Ocean First in the Banda Sea, Indonesia 2018

Ocean First   Jul 05, 2022

We have all heard the phrase “It was meant to be” numerous times – it helps us accept whatever outcome results from a string of situations and circumstances. The Ocean First Banda Sea trip in May 2018 was one of those events. After numerous changes within the players in our group, we wound up with the perfect blend of adventurous, easy-going, fun, and open-minded divers!

Our journey began in the beautiful island of Bali, Indonesia. Our hotel, the Sandi Phala, is located about 15 minutes from the airport in the Kuta Beach area of Bali. Although we were close to the airport, you wouldn’t know it given the quiet and peaceful feel of the resort. The ocean was right there and it was just what we all needed to rest up and acclimatize to a new time zone.

Over the course of the next two days we visited Tukad Cepung waterfall, Git Git waterfall, and the Jatiluwih rice terraces, all within the heart of Bali. The waterfalls were epic and unique from each other. Tukad Cepung involves a bit of a walk up the streambed and is a curtain of water falling into a large pool. Git Git is huge and powerful; the spray alone is refreshing! We all enjoyed a refreshing swim before moving onto our next stop. The Jatiuwih rice terraces are iconic Bali with their lush rice paddies at the base of Batukaro volcano. Jatiluwih means “really beautiful” in Bahasa and we couldn’t agree more! It was truly stunning.

Finally it was time to board our flight to Ambon where we would meet the crew from our home for the next 14 days, the Aurora. Anticipation was high for the start of our expedition! This particular itinerary is unique in that it is the second half of a huge crossing from Raja Ampat to Komodo. The Raja Ampat season ends around the end of April/beginning of May and many of the liveaboards transition south to Komodo for June – September. We were fortunate to be on the second half of this crossing from Ambon – Maumere where we would have the opportunity to dive in areas that are rarely visited.

After boarding we immediately began moving southeast towards the Banda Islands. Often referred to as the Spice Islands, these stunning islands grow nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, pepper and many more fragrant spices. We visited a plantation one morning and got to see how the nutmeg is harvested. The diving around the Banda Islands is a nice mix of healthy coral reefs and unusual black volcanic sand, also known as “muck diving”. We also got to dive at the base of a large lava flow which was really cool. All sorts of colorful reef fish were present along with the weird and wonderful creatures that reside in the muck. Everything from playful anemone fish to odd-shaped frogfish made a showing on our dives at Banda.

Continuing along our journey we arrived at Manuk, the famous “Snake Island”. This particular dive site is very unique in that it is inhabited by large, brown sea snakes that venture under the waves to seek out a meal. Regardless of how brave a person or experienced a diver you are, nothing will prepare you for the surprise of having one of these sizable (3 foot+) snakes swim right up to you, between your arms, and along the length of your body. They are not at all afraid of divers and go about their business as if we were not there at all. It was quite funny to watch an unsuspecting diver react when a snake would swim right up to their face! The snakes are harmless.. but big!

The weather kicked up a bit so we had no choice but to spend the next 2 ½ days at sea to ensure we would arrive at Alor on time. This meant we had to sacrifice two days of diving in order to stay on schedule. Although it was a tough call, everyone understood the situation and took it in stride. We spent the next 48 hours relaxing, eating, sunning, reading, visiting, Bintang-ing, and just chilling out. There is no cell/internet service in this remote part of Indonesia which offered a much needed technology break. The seas were bumpy and it made for some exciting maneuvering on board!

Before arriving in Alor the captain stopped at a gorgeous beach to let us get off the boat and into the water for the exercise our bodies had been craving. The snorkeling was divine and feeling the sand on our toes was pure bliss. A few of us decided it would be great fun to jump off the bow and/or mast of the ship. This is not for the faint of heart as the mast is at least 40 feet up!

After this stop it was onto Alor. By choosing to keep moving earlier we actually gained an extra day at Alor which, once we got underwater, was a true gift indeed. The diving was superb, some of the best in Indonesia! Some of these sites were so covered with anemones you could not find a bare piece of rock. The currents were mild, but enough to get the reef going and plankton eaters up into the water column. Everyone agreed that sacrificing two days earlier was a good call as it allowed us to have four days in this amazing area.

Our final stop was just outside of Maumere, on the island of Flores. Although it did not appear that this final dive was going to be that great, we did find a baby hairy octopus and a beautiful ornate ghost pipefish! It was a fantastic way to wrap up an epic 14 day journey that took us to some truly incredible dive sites, many of which are rarely visited.

The return to Bali was bittersweet as we knew this special trip was almost over. Our last night as a group was spent at a kecak performance where the dancers wore elaborate costumes and the chorus chants during the whole performance. We had a special treat at the end with a fire dancer who was quite the character! Our evening ended with a spectacular dinner on the beach.

This was a very unique and long trip! As a guide of countless trips over the years, I know that the destination is only a part of what makes a truly memorable trip. The group is what really brings it all together. This adventure was no exception; we had so much fun diving, exploring, learning, and doing nothing at all. We survived sea snakes, bumpy seas, fragrant boat odors, salt balls, mysterious boat sounds, a rogue wave, and tasty Bintang while exploring a distant part of Indonesia. I could not have asked for a better group! Thank you all for coming on this grand adventure… see you next time!