Banda Islands are a group of volcanic islands in the middle of the Banda Sea in the province of Maluku. Located approximately 4.5 degrees south of the Equator and 2000 kilometres east of Java. Although very little known to the world today, it was once the world’s only supplier of nutmeg and mace – commodities that Europeans fought mightily to have a sole control of. Nutmeg was said used not only as a spice but also to cure stinking breath, comfort the stomach, help digest food easily and as preservative before refrigeration came into existence.
We had been dreaming of coming to Banda for years but due to its poor accessibility, we kept putting it off. One can get to Banda, nowadays by boat or by plane. Both have very unreliable schedules. At the time of our visit, NBA air is the only airline company serving the Ambon-Banda-Ambon route, twice a week. A month before our flight to Indonesia, our contact on the island advised us that flights have been stopped due to some major safety issues. Two weeks later we were told flights are back on again. I was concerned about taking the plane and wanted to take the boat but my husband thinks it will be just as worse, safety wise. In the end, I was glad we took the flight as I heard horrible stories about the boat ride. Apparently the boat is always fully packed to the point where you could not even move around. We met some people who got stuck inside their cockroach-infested cabins for the duration of the trip (14 hours) because some passengers are sleeping outside their doors they couldn’t get out. They said they needed a whole day to recover after the boat trip.
The flight was smooth and we arrived safely in Banda Neira. Bahri, our contact on the island picked us up at the airport. He manages 2 accommodations on the island – Delfika 1 & 2. We stayed at Delfika 2, the newest of the two, located at the waterfront directly facing Gunung Api. We paid $15 for an aircon room per night, includes breakfast for two. Banda Neira is a very small town. There are no ATM’s on any the islands, so make sure you are cashed up. There are a few guesthouses and restaurants around. We ate mostly at Delfika 1. But one shouldn’t miss the buffet dinner at Mutiara, where fresh grilled seafood and authentic Bandanese cuisine are served. My favorite was eggplant with kenari (local almond, which is abundant in Banda) sauce.
Banda’s landscape is dominated by an active volcano called Gunung Api, rising at nearly 700 metres above sea level. Its last eruption took place in 1988. Although, we are a little crazy about climbing volcanoes – this is not the main reason why we came to Banda. We wanted to explore what lies beneath the surface of its crystal clear waters, where pristine coral reefs and interesting marine life abound.
As soon as we landed, we were off snorkeling. First destination was Pulau Hatta. It is the farthest of all the islands, approximately an hour by boat. On our way to Hatta, we saw a whale from a distance. According to our boatman it was a killer whale. Unfortunately, it was way too far for us to confirm or even take a photo. Hatta has fantastic snorkeling. Some great massive walls and drop-offs. No wonder why divers talk about this place so highly.
The next day, on our way to Pulau Ai, we were greeted by pods of dolphins. What a nice day to start our trip, I thought. Ai has got some incredible snorkeling. On two occasions we were in Ai, we had a chance to snorkel with a dozen of Humpheads. They seem to be a resident in Ai, as we haven’t seen them anywhere else.
Among the other places we enjoyed snorkelling at were: Nailaka, Pisang, Banda Besar, Karaka and Batu Kapal. And just at the northern shore of Gunung Api, approximately 5 minutes boat ride from Banda Neira is another great spot to see new coral growths on the cold lava flow.
Dolphin sighting is a very common occurrence in Banda, usually early in the morning and mid to late afternoon. Snorkeling with the colourful and beautiful Mandarin fish is also not be missed. Just in front of Maulana Hotel is where they usually hang between mid to late afternoon. Snorkeling and island hopping trips can be organised through guesthouses or locals who own a boat. Bahri was good at arranging a snorkeling trip. There is no set price per trip as such. The more people join the trip, the cheaper it is you have to pay.
On our last day in Banda, we decided to climb Gunung Api. From Delfika 2, we hopped on a small outrigger boat and we were paddled across to the start of the climb. The climb up is rather challenging. It involves a lot of scrambling on scree. The humidity was nearly unbearable. Then there are mosquitoes. I must have sweet blood that these bloodsuckers love me so much. It rained half way thru to the top, which was greatly appreciated. It did make the trail a bit more challenging but it was refreshing. Fifty-five minutes later we reached the summit – the view is amazing. Truly worth sweating for!
We spent a total of 17 days on Banda. There wasn’t a single day where we were not out doing something – be it diving, snorkeling, hiking or simply just hanging out with the locals. It was an absolute joy to finally be able to tick this place off our list.