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Traveling & Diving in the Moluccas

Where the hell are the Maluku Islands? We asked ourselves the exact same question. A quick look at a map and we found our destination
08/07/2015 00:45

Where the hell are the Maluku Islands? We asked ourselves the exact same question. A quick look at a map and we found our destination:

 mokukken-map

The way to the Moluccas is rather adventurous. 26 hours flight time and 3 transfers until we landed in Ambon, the capital of the Moluccas.
The city itself is not very spectacular; a few mosques and old buildings; Europeans have seen plenty of both before. The streets are rather dirty and the houses cracked; cockroaches and trash laying around, but not a lot of tourists. No wonder that the locals are very curious and cordial. A few minutes later, we’re sitting in a cafe, enjoying some passion fruit juice, which we were just persuaded into buying. Every now and then, somebody tries to get our attention by screaming ‘Hey, mister!’. The air smells like fumes and fried chicken. The sun is strong and breathing hard; it looks like we arrived.

ambon-collage

Discovering The Island of Ambon

After 3 days in Ambon, we basically saw the entire city. There is no beach around; so what can one do? Let’s get a scooter and discover the island! There are so many of those around, so it can’t be very hard to locate a rental place. 2 hours and many attempts later, we gave up. Buying a scooter? No problem! Renting a scooter? Not possible! Tired and frustrated, we tell our parking attendant of our ordeal. He leaves us behind, makes a few phone calls and all of a sudden, he informs us that the neighbour’s cousin has a grandfather who owns a scooter that he doesn’t ride anymore. What an amazing coincidence! We quickly gathered some food, cash, as well as our snorkel equipment and started our trip for the day.

Finally, we left Ambon behind. At the beginning we were very cautious, riding between a cornucopia of other scooters and crossroads that are rather confusing. After leaving the city, the scooter ride became much more enjoyable. The air was cleaner and the airstream cold. The road went right by the sea and some beautiful pebble beaches. We passed hilly villages, some with impressive mosques, others with festive wooden crosses standing wayside. Only the continiously falling gas needle prevents us from living our dream of an endless scooter ride. As we are about to run out of water, we stop at a street kiosk. Once we closely inspected the cooking oil bottles, we realized that the bottles contained definitely no such oil. We passed mini gas station every 10 minutes and didn’t even realize that they all sold gas. Well that issue was taken care off, so went on our merry way on the Northern coast of Ambon. We discover one cozy bay after the other, all looking like they were just made for swimming and snorkeling. Trees spending shadow and a cool breeze complement the island feeling.

ambon-roller-tour

Next stop - Saparua island 

Our next destination was Saparua Island, Ambon’s neighboring island. According to our guide, it’s a very quite place with little traffic and ideal for divers. Our first impression: What a great place, so far away from the busy capital!

saparua-garden

We booked a room at the Mahu Lodges, a family run hotel right by the water. The bungalows could use a makeover, but we were totally fine with them. The family puts a lot of effort into their flower garden, which contains quite a few palm trees and tropical flowers. We were very positively surprised and enjoyed the view from our veranda. The sticky air quickly signalizes us what we should do next: enjoying the water and snorkel a bit. Well, swimming during midday heat was a mediocre idea. Sure, the water was pleasantly cold. But after one hour of snorkerling and despite clouds, we sustained massive sunburns. We’ll definitely remember the hardship of trying to sleep with a burning back.

First dive of the trip

The following day, we had our first chance to dive on the Moluccas. The two of us and a french couple got up early in the morning and took a diving boat to an island called Nusa Laut. The wind was still fresh and the sun reflecting on the water. Flying fishes swam next to our boat and we spotted some dolphins a few hundred meters away from us. We quickly assembled the equipment and took our first dive.

saparua-lets-dive

A few minutes and some equipment tests later, we were completely immersed in the underwater world, fascinated by the spectacular landscapes below. A plethora of glowing reef fishes greeted us. Our guide is very relaxed and we have some time to explore the smaller creatures. The landscape surrounding the island is very diverse. One can discover steep faces, as well as caves. We also saw some sandy areas with coral blocks. Such an environment is home to the spotted moray and gorgeous mantis shrimps. Overall, the dives here area great for taking pictures. Since it was just a small group, there was no stress. Thanks to a good briefing, we already knew what landscape and animals to expect under water, which allowed us to change our lenses accordingly.

saparua-surface-interval

Around noon, the boat was anchored on the beach of an abandoned finca. Fried noodles, rice, eggs and vegetables helped us to refuel some of our lost energy. The conversations were plentiful and the group exchanged stories of their diving experiences. In the afternoon, we start our boat ride back to the base. A storm is in the making; the wind gets stronger, the waves higher. We have to hold on to the boat to not get eaten by the sea. Loose items roll around. The rain starts. It’s rather intense, but not much of a problem. We were already wet and the rain is rather warm. Back at home, we took a quick shower and put on some dry clothes. We spent the rest of the day on our patio, talking about our underwater discoveries.

saparua-heavy-rain

The following day, we drove to the island of Molana, alas without the french couple, which had just departed. What an impressive island. White sandy beaches with shady trees, framed by cyan-colored water. The only disturbance were the plastic goods the waves brought back to the beach.

molana-island

Diving here wasn’t very easy. The strong current makes it impossible to get any pictures with a macro lense. We descended 10 metres, discovering a huge plateau that was completely covered with coralls. We dived a few more meters towards the edge of the riff and descended to a depth of 20 meters. Passing some gorgeous gorgonian walls, we were completely taken by the countless shoal of fish. Our lights helped us to see the true colors of the corals and fishes. We discovered black soft corals with a neon yellow apex and were delighted to marvel at some rays from just a few meters away. Our way back included the colorful plateau and the current made diving even easier. The view in front of us strongly resembled an aquarium. Given all the fishes and corals, we had a hard time focussing on details. The scenery was just way too impressive.

saparua-underwater

After having spent 5 days in the flower paradise of the Mahu Lodges and many amazing dives, we reluctantly said goodbye. The second part of our trip, discovering the island of Seram, was about to begin. We were looking forward to discover the Manusela national park and try a new kind of diving, the so called Muck Diving.

Also read part II

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