halmahera island shore with two boats

Halmahera: Indonesia’s Hidden Dive Gem

For those familiar with Audrey, our “top top top” cruise director, you can imagine the sparkle in her eyes when she talks about Halmahera. According to her, the diving experiences on the Halmahera cruise, from Sorong to Ternate, rank in her top 2 dive destinations in Indonesia, just after… (drumroll), the Banda Sea! Raja Ampat and Alor are tied for 3rd place.

Halmahera isn’t a mainstream tourist destination like Komodo or even Raja Ampat, which has been showcased to foreigners through various documentaries and is considered one of the top 3 dive destinations globally.

Halmahera remains a relatively undiscovered gem, one of the few left. It’s still being explored. During each of our cruises, our skilled diving team discovers dive sites not yet documented. What excitement for the diving guests on board! To be the first to explore a pinnacle, a wall, or a slope, to witness the beauty of an underwater landscape, encounter a school of fusiliers, or marvel at a mobula ray…

Unlike Banda (with its hammerhead sharks) or Triton (and its whale sharks), Halmahera doesn’t have a specific highlight we can capitalize on to attract clients. But it has everything a great destination needs – stunning and diverse underwater landscapes, rich marine life, captivating locals, and picturesque islands.

For those who have relished Raja Ampat and wonder how to top that: look no further…

But beware, this cruise is currently offered only once a year, in April-May. Don’t miss out!

A Bit of Geography

Halmahera is part of the Wallacea region, along with islands like Ambon, Flores, and Sumbawa. This area lies between the Wallace Line itself and the Lydekker Line, hosting unique flora and fauna. The Wallace Line is a biogeographic boundary between the two major ecozones, the Indomalayan and Australasian realms, named after the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace and refined by the geologist Richard Lydekker.

This line corresponds to a fault, marking the boundary of the so-called tertiary Moluccan tectonic plate. Along one edge of this plate runs a chain of 16 active volcanoes: the Halmahera volcanoes. You’ll have the opportunity to cruise along part of them during this trip. Most of these volcanoes are stratovolcanoes, with the highest, Tidore, reaching 1730 meters.

Thus, we embark on a journey through an underwater and terrestrial landscape linked to the Australasian zone, then clearly transition to the Indomalayan zone; the underwater topography leaves no doubt about this boundary crossing. Come and discover it for yourself!

A Bit of History

But beyond its geographical allure, did you know that the Moluccas, including the islands of Halmahera and Ternate, share a common history with Europe?

It all began in the 15th century when European nations decided it was time to find the spice route. This marked the start of great explorations: we’re familiar, of course, with Christopher Columbus’s journey westward in search of spice islands, while Vasco de Gama set off eastward for exploration. While Columbus “discovered” the Americas, Vasco de Gama approached the true spice islands. At that time, some of the most coveted spices in the West, notably cloves and nutmeg, were endemic to the Moluccan islands: Ternate, Tidore, Ambon, and Banda. These spices, used for medicinal and hygiene purposes, could be sold in the West for up to 100 times their purchase price.

Portugal was the first Western nation to find the spice route, but it was the Netherlands that had the most significant impact on the region by aggressively colonizing the islands of Banda and Ternate and imposing strict control over spice production and trade.

Historic VOC landscape in Halmahera

To maintain its monopoly and prevent seed theft, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) employed drastic techniques that led to genocides and a 90% depopulation of some Moluccan islands. After becoming masters of the Banda Islands and nutmeg cultivation in 1621, the VOC then decided to control clove cultivation on Ternate and Tidore. Tidore had already been under Dutch control since the early 17th century. In 1652, to occupy Ternate, the Dutch arranged to offer large sums of money and benefits to the Sultan of Ternate in exchange for his lands. He agreed to exile his people and even destroy his clove plantations. The VOC then replaced local producers with Dutch producers and foreign slaves. The VOC fiercely protected its monopoly by sentencing to death anyone caught smuggling seeds or young plants. They also ensured the seeds were sterile. Cloves are dried flower buds that cannot be replanted, but nutmeg is a seed. To prevent it from germinating and being replanted, the Dutch first removed the nut’s shell, then covered it with lime juice before exporting it.

It wasn’t until the late 18th century that a cosmopolitan French botanist named Pierre Poivre broke the VOC’s monopoly. Following an accident between Sumatra and Java, he was rescued by the Dutch in Batavia (now Jakarta). During his recovery, the air was filled with the scents of cloves and nutmeg, the spices that had enriched the Netherlands for a century and a half. Stored in bales, these scents, the most expensive in the world, awaited merchant ships. He discovered a passion that guided his life: spice trees. To acquire them, he became a pirate, smuggler, and thief. At great risk to his life, injuries, and anxiety, he managed to steal 15 meager nutmeg plants. He entrusted them to botanists on the Isle of France (now Mauritius).

The spice islands still bear traces of this past when the Moluccas could be considered at the center of global interests.

Exploring Halmahera aboard the Jakaré:

Whether you’re:

  • A lover of the sea,
  • A fan of marine wildlife, big or small,
  • Enthralled by world history,
  • A nature enthusiast with the Earth at your fingertips, or
  • Charmed by tropical islands,

Halmahera as a destination will captivate all of you, so don’t hesitate any longer!

The typical itinerary offered by Jakaré spans 11 days and 11 nights from Sorong to Ternate, passing through South Misool in Raja Ampat (5 days) and Halmahera (5 days). Additionally, there are crossings from Sorong to Misool, from the last island of Misool, Pulau Pelee, to Pulau Pisang, and finally from Pulau Pisang to Pigaraja.

I’d like to share some unique locations of this destination with you. It’s not a detailed itinerary; we wouldn’t want to reveal all of our secrets!

Pulau Pelee to Misool:

In addition to the incredible and well-known sites of Misool, we have the opportunity to visit Pulau Pelee, the furthest island to the southwest of the archipelago. It remains relatively unknown as it’s off the usual routes. One of Misool’s underwater specialties is the presence of some albino manta rays. They are completely white, challenging to identify without distinctive markings, and blend in with others seamlessly.

The most spectacular dive site at Pulau Pelee is called Kaléidoscope:

It’s an underwater ridge dropping to 28 meters. Along the ridge, you’ll find both hard and soft corals. On one side, there’s sand with schools of barracudas, and on the other side, a wall descending over 80 meters. As you ascend the ridge early in the morning, the sun rises and shines through the overhang. During this time of year, it’s anchovy season, with fish swimming and shimmering at the surface. Their scales reflect light like a kaleidoscope. Any diver who experiences this once never forgets its beauty.

On a secret site at Pelee, we often encounter oceanic mantas. Recent guests were fortunate to witness a ballet of six oceanic mantas. These can have a wingspan of up to 7 meters, making them impossible to miss, and our divers were treated to an incredible sight.

A bit of marine biology:

Oceanic mantas, Mobula birostris, have unique markings on their ventral side or above their gills. They also have a distinctive T-shaped marking on their back, clearer and more precise than reef mantas. Reef mantas, Mobula alfredi, have markings between their gills and are smaller. Within this category, a subspecies, Mobula melanistic nicknamed the Ninja manta due to its all-black coloration.

Pulau Pisang:

Pulau Pisang is a mineral island with lush greenery, including grasslands and a lighthouse. Our crew jokes because they notice that all the islands during crossings are named Pisang, which means banana in Indonesian! In reality, it’s a group of four islands, with the largest being Pulau Pisang. For us, it’s shark paradise: on its shallow reef slopes with hard corals, you’ll find everything in abundance, from reef sharks to silver tip sharks (slightly sharper than reef sharks, with a slightly whiter tip), whitetip sharks, and blacktip sharks. The visibility is perfect, with crystal blue waters!

Between Pulau Pelee and Pulau Pisang, the underwater topography and corals change completely… (refer to “A Bit of Geography” above).

Pulau Pigaraja:

These are three small coral islands with lush greenery, hills, and three dive sites. You’ll find a small wreck of an old fishing boat descending to 30 meters and beautiful macro dives on the sandy seabed near the shore: seahorses, pipefish, scorpionfish, nudibranchs, among others, will be your companions of the day.

The village visit is lively: children running to school, women cooking over wood fires in bamboo stems, fishermen returning from their night catch, parrots adding to the ambient noise in front of each house, coconut trees, cows, goats, all in a lush green landscape. Jakaré donates books and notebooks to schoolchildren during these visits.


Pulau Bacan is known for its semi-precious stones. A paid day tour takes us, if you wish, to discover Bacan’s stones, from production to sale in the Bacan market. You can even order and take some back with you, unique gifts for your loved ones.

Bacan is inhabited by the Quadrumana, a large black monkey, numerous endemic birds, and the world’s largest bee, the Giant Mason Bee or Chalicodoma.

Bacan is a volcanic island with tall mountains and dense jungle. Its highest peak rises 2100 meters above sea level. Bacan, due to its geography and fauna, is popular among hikers and birdwatchers.

Selat Patintie:

Selat Patintie is a strait between Pulau Bacan and Pulau Halmahera. It consists of mineral islands housing a significant number of dive sites, around fifteen to explore over 3 days on-site.

Pulau Saleh is one of the three main islands in this group. There’s even a hotel on-site. Pulau Saleh could be described as the “new Komodo.” It shares Komodo’s characteristics like strong currents, abundant hard corals, small and colorful corals on rocks creating walls of coral in various hues (blue walls, pink-red walls), and plenty of fish. You can see millions of Anthias fish swimming amid these coral fields, hiding as we approach. We encounter giant napoleon wrasses, schools of oriental diagonal sweetlips, schools of bumphead parrotfish, and more at Pulau Saleh. Here, all the fish are large. There are also many leopard rays and Mobula rays, along with a few sea snakes…

The underwater topography is incredible with overhangs, walls, pinnacles, canyons, passages, showcasing how strong currents have shaped the landscape.

And it doesn’t end there, as we continue our exploratory journey with:

Pulau Tolimao:

A day of diving very different from the preceding days. We arrive at a site called Batu Orange where all the stones (batu in Indonesian) are orange. It’s a manta cleaning station! But beyond the superb dives, Pulau Tolimao is an archipelago of small islands with white sandy beaches and shallow reefs. Covered in coconut trees, the islands are often described as “paradise”: white sandy beaches, turquoise sea offering over 30 meters of visibility. We pay great attention to navigating through all the reefs as the charts are not well-referenced or precise. We feel like we’re alone in the world, discovering a new realm! If time permits, we organize a BBQ on one of these famous beaches.

Archipelago of Goraici:

The final stop before Ternate. Audrey can only describe the dives as “Insane!!!!” Indeed, with its array of pinnacles, about twenty including three well-known dive sites, Goraici can be likened to Batu Bolong in Komodo but larger and more impressive. Visibility is around 30 meters, and the current is strong. It’s not a site for beginners, especially since Jakaré cannot anchor there!

Crossing between Goraici and Ternate:

Jakaré feels tiny compared to the power of nature as it passes along the chain of volcanoes at 4 a.m., seven volcanic islands to the west of Ternate.

Arriving in Ternate is delightful; the markets are lively and exude a zest for life, perhaps to forget centuries of internal battles with its arch-nemesis, Tidore, which you can see offshore?

On this itinerary, Audrey’s top diving spots onboard are:

Top 1: Selat Paintie

Top 2: Goraici

Take courage, put on your explorer’s fins, and join us on the adventure of a lifetime…

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