For centuries, the islands of Banda Neira, Lonthor, Ai and most importantly, Run Island, nestled in the Banda Sea in central Maluku, Indonesia, were a blip on the radar of Europeans, as the source of fabled spices – at the time worth more than gold. Arab traders kept the location of these expensive commodities a well-guarded secret. Once the supply was cut off by the emerging Ottoman Empire however, Europeans initiated what is now known as the “Age of Discovery”, by sailing around Africa and the Americas in search of the “Spice Islands” where these spices originated.
The Maluku region is home to several endemic plants that produce several of these spices including nutmeg, mace, and cloves along with non endemics such as cinnamon and black pepper. Europeans were willing to pay a fortune for these spices, which were used in various processes, from the preservation of other foods, improving gentlemen’s ‘longevity’ and even for warding off the plague, all reasons why the spices were so highly valued. Once the Portuguese ‘found’ the Banda Islands as the source of nutmeg, this small group of islands quickly became one of the most valuable properties in the world. Wars were fought and atrocities carried out by several European nations for control of this tiny archipelago. With occupation in succession by the Portuguese, English, and Dutch over a period of several hundred years, many important world events occurred here that affected the course of international history. For a group of very small and sparsely populated islands, the Banda archipelago played an outsized role in the history of western civilization, and had an impact far larger than their modest size would suggest.
With a history drenched in spice and blood, the fabled Banda Sea offers a truly original cruising destination unlike any other in the vast Indonesian archipelago. With six main islands spread over an ocean area of 180 km2, hosting a population of just 15,000, the area is certainly not over populated, which can be attested by the healthy population of flora and fauna on land and sea. In modern times, all is calm and peaceful in the ‘Bandas’ and the atmosphere in the islands is serene. There is no hustle and bustle in this small archipelago, rather just the sound of waves in the harbours and the babble of residents shopping in the local market.
For those with a sense of adventure and an interest in global history, there are a host of activities to explore in this exotic and unique part of Indonesia, here is a list of potential interests for a Banda Sea cruise:
Explore the Historic Colonial Town
Banda Neira is possibly the best “preserved” historical town in Indonesia. The skyline is dominated by Fort Belgica, originally built by the Portuguese in 1611, before the island was taken over by the Dutch. Painstakingly restored in the 1980’s and 1990’s, this fort commands the best view of the island and an hour spent walking its walls affords great photo opportunities. If one historic fort is not enough, the remnants of Fort Nassau are just a stones throw away, however, unlike its larger neighbour, Nassau has decayed with time and only a few portions of the perimeter wall still stand. Banda town also hosts a small museum, which contains a number of historical artefacts including Portuguese helmets and many old cannons. In addition to the historical sites, the town is great for a simple walk, as the local population is warm, welcoming and eager to talk to visitors. It’s important to hire a good local guide who can narrate a brief account of the historical times, including the massacre of the original Bandanese people.
Summit Gunung Api
Boasting the classic pyramid shape typical of volcanoes in Indonesia, Banda’s Gunung Api towers above the surrounding islands, topping out at 640 metres. With just a few families living around the base of the volcano, the slopes are covered in lush, green vegetation and although a trail leads to the top of the mountain, a guide is a sensible decision. Although it’s only 2,000 feet tall, the trail is a steep one and winds through dense forest, so the walk can be hot and humid while in the trees, until emerging near the top where a seabreeze refreshes tired climbers. The view from the summit is well worth the hike, as a stunning view of the islands of the Banda archipelago presents itself to those who make the two hour trek. The volcano is still active, with the last major eruption occurring in 1988, therefore, there are several hot vents spread around near the crater, watch your step!
Snorkel the World’s Fastest Growing Reef
When the Banda volcano last blew its top in 1988, a large lava flow swept down the northern slope into the ocean, covering a large part of reef in volcanic rock. What many thought would be the total destruction of the reef has instead become one of the most incredible coral reefs in Indonesia. Measured from ‘ground zero’ after the eruption in 1988, this particular reef is known to be the fastest growing coral in the world. With a unique backdrop of the looming volcano and the huge lava flow that glides straight into the water, the view from a yacht entering the harbour almost rivals the striking corals beneath the surface. However, the marine life on the lava flow site is also beautiful, with thousands of damselfish, triggerfish, angelfish, and butterfly fish to be found swimming in and out of the endless shallow fields of table and branching corals. There are often giant cuttlefish to be found hunting in the region.
This is the second part of The Lighthouse Consultancy’s destination article on the Banda Sea, author Mike Veitch reveals more activities that can be found in this unique region.
Visit a Spice Farm
Interested in what inspired Europeans to explore the planet back in the 1500s? It wasn’t purely for a love of adventure, but often the search for the source of nutmeg and other spices that were worth a fortune in Europe. Although most folks these days know about the spices nutmeg and mace, few people have seen the fruit they are derived from. Just beyond Fort Belgica is a small nutmeg orchard where locals harvest the fruit from the trees with the same process they have done for hundreds of years. Looking rather apricot-esque, the meat of the fruit is dried and turned into candy and jam. The seed of the fruit is covered in a red membrane that dries yellow to create mace as most would know it, and of course, the dry seed itself is the spice nutmeg. It’s fascinating to watch the method of separating the elements and consider how this small fruit was the source of so much wealth, war, and death hundreds of years ago.
Visit the Island that was traded for Manhattan
Back when the USA was still a colony of Britain, the Dutch controlled the island of Manhattan in New York and the British controlled the island of Run in the Banda archipelago. During several periods of war between the Dutch and Brits in the mid 1600s, the islands of Run and Manhattan were eventually exchanged as part of the Treaty of Breda, which ended the second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667. Although Run and the surrounding islands would remain a source of great wealth for the next 150 years, the importance of the spice trade eventually waned and Run became just another sleepy tropical island. Of course, everyone knows what happened with Manhattan! Nowadays, Run is home to a small village of a few thousand people who live a simple existence of fishing and tending crops. The village itself lies in front of a beautiful coral reef and crystal clear water that is perfect for scuba diving or snorkeling. The people of the village are very friendly and welcome visitors to wander around the streets, generally escorted by hordes of young children eager to interact with tourists and practice their English skills.
Participate in a Traditional Canoe Race
Banda Islanders are a people who are dependent upon the sea for their survival, and as a result they have a long history of seamanship. The traditional war canoe native to the Maluku region is called a Kora Kora, a long and narrow wooden vessel that requires up to 40 rowers to maneuver. It is an impressive sight to witness two of these traditional vessels in Banda harbour, with 80 local men chanting in unison as they race across the bay.
Dive Vertical Walls Teeming with Fish
With six islands surrounded by coral reef, three small islets, and a large offshore pinnacle, there is no shortage of coral reef to explore. As these islands are located on the edge of one of the deepest trenches in the Pacific, the drop-offs that surround the islands are extremely impressive. Sheer vertical walls fall away into the abyss mere metres from shore, surrounded by schools of tropical fish. Lucky divers often encounter larger denizens of the deep such as hammerhead and thresher sharks, schooling big-eyed jacks, giant trevallies, and eagle rays. As there is not a lot of landmass in the area, the sea is typically a rich blue with unlimited visibility, making diving the Banda Islands is an activity not to be missed.
Although not large enough to be considered a destination unto themselves, the Banda chain does offer three or four relaxed days of entertainment and adventure for boats transiting the Banda Sea, or looking for something a little different to compliment an extended period in Raja Ampat. Located 200 miles from the Misool Region of Raja Ampat and only 100 miles from the city of Ambon – where private jets can collect passengers for their international flight out of the country, Banda is a great destination to visit for yachts that are either embarking or disembarking guests in the port of Ambon. It truly is one of the most unique stops in Indonesia with the perfect combination of natural, cultural, and historical attractions to interest any ardent adventurer.
Logistical Info: Banda Sea
As Mike mentions in the article, Banda itself is a smaller location, and not one that can support an extended period of cruising. It’s a perfect location to add three or four days on to a Raja Ampat cruise, as the historic and cultural interests are a welcome break to the natural beauty and the marine attractions of Raja. The multiple yachts that have visited Banda, supported by The Lighthouse Consultancy, have all given great feedback and expressed gratitude at the suggestion to visit this lesser known area of Indonesia.
Banda is a small archipelago , situated just over 100 NM out of the city of Ambon, the central hub of Maluku. Ambon is a port where the Indonesian Temporary Import process can take place – meaning it can be the port where the yacht can clear internationally into Indonesia, and also has an airport where visiting jets can arrive internationally, making it a location to either embark or disembark guests. Ambon itself has some unique critter diving, and an added bonus for the Lighthouse Consultancy, is that the owners, Andy and Kerry Shorten built and own a very successful diving resort in Ambon, which provides a great logistics support base for Lighthouse yacht cruising in the region.
Many anchorages in the Banda Sea are deep, and so it is possible that the yacht would have to return to Banda’s huge natural harbour after any day of activities on the further islands.
Footnote: Contact Seal Superyachts Indonesia for detailed information about cruising around Indonesia, superyacht charter regulations and about how we can support your visit. Principle agent Andy Shorten has been proud to have acted as agent for many of the Superyachts which have come to visit.
Contact Andy Shorten at firstname.lastname@example.org to discover more about the potential of cruising around Indonesia.