Jakare boat on Banda Sea

A taste of the Banda Sea cruise 

Do you remember our first meeting? This unforgettable memory, this magical moment when time stops, this memory for which you have never forgotten any details? 

This was my first meeting with a Manta ray in Komodo, on Kurang Makassar. A big male stopped in front of us, less than 5 meters away, and looked us in the eyes. A moment of grace! And for you, what’s your magical moment? 

For Audrey, Jakaré cruise manager, her moment of grace was her first encounter with a hammerhead shark: 

« It happened during my first dive on the island of Nusa Laut in Ambon. Sometimes we can see hammerhead sharks on Tanjung Amed dive site but not that often. We went in the water, the three guests I was guiding and I. In the middle of our diving session, we flew over an underwater sand ridge. This one can reach down 40-45 meters. We could not see much, then I turned around, and her she was, in front of me, facing me. She was so close that I could see here little eyes. She was beautiful, elegant and her movements did not have any sudden gestures that others shark species can have. 

She was so beautiful; I fell in love at first sight. 

Then, she slided between me and the guests and went away, like that! 

It is crazy because from her profile, she could have been a grey shark and, when she turned to face me, my heart bumped in my chest. »

There are nine referenced hammerhead shark species in the world. 

Only one type can be seen in Banda: the Halicorne hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), which is, unfortunately, an endangered species. 

The Halicorne females migrate from the southern to the northern hemisphere to meet males and breed. Today, much is still unknown about this migration. 

Scientists may hypothesize about where the breeding happens, but if this is the case, it is kept a secret to preserve the species. 

In the Banda Sea, we can admire the females who swim back to the North Hemisphere. Their trip can last a few months, including a month and a half in Banda. 

The main school of sharks counts more than 200 individuals. This is unique because sharks in Halicorne are known to be solitary or live within small schools. 

In the main school of sharks, groups separate to play and hunt in the thermocline. These groups we can encounter are from ten to fifteen sharks, but if you are lucky enough, it can be groups of about fifty individuals. 

The smaller groups stay within the main school, which swims in deeper waters and more in the big blue. 

There are strict rules inside the groups; for example, the leader is the one who stays in the middle of the group. We can notice it because it is the biggest shark. 

To see hammerhead sharks while diving, you need to follow precise rules: 

First, the dive guide looks for the thermoclyne, which hammerhead sharks swim up to eat. The Halicorne hammerhead shark likes cold waters. He is a very active hunter and uses his teeth in a blade shape to eat bony fish, especially sardines and herrings, as well as small sharks, cephalopods, crustaceans (crabs and shrimp), and even sea snakes, which it hunts using a sophisticated sensory system.

The Halicorn is known to be shy and a bit fearful at first sight; therefore, the group is requested to stay calm and quiet together. Too much movement and too much noise will scare them away. Trying to get too close and too fast makes them swim away.  

Females, although fearful, are curious, and when the conditions are right, they come closer and observe the divers, they may even be attracted by the sound of bubbles once they have been reassured. It already happened to our divers to find themselves in the middle of a small school of curious hammerheads. All you must do is to stay calm and admire the ballet that is going on around you!

an aerial shot of the Banda Sea

The Banda harbor, a return of 400 years in the past. 

The arrival in Bandaneira is magical!  

Bandaneira is composed of three main islands shaped like crescent moons. To reach the port of Banda, the Jakare enters the channel between the volcano Gunung Api on the right and Pulau Neira on the left.  

The Gunung Api volcano attracts mostly hikers. Its last explosion took place in 1988 and, according to local legend, it would erupt only once every hundred years. 

The Jakare continues its navigation between the islands in the direction of the port of Bandaneira. 

The landscape is masterful with, on the right, the volcano that rises 640 meters above our heads and its flanks covered with majestic dense jungle. At the mouth, between Pulau Neira and the tiny island of Pulau Krakra, the water of the channel reflects the green colors of nature and is illuminated by small beaches of white sand or black sand surrounded by coconut trees. Everything is only contrast and wild nature.

It smells of the forest and its humidity! 

And all of a sudden, the harbor is here! Its city with its colonial architecture, its fort from the Dutch era, its kora-kora fishing boats, and the children playing on the quays reveal themselves to us.

Added to this are the songs of tropical birds and those of the mosque.

It smells good: the aromas, the spices, and especially the sweet smell of the nutmeg whose trees cover the side of the island.  

We have the impression of going back 400 years in the past and being born pirates… 

When we have time, we can even have breakfast in the gardens of nutmeg trees.

The volcanic soil of the Banda Islands has allowed the cultivation of nutmeg, which is an indigenous plant. Other products of the archipelago are cloves, coconuts, tapioca, fruits and vegetables, and fishing. The nutmeg trees are very green. Nutmeg is a fruit, while mace is the small red skin that surrounds the nutmeg. It is said that it is the small red or white filaments inside the nutmeg that is the secret ingredient of Coca-Cola. At the time of the great discoveries of Christopher Columbus and Vasco de Gamma, the nutmeg tree was even endemic to the Banda Islands.

The Portuguese were the first Westerners to set foot in Bandaneira, with Antonio de Abreu and his two ships arriving in Banda in 1512. This culminated in a 1500-year quest to reach these mythical spice islands.

Half of the population of the archipelago is in Banda Neira, the capital and harbor of the district, which is found on the island of the same name. The inhabitants of Banda Neira were descendants of Javanese and Makassar, and the Dutch brought inhabitants of the neighboring islands to work in the Dutch nutmeg plantations. When the Dutch East India Company, the VOC, was implanted in the Banda islands, and after having chased the Portuguese, drastic decisions were taken to control and set a strict monopoly on the production and the sale of nutmeg. The indigenous people of the islands were decimated to avoid escape, and enslaved people were put in place. 

The Belgica fort, still visible today, is what has remained from the colonization of the Dutch on the island. This fort was used to defend the Banda islands, which, at that time, was the only place in the world where we produced nutmeg. Built in 1611 on the order of the Flemish of Belgian origin (hence the name of the fort) Pieter Both, the fort was renovated and enlarged (supplementary towers to fool the enemy) by Jan Pieterszoon Coen in 1622. The fort has a hexagonal shape; the inside is a vast yard that gives access to the ramparts. Cannons are still present. The access to the top of the towers is done thanks to a ladder. The visit was very pleasant because of the walk and the view at the top. 

For Jakaré’s guests, this is an appreciable moment to discover the local population and a flashback to World History between numerous beautiful dives. 

Diving in the Birds Islands:

Our cruise director’s two favorite dive sites are Pulau Manuk and Pulau Suanggi.

The names of those islands come from the thousands of birds flying above.

We can indeed admire the Great Frigate birds, some Red-footed Boobies, some Brown Boobyies, and also Lesser Frigate birds, Red-tailed tropic birds, or White-tailed tropic birds. Always in movement, flying around and singing, crying, chanting…

The islands seem alive and in motion.

Belgica Fort in Banda Neira

How do you name an island in Indonesia? 

In 2020, there were more than 18,000 islands in Indonesia, all of which had been named. So, how do you name an island in Indonesia? 

One example with Pulau Manuk:

Manuk means “chicken” or “bird.” So Pulau Manuk literally means birds’ island; meanwhile, Pulau Manukan (the other name of Suanggi) means the small birds’ island. 

According to the local language, Suanggi means “sea ghost”. Its name probably comes from the fact that, from far, only birds can be seen and not the island yet. 

Another example is Pulau Pisang: 

The crew has a joke about the Jakaré: we say that, on each crossing, the Jakaré will join an island named Pulau Pisang or Banana Island because of the banana trees we can see while arriving. 

The dives in Pulau Suanggi: 

Pulau Suanggi is a stone island that protects one of the biggest bird colonies in Indonesia. The Indonesian government protects both the Island and its colony. 

The island is 3 hours away from North Bandaneira. The dives are so incredible that we plan on stopping both on the way to and on the way back! 

The Jakaré does not throw its anchor, first because the island is protected and second because doing so disturbs the underwater fauna: throwing the anchor scares off the hammerhead sharks. 

Conclusion: We spent the day on the way to go and on the way back, and we did three dives two times. 

The visibility is simply incredible. The water is crystalline. These are dives with currents in which divers “jump” or “fly” from pinnacle to pinnacle, then “hide” behind the latter, hiding from the current. 

The dives take place in the West of the Island. All Suangi is potentially diving, but in the West, there is a unique coral reef with a field of hard coral hills. Numerous fishes and a lot of actions: Giant Trevally, des Bumphead Parrot fish, Napoleon brass, all different types of tuna, mackerel… They swim, they chase, and they bubble with life. The island is surrounded by a wall and pinnacles that fall to a depth of 40 meters. The continental shelf is small because the depths reach more than 300 meters fast. 

The waters are hot, but not in the famous thermoclines in which hammerhead sharks go back and turn to eat. However, the dives are so pretty that they are worth it even without hammerhead sharks. The corals are amazing and colorful, and they are proof of the health of the reef. Photographers are always amazed by these dives and bring back pictures with contrast, colors, and brightness. 

Despite this, these dives are for confirmed divers: The dives go down to 35 meters, and the way back is at countercurrents, in the blue, potentially passing by thermoclines where it is cold and dark, with the eventuality of facing a few hammerhead sharks… I’ll let you picture the adrenaline rush. 

Dives at Pulau Manuk 

small island in Banda

“It is insane! It is incredible!” exclaimed our Audrey. 

Pulau Manuk is a volcanic island still in activity, overflown by thousands of birds and surrounded by beaches, black sandy bottom, and schools of barracudas that frolic at the surface and turn their curiosity towards divers, a species not yet well known by the marine inhabitants of Pulau Manuk. 

The visibility is just incredible with a pure royal blue. Everything is contrast, nature in its biggest force. Smells do not leave indifferent: there is a mix of sulphur and bird droppings. Nevertheless, once in the water stays only the beauty of the site. 

The island is located almost 10 hours of navigation from the South of Bandeira. All the island’s surroundings are diveable. Audrey has a weakness for Coconut Point: as its name indicates, it is a point on the island covered by coconut trees. Under the surface, the diver navigates above numerous underwater ridges with visibility up to 50 meters. The water is a deep blue, contrasting with black sand and incredible colors and very diverse, like pink, orange, and soft corals. The reef is extremely lively, and the waters are rich in nutrients.  

In the deep, you can hear and feel the volcano’s blow and vivacity, which can be impressive. 

Moreover, there are sea snakes… black and white striped knits, and fine and small olive snakes that come from Australia. The latter are brown and green striped, bigger than the striped knitwear. They can reach a meter and a half long and be the thickness of an adult arm. They swim alone or in groups. They are very curious. Although venomous, they are not aggressive, and there are very few snake attacks recorded in the world.  

Nevertheless, such an encounter speeds up the diver’s heartbeat, and nature tests his patience and calmness.

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