to the destination. As you fly approaching the islands, sights of the islands of Maluku could be your first real life encounter with the postcard images you have been seeing in many places. It also means that you signed up to a hassle-free trip to easily accessible sites unlike many famous diving destinations that normally take hours of flying from Bali or Jakarta, and even longer drive combined with a boat trip. The main diving sites of Ambon, where most of the dive resort/ operators are located, are comfortably only ten minutes’ drive from the airport.
In more high-end resorts, underwater photographers have the real luxury of leaving all their cameras in a secure camera room that are equipped with their own camera station, plugs for batteries, high pressure air nozzle to help drying up camera rigs, etc. And of course other superior services that can make your holiday feels more like, well, a real holiday. While in mid-range dive centres, they provide you with sufficient services and easiness that is very well match for a self-starter divers or amateur underwater photographers.
In Ambon Bay, there is a real chance to encounter rare critters normally hard to spot elsewhere, such as colourful crustacean or unique mollusc, harlequin shrimps or coconut octopus. But the real star of the place are the elusive rhinopias of the scorpionfish family. These types of fish are normally found solitary in other Indonesian waters, but they are flourishing and they come in all sort of colours and types in Ambon Bay. Other rare bottom dwellers such as different types of frogfishes from the anglerfish family are also often seen here. And if you are one of the luckiest, your dive could be graced by the presence of the extremely rare psychedelic frogfish.
As an underwater photographer, it’s easy to forget time while diving in Ambon water. With the topography of most sites consisting of gentle slope with little or close to no current, and typically less than six-ten metres depth, divers can stay in the water longer than in most places. However, if this type of diving somehow bores you after just a few days, you can hop on a short 40-minute flight to the neighbouring Banda Islands. These remote outposts offer different beauties than that of Ambon. The reefs surrounding the islands of the Banda Sea are still untouched which makes a snorkel around the islands of Pulau Hatta, Pulau Run and other remote, less-inhabited islands feels like a stroll into a heavenly underwater coral garden just couple of meters below the surface.
For divers, a deeper venture into these reefs set you up to an encounter with bigger tenants of the waters, roaming in the current-infested sites. Barracudas, Napoleon wrasse, eagle and mobula rays, schooling of bumphead parrotfishes and trevallies and reef sharks often spotted visiting these waters. For the lucky ones, timing your dive with their migration pattern can give divers the chance to be face to face with the migrating of hundreds scalloped hammerheads. In addition, a stroll to the village and to the landmark Fort Belgica offers colours and photogenic surrounding on your non-diving day.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Fly directly from Jakarta to Ambon or take a flight from Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali with one transit in Ujung Pandang (Makassar) to Ambon. Dive centres can be reached typically within 10-40 mins from the airport depending on which operators you go with, and which dive sites you’re planning to go. Banda Naira, the main island of Banda Islands is a further 40 minutes flight from Ambon Airport.
THE DIVE SPOTS:
Most of the dive sites in Ambon are within three to 15 minutes from the dive operators, with an acceptable water clarity combined with gentle or no current. Most of the dive areas have less than 10-24 meters’ depth. The surrounding dive sites in Banda islands are within 20 minutes boat ride with the exception of some of the most remote sites. Current in some of the sites attract big pelagic, and most of the dive areas are between 15-25 metres deep.