Banda Neira, Spice Islands

Banda Neira Island

Currently, about 20,000 people live in the Banda Islands of which 7,000 live on Banda Neira. The Gunung Api volcano is just off Banda Neira Island at the harbour entrance. As we entered the Zonnegat Straits we were joined by two Kora Kora canoes, with up to 38 oarsmen. With the drums banging, they raced each other as they led us into the bay. They were a sight to behold as they glided across the bay in front of the ship. In the late afternoon, we went to Banda Neira town where the local guides greeted us at the waterfront and took us to the museum before leading us up to the old Dutch built Fort Belgica. After looking around we enjoyed drinks, singing from the children and over-looking the town and harbour at sunset. The following morning was an early start for our trip ashore where we were met with songs from the local children before meeting with our local guides for a tour of the nutmeg plantation (we saw nutmeg, cloves, native almond and cinnamon trees growing on the rich volcanic soil), governor’s buildings, Fort Nassau and the market. We were accompanied by the ‘singing’ children from our guide’s classroom (she was an English teacher). We ended the tour with a glass of iced cinnamon tea and local delicacies at a water front where the nutmeg dance was performed.

Kora Kora canoes

Before and after the colonial period, kora-kora boats (also called belang) were used for transportation and warfare. Since independency, the boats are used in adat rituals and in races. Kampung adat (villages with surviving traditions) in Banda each build and race distinctive boats, with decorations symbolising historical and mythical events.
© Nova Fisher, Many underwater photos are copyright of fellow travellers, Cory & Gwynn Wiliams

Diving and Snorkelling on a sunken lava flow

We had the unique opportunity to snorkel or dive over a sunken lava flow from the 1988 eruption to explore the newly formed unusual coral garden, The Lava flow in the north of Gunung Api is probably one of Banda’s most extraordinary dive sites. After the volcano erupted in 1988, the gravel on the bottom of this dive site was covered with lava. Very soon, corals (mostly Acropora) started to grow on the cold lava and since then have formed a huge coral reef with nearly 100 % hard coral cover. Why corals were able to grow so quickly is still not totally clear but the surface structure of the lava seems to play an important role. This dive site demonstrates very well how succession in a coral reef can take place.