Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 16 July 2015 • Destination
I can’t remember whether I heard about Banda Neira because of its significant history first, or was it because of the diving. I think diving Banda Neira constantly bugged my mind compared to history. Either way, it was on my list and I finally got to set foot there, or to be exact dip my feet in the water. Banda Neira has been a diving destination, known as the home of the mandarin fish and a busy traffic of tropical fishes.
I dove five times during my stay, however I can’t recall exactly what I saw at each site. I should return writing in my logbook, I know. So, here are some highlights of the dive sites and some are more complete descriptions of my experience of Banda Sea diving.
Banda Neira used to be one of my dream destinations to see the infamous mandarin fish or the dragonets. It’s a heck of a colorful fish, boggling my mind to wonder why on earth did a fish evolve to be such an eye catcher. Luckily, I’ve seen the mandarin fish when diving Laha, Ambon. So, I didn’t need to go diving at all when in Banda Neira. Just off the pier in front of the Sea Hobbit Dive Center, mandarin fishes come out to play.
Effectively, they come out at about 5 p.m. from the pier’s rubbles. If you’re patient, you can spot them. They’re fairly friendly, popping out when there are no sudden movements around. So, stay still when you see one! Or two! Or in my case, five!
What I remember about this site was its unique landscape. The sea floor was dominated by sea squirts of all sorts of colors. I thought they only came in one shade of blue, yellow and white, but apparently they’re more various than that. Usually, I see a few scattered around a dive spot, but there were countless and dense in population at Lampu Merah. It was like treading a strange alien-like land. That was a fun feeling!
A corner of sea squirts.
Both divers and snorkelers are taken to Lava Flow for a good reason. In 1988, Gunung Api erupted pretty badly. On one side, the mountain spewed right into the sea. Surprisingly, after 26 years, the bed of solids from the volcano is now densely covered by hard coral reef. There are numerous types of hard corals that extend forever.
For a nice 50 minutes, the dive group that day floated over a meadow of coral, watching our buoyancy not to crash into the healthy grown coral. Initially, it was strange to see the lack of fish swimming around during my visit. However, looking closely between the hard corals, fishes swarm busily within.
Having said that, it can get pretty overwhelming-slash-boring seeing ‘just hard corals’ for such a long amount of time.
Local research institute, LIPI, is currently studying this natural phenomenon. Science says that hard corals grow on an average 1 cm per year. Looking at the size of the corals, they have grown way pass 26 cm. Trust Indonesia to break myths and theories! It’s corals as far as the eye can see and a happy sight for the future of the marine ecosystem.
‘I love Angel Reef,’ Kiki says with confidence, with no time to ponder upon question. Only 19 of age, but has already been a dive master for two years. I had been diving a few times with him before asking his favorite dive site. He showed me both his skinny thumbs-up, as we departed the port heading to the spot. The group dove with Toby, a dense muscular man with a mischievous face.
Angel Reef was really nice. Coral wise, it was relatively rich. The water was bright as there were a lot of sandy base reflecting the sunlight. We saw many morays, stingrays, lionfishes, and countless small fishes. In a particular moment that I will always remember, a school of black and blue metallic fishes circled our group for a good 5 minutes. For some reason, Toby knew how to control the fishes, making them circle us and not swim away. Fun! I screamed in in my regulator out of joy.
Toby talking to the fish (top); me caught in the middle of a swarm (bottom).
Toby Fadirsyair was an underwater attraction on his own. On several occasions, he offered me to touch a moral eel. That eel that has a double-locking backward-facing teeth system! Of course, I rejected but not because we shouldn’t touch sea creatures, but more of fear. Have you seen Youtube videos of moral eel bite cases? They’re scary as hell, man! To keep things short, let’s just say the ‘offer’ became ‘insist’, running away in water is possible, and I almost ran out of oxygen because I laughed and screamed through the regulator. Toby was fun to dive with no less, and I hope I get to dive with him again.
Just to add to that, Toby was one of the three people that successfully took the first photo of the psychedelic frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelica) in Laha, Ambon. It’s the photo that made the spot a world-class dive destination. He’s legen-wait for it-dary!
“You were right, Kiki. Angel Reef is awesome!”
“It’s my favorite dive spot,” Kiki says with an ‘I told you so’ face. Angel Reef easily became one of my favorites too, for these reasons. The Sea Hobbit gang is a lot of fun!
Kiki proud of his temporary sushi tattoo.
Since I forgot the details of this site, I can’t say much about it. But the one thing I can say is that there’s a super huge sea fan. I think it was the biggest one I’ve seen so far with a diameter a good two meters. Wow!
I have to mention Karaka for one specific reason. We didn’t go diving there but out of dumb luck Firsta and I saw a shark when snorkeling. It was probably a black tip as we both only saw a glimpse of it. Most surprisingly, it was huge. It was probably 1.5 meters in length. It was enormous for a water depth of 2 meters. Aside to that, it’s also a popular dive site.
Banda Neira is a speck on the world map, surrounded by one of the deepest and vicious oceans in the world, Banda Sea. That might sound scary but it’s a seasonal thing.
Best time for diving Banda Neira is in October – November and April – May. Other than that, it’s a struggle to get to the outer islands such as Hatta, Run, and Ay. In my case, visiting the islands in May was no good. We couldn’t sail out of the outer islands due to rough waves. The water was also not the best visibility, a bit murky probably also due to the waves. And forget the holiday season, it’s the worst time of the year!
Various dive sites in Banda Neira.
I dove with the fairly new Banda Neira dive center, Sea Hobbit Dive Center. Though new, they are a part of Blue Motion and just a form of expansion. The team consists of similar circles and the safety standards are no less different. I dove under the supervision of Sasha, who will soon run Sea Hobbit. Based on my first experience diving Banda Neira, I do recommend them.
A dive cost average IDR 425,000, while full gear rental cost IDR 150,000/day. For a full day of diving, lunch will also be included.
Information for Diving Banda Neira with the Sea Hobbits check this site, or email us for more information.