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The Banda Islands, Maluku, Indonesia

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IN BRIEF :

The Banda Islands (Pulau Banda) are a set of 6 volcanic islands in the Maluku (aka Moluccas/Spice Islands) region of East-Central Indonesia.   It is difficult to get there, so there is not much tourism.

There is some very good snorkelling there, with a great diversity and population of fish species, good soft corals and many spots with diverse hard-corals in good condition.  There is a good chance of seeing turtles, sharks and a few other species of large fish (but they are very nervous, as they are used to being fished by the locals). Scared about sharks? Read this. While travelling between the islands, you might occasionally see dolphins.

I visited for a month in November/early December.  The weather was good for the first three weeks, then heavy storms for the last week.

Except during the stormy period, the underwater visibility was good (about 15m).

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The Banda Islands get two monsoons:  The (South) East monsoon runs from May to September. This is the worse of the two and is best avoided.  The (North) West monsoon runs from December to April. It is less intense, but still bad enough to sometimes stop boats running.  Flights stop and dive-shops close for the whole of January.  The best time to visit is probably October/November.

Underwater currents are unpredictable and can sometimes be strong, but if you are sensible, you can avoid oblivion. Most of the time, currents were fairly mild.

It would be wise to take some rugged-soled footwear that you can wear into the sea. If you can also wear them inside your swim-fins, then even better.

The Banda Islands are working communities, not tourist-resort islands.  Accommodation on the outlying islands is in basic “homestays”, with limited facilities (e.g. no internet or telephone signal; electricity only 3 hours a day, plastic-scoop toilet-flushing & showering); a few creepy-crawlies and locals with questionable attitudes towards garbage/rubbish-disposal (just throw it in the sea).

Most tourists stay in the “capital city” island of Banda Neira.  Banda Neira has more comfortable facilities than the outlying islands, but things are still fairly basic.

If you stay in Banda Neira, you will need to take day-boat trips to reach the snorkelling spots.

There are two dive-shops on Banda Neira. They run dive trips out to all the outlying islands.  Also, many guesthouses run their own snorkelling day-trips.

The Banda Islands are notoriously difficult to reach. There are just two Pelni long-distance ferries a month going there (edit: I hear there is a fast ferry from Ambon in 2015/16). There are a few flights from Ambon on 18-seater prop planes.  The situation with flights is variable, as the contract is renegotiated every year, but at the time of writing, there were three flights a week. As the airplanes are small and the flights infrequent, flights are often booked-out weeks in advance. And even if you have a confirmed seat, you may find yourself bumped-off the plane if a Government official wants to fly on that day.  You need to have time and flexibility on your side to make it work.

Overall, if you have plenty of time and a patient temperament, the Banda Islands can be an excellent destination for a snorkel trip.   Some consider the Bandas as an alternative to the more expensive Raja Ampat area.  I would agree with this.  I would say the Bandas are about 75% as good as Raja Ampat for less than half the price.

Best-ish seascape:
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Typical seascape:
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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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Here’s a one-liner on each of the islands. (‘Pulau’ means island).

Pulau Neira/Naira/Banda Neira – Banda Neira is the “capital city” and arrivals island.  It has a market;  internet access, running water and 24-hour electricity. It has about 15 guesthouses and low-midrange hotels. All boat connections to the outlying islands go through Banda Neira. Options for off-the-beach snorkelling on Banda Neira itself are limited.

Pulau Hatta (formerly Rozengain) – Hatta is generally considered to have the best snorkelling and diving. There is a lovely reef and a long, deserted beach there. Overnight accommodation for tourists is new to the islands and is in limited supply.  Public boats to the island are relatively infrequent. Most people who go to Hatta, go via a daytrip.

Pulau Ai/Ay – Ai is a good all-round option, with good off-the-beach snorkelling; the convenience of a public ferry which runs every day; and several cheap guesthouses. One of these is the closest thing to a tourist ‘beach bungalow resort’ that you will find.

Pulau Rhun/Run – Rhun is considered to be the poor-cousin of the three main outlying islands. It does have two or three lovely snorkelling spots, but these are only visited by daytrippers from Neira, as it is widely thought that they can only be reached by boat. However, with a little effort it is possible to reach them from the two homestays in Rhun village.

Pulau Besar is a large island with many villages dotted around the coast. Transport around the island is via motorcycle taxi – it is too far to walk anywhere. There is only one option for overnight accommodation on the island. Besar is not known for the snorkelling, but a few places do get mentioned by travellers.  I only checked out two of these. They had decent snorkelling, but when you include the hassle-factor of getting there, Besar is lower-priority destination than the other islands.

Gunung Api – this is a beautiful, conical volcano island.  There is no accommodation there (and so, no off-the-beach snorkelling). I didn’t go there, but apparently the snorkelling is unimpressive, apart from at a couple of areas in the North which are visited by snorkel daytrip boats.

Pulau Pisar – is a tiny blip of an island off the Northern tip of Banda Besar.  Apparently, there is a single homestay there which is only opened on demand. It can be visited by day trips from Niera. I didn’t go there.

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IN NOT-SO-BRIEF:

General Orientation:

The Banda Islands’ place in history comes from their unique ability to grow the spice, nutmeg. This led to them being a prominent (and much fought over) territory in the 17th century.  The Dutch held most of the islands; built defensive forts on them and ended-up massacre-ing most of the locals.  The English held Pulau Rhun but eventually gave it to the Dutch in exchange for New Amsterdam (now, Manhattan Island, New York) as the Dutch preferred the higher profit margins they got from trading nutmeg to those they got from animal furs.

Whether you arrive by boat or plane, you will arrive on Banda Niera – the island with the administrative capital.

Don’t let the word ‘capital’ fool you into thinking that this is any kind of urban metropolis. Banda Niera is really just a big, raggedy village, where the pace of life is slow, slow, slooow.

In common with most of Indonesia, the population in the Banda Islands is strictly moslem.  Tourists walking around in skimpy outfits or drinking alcohol is not acceptable.

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On arrival, your first choice is whether to base yourself in Banda Niera or to move to one of the outlying islands.  If you like any semblance of creature comforts (like round-the-clock electricity for your fan), you will make your home in Banda Niera and prepare to do all your snorkelling on boat-trips booked through your guesthouse.

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Most of Banda Niera’s action is in the South West corner.  The market, the long-distance (Pelni) ferry port, the local ferry port and most of the ‘foreign-tourist-standard’ guesthouses are here.

Most Westerners head for the best known guesthouses – Delfika (1&2), Mutiara (1&2) and Vita.  At these, you have English-speaking management, confidently Western-standard hygiene in the kitchen, below-ambient-temperature drinks and even the chance to buy beer.

There are also about another ten, local-style guesthouses/hotels within the square kilometre of that South West corner – you can easily wander round and look for vacancies. The staff at these places are unlikely to speak English.

This local-style of place might provide a small breakfast, but otherwise you will have to find your food at street-stalls or at a handful of local restaurants.

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The jetty for public boats to the outlying islands is in the South West of  Banda Neira, at the South end of the market; and 30m North of Delfika 2 guesthouse. This jetty has boats to Pulau Ai, Hatta, Rhun and Besar.  The boats ‘live’ on the outlying islands and travel to Banda Neira at about 7am, so that the islanders can do some selling and buying in the market there. Then when everybody is all shopped-out (around lunchtime), the ferries head back to the islands, to take everyone home. Outbound from Banda Neira, plan to get to the jetty before 11am, but expect to wait there an hour or two until everyone is ready to leave.

Ferries to Ai run daily; to Rhun and Hatta roughly every second day.   Prices are about 25 000 IDR one way.   For Pulau Besar – ferries go to a couple of different towns, so make sure you are on the right one. Ferries to Besar depart when they are full.  There are typically several per day, but will be sparse in the afternoons.

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Here is the boat for Pulau Ai leaving the local jetty in Banda Neira:
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Jetty heights rarely coincide with (boat + tide) heights, so expect to do some clamberin’.

There are plenty of other boats coming and going at the public jetty. You can charter your own boat if you have the money and language skills.

If you do decide to go stay on the outlying islands, be ready to be woken up at 5am by roosters and mosques; to eat lunch and dinner at a prescribed time along with everybody else at the guesthouse; to share your bathroom with a friendly cockroach or two; and to not be able to make a phone call or check your twittergram.  Malaria has been known on some of the islands – take precautions.

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Snorkelling Orientation

There is a good variety of fishlife and corals to be found.  Checkout my Eastern Indonesia Common fish page for the startpoint on fishlife.  But there are lots and lots of species beyond that.

Underwater currents are unpredictable.  Being in the middle of nowhere brings oceanic currents, as well as their more common “changes direction every 6 hours” tidal cousins – so it is difficult to find a pattern in how the currents behave.

You probably don’t want to be swept away to oblivion, so snorkel within reach of somewhere you can put your feet down and which has a walkable route home.

For general snorkelling safety stuff, see my safety page.

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Profile: On the outlying islands, there are soft, gently sloping, sandy beaches near to all the tourist accommodation. These provide a nice, easy route into the water.  There are one or two boat jetties on each island, but they don’t help you get in/out of the water – use the shore instead.

About 30% of the coastline is sandy beach and the rest is low-rise cliffs (3-5m tall). Underwater, below the cliffs, the seabed is often sloping, irregular, rocky substrate covered in algae.  This is slippery and ankle-twisting, but at a stretch, you could walk along it to get back to a beachy spot if you were dragged off-course by the current.   However, in some stretches, the cliff continues vertically down below the water and there no option to slam-on-the-brakes in a current. Those areas are best avoided.  Further down the page, I’ll be telling you which parts are deep and which are not.

It is wise to wear strong-soled shoes on your feet.  Aside from maybe having to walk back home over irregular,  slippery rocks; there can be pointy things (like poisonous Scorpionfish) in the shallows.

 

Banda’s population is strictly moslem.  You need to wear at least a t-shirt and long shorts when you are in (and walking to) the water.

There are mazes of narrow walking tracks on many of the islands, giving local workers a route to whichever spice plantation they are working at.  These tracks are fairly useless to anyone who hasn’t spent the last 30 years memorizing the layout. If you try them out, be careful not to get lost in the forest when the sun is going down.

“IDR” is Indonesian Rupiah.  Prices are correct in 2014, but inflation is high in Indonesia – you will have to apply a hefty multiplier in future years.

Pulau means island; Pantai means beach, Tanjung means cape/headland.

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My (Stevie) Wondercam:
In the Banda Islands, my brand new (but tested) Canon Powershot D30 camera decided that I wouldn’t be needing the screen any more and shut if off for ever. That means that all my Bandas pictures were taken ‘blind’. Unless my subject happened to be bang in the centre of the lens, the camera would be focussing on something else in the background. Consequently, some pictures are a bit blurry – sorry ’bout dat. Ranty version here.

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This bit is pretty long.  If you want to get to a specific section, do a local browser search {Edit>Find (on this page)} on one of these text strings:

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A: Pulau Ai
B: Pulau Hatta
C: Pulau Rhun
D: Pulau (Banda) Neira
E: Pulau (Banda) Besar
G: Gunung Api
H: The other little islands

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A: Pulau Ai

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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.  For these island maps, click once to expand it to the maximum height of your screen, then click it again to zoom-in some more.

Pulau Ai is an equilateral triangle with 2km long sides. The village and tourist accommodation are on the long, sandy North coast. Underwater, the North side has patchy, but decent corals in currentless, shallow waters – this is the best place for easy snorkelling.

The Northern third of the West coast has a long, empty sandy beach where you can string a hammock and enjoy the peace and quiet. This West side beach has some decent coral deeper-down; and then a steep wall dropping off to the depths. There is often current here, so it is wise not to swim further South than the end of the beach.

The more Southerly end of the West coast (and most of the East coast) have no exit-points from the water, and no walking routes home. These areas are probably best avoided. For hardcore types with big fins and legs, there is some lovely coral there.

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The arrivals point at Pulau Ai is the concrete jetty in the centre of the North coast.
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There are three public ferries to Pulau Ai. They all travel at the same time (?as mutual support for breakdowns/sinking?). Here’s one of them waiting for tomorrows’ crowds of passengers (with Gunung Api off in the distance):

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Down on the beach, looking East, you have a long, sandy beach running in front of the village.
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Looking to the West, near point A1c, you have this irregular, algae-covered rocky substrate:
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Depending on the tide, these rocks are often underwater, but dry or wet, they are slippery.  Actually, you don’t have to use this strip as a walking route (the main road through the village is set back just 20m from the coast), but be careful if getting in/out of the water here.

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The Northern beach is the work and playground of all the local people.  Many Indonesians aren’t too fussy about where they discard their garbage.  The shallow waters near to the jetty get the worst of it:
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Dumping rubbish in the sea is a perennial problem in Indonesia.  Actually, the problem in Pulau Ai isn’t too bad – I have seen places far worse. Away from the jetty, you won’t see much garbage.

This area near the jetty is where the local kiddies lark around after a hard day in the classroom.
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In November, just after the inter-island “Kora Kora” boat race – everyone wants to grow-up to be next year’s captain.

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Ai’s North Coast is your best best for some easy, interesting snorkelling.  Just wade in:

The corals in the shallows near the beach will be pallid:
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..but you might find some interesting fishes there, all the same:
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As you get away from the beach, there is a mixed-bag of corals, some bad:
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…some mixed:
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…some better:
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….and some really very good:
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(by the way, hover your mouse over any picture with a fish in to see the name of the species at the bottom of the page.  Or for more detail, look up my specieslist).

On the North coast, the back-reef is fairly shallow.  These pictures were all taken in 2 to 3 metres of water.   The reef slopes slowly down from the beach to a dropoff, about 30m away from the beach. Then the drop-off slopes steeply down to about 10m.

You can see a good range of fish on the North coast.  Notable are these Napoleonfish:
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Technically, Bumphead Wrasse, these are commonly known as Napoleonfish. There were four or five adults cruising up and down the North coast, and also a load more mid-phase/juveniles:
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One of my favourite fish is the dumb-old Humpnose Unicornfish:
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They look so dopey.

Here’s one trying to blend into a school of Batfish:
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He thinks you haven’t seen him.

There were six of them slowly patrolling up and down the North coast.  I would see them a couple of times a day.

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Near to the drop-off, you can often find huge schools of Redtooth Triggerfish:
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And Black Triggerfish:
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It must be a nightmare for the postman.

Various other interesting reef fish (mouseover for speciesnames):
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This little fella, looking like a communications satellite from the 1960s, is a juvenile Midnight Snapper:
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A bit later in life, he looks like this:
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And then as an adult, something like this:
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(although technically, these ones are close-relatives, the Black Snapper (which has black eyes, not orange).

Some other notable fishes on the North coast:
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Keep your eye out to the blue for schoolers:
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And under rocks for eels:
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It doesn’t really matter where you snorkel on the North side – there is mix of good and bad coral everywhere. About half of it is in good condition.

Point 1a at the East end of the main beach is probably as far as your average snorkeller will want to go:
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The sandy beach ends at this small headland and on the other side the land is slippery rock, backed by a 3m cliff.

Actually, there is some lovely coral further East from here, but it is a long way away and probably only suitable for ‘hardcore’ types to get to. For more info, scroll/ search forward for Area A5d.

For now, lets start at Area A1 (the A is for Pulau Ai and isn’t mentioned on the map) and go counter-clockwise around the island.

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Like I say, the whole of the North coast has good and bad – there aren’t many specific places to aim for – just jump in and see what you find.  If I had to pick a best spot, on the East side of the jetty, Area A1b (between Greenpeace and Green Coconut homestays) seemed to be slightly prettier than the rest:
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More often, I found myself heading West from the jetty.  At area A1d, 40m out and slightly East from where CDR Bungalows’s steps hit the beach, there was a cleaning station where Cleaner Wrasse give a good scrubbing to the cracks and crevices of many passing reef fishes. That ‘Humpnose Unicorn and the Batfish’ pic is from there.

See if you can find the crowds of Catfish Striped Eels all crammed in under the rock at the cleaning station:
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Some of Ai’s most beautiful corals are near the drop-off at Area A2a. Take the road through the village, past the fort, mosque, school and through ‘CDS Bungalow Resort’, down to the sea for a convenient, beachy entry into the water.

Here’s the beach at the foot of CDS’s steps:
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Beyond this beach, there is another one around a tiny headland:
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At low tide, the hike out to the drop-off can be a grassy affair:
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But try not to trample this guy’s front lawn too much:
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Area A2

Definately get yourself out to Area A2. Near the dropoff, 2 metres deep, there are some lovely hard corals:
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And some nice soft corals:
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Continuing West, towards the corner of the island, the drop-off gets steeper:
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.and soon becomes a vertical wall:
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The wall has less coral than you might expect, but you can always find lots of schooling Bluetooth Triggerfish here.

Start being aware of the currents here.  The most common current on Ai will take you around the corner and South down the West side of the island.

If you go around the corner (intentionally or not!), look out for the Sea Fans feeding from micro-critters in the current:
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I didn’t see any nudibranchs on Ai, but there was one of their egg-ribbons here:
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Continuing around the corner, you soon get past the rocky cliffs of the Northwest cape and draw-level with the long, West coast beach.
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If you got here via an unwanted ride on a strong current, at low tides you can do a thigh-high-wade back round the rocky headland (go inside of the little rock):
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On the way, take a look at the fossilized corals cast into the cliff face:
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Better still, get home via the walking track that leads from the West coast of the island to the South West corner of the school, and then on to the village.
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Not that you’ll ever find it from this end!  The entrance is here:
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Those red arrows are not always so easy to see.

I heartily recommend that early on, you take a walk to the South West corner of the school and find the start of the track.  Follow it to the West coast beach, so that later on, when you really need to find the entrance from the beach, you will be able to.

The Western beach (which I think is called Pantai Sebila) is almost 1 km long and is a good place to put up a hammock and chill-out.  If you walk to the South end of it (away from any Indonesian daytrippers), you might even be able to shed that long sleeved t-shirt and trousers.

Some sections of the beach get narrow at high tide. Here’s the South end where the beach finishes and the coastline turns to 2m tall “cliffs”.
199_Ai-3ab_South-End-of-West-Beach_20141122_IMG_7172.jpg

This West coast beach is also a decent spot for snorkelling.   Heading out from the beach, after an easy-entry; there are patchy corals in the shallows:
201_Ai-3ab_Patchy-Shallows_20141122_IMG_7167.jpg

About 30m off the beach, the coral starts to improve and you might find some big-old Bumphead Parrotfish grazing in a couple of metres of water.
202_Ai-3ab_Bumphead-Parrotfish_20141119_IMG_6155.jpg

On this coast, the good coral is deeper than it was on the North side – usually 3 or 4 metres deep.  Some of it is really nice:
204_Ai-3ab_Corals_20141122_IMG_7115.jpg 205_Ai-3ab_Corals_20141122_IMG_7108.jpg
But if you are staying on the surface, you will only have the restricted-view seats…

…peering through five metres of water, trying to see what that little dot on the bottom is:
206_Ai-3bc_Deepwater_20141120_IMG_6510.jpg
Oooh, look, it’s a Shark.

This is the way you will see most of your sharks in the Banda Islands – sneaking quietly through the distant depths to get to the drop-off and far away from you –  you scary carnivore, you.

If you want to get up-close with the corals (e.g. for photography), continually having to dive down five metres to the good stuff can get a bit tedious, to be honest.

All down this West coast, the reef top slopes gently from the beach to a rounded drop-off and then turns into a vertical wall.  At the North end (where the daytrips from Banda Neira come), the drop-off starts 3m deep, 40m off the beach.  Further South, the drop-off starts deeper down (5-6m) and further out (60-70m).

If you can dive down to the drop-off and the wall, there are some decent sights there:
207_Ai-3bc_Start-of-Dropoff-Upcloser_20141120_IMG_6520.jpg 208_Ai-3ab_Dropoff_20141120_IMG_6527.jpg

Continuing South, between A3b and A3c, there are some spots of good coral:
214_Ai-3bc_Pacific-Double-Saddle-Butterflyfish_20141119_IMG_6012.jpg
215_Ai-3bc_Corals_20141119_IMG_6011.jpg 216_Ai-3bc_Corals_20141119_IMG_6045.jpg
…a few metres deep.

At A3c, about 100m before the end of the beach, there are some huuge gardens of these unusual Column-Corals:
218_Ai-3bc_Column-Corals_20141119_IMG_6023.jpg 219_Ai-3bc_Column-Corals_20141120_IMG_6513.jpg
I’m not sure of the species – I think they are probably Acropora palifera

This is one of the best spots on the island for corals.

Here’s a quick video flyby in the area:

 

Dang wondercam – the fishies always seem to be too far away:
221_Ai-3bc_Shark_20141123_IMG_7624.jpg 222_Ai-3bc_Fire-Dartfish_20141123_IMG_7630.jpg

or too close:
223_Ai-3bc_Giant-Trevally_20141122_IMG_7133_.jpg

Here are a few more taken on the reef top at the South end of the beach:
225_Ai-3bc_Brown-Sweetips_20141120_IMG_6505.jpg 226_Ai-3bc-Humpback-Unicornfish_20141120_IMG_6508.jpg 227_Ai-3bc_Diagonal-Banded-Sweetlips_20141120_IMG_6499.jpg

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There are often currents on the West coast, running from North to South. When they are mild, this makes for a pleasant drift dive/snorkel down the coast.  When they are strong (and they can be strong), it is still snorkellable – you just need to watch the shoreline and pull-in to the shallows before you run out of beach to walk back on.

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At A3c, at the end of the beach, make your choice about whether or not to continue South. If you can’t swim (Northwards) against the current, it would be wise to stop here.  If you have only mild current, and you want to continue,  there is more good coral to be found.   You are still only about a third of the way down the island.
229_Ai-4_Whole-West-Coast_20141208_IMG_0666.jpg

Here are the corals at A4a, a couple of hundred metres after the beach:
230_Ai-4a_Corals_20141120_IMG_6493.jpg 231_Ai-4a_Corals_20141120_IMG_6489.jpg 232_Ai-4a_Corals_20141120_IMG_6488.jpg
(these are 3-4 metres deep).

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Here are some more, near a little white cliff halfway down the coast, at A4b:
235_Ai-4b_Corals_20141120_IMG_6467.jpg 237_Ai-4b_Corals_20141120_IMG_6470.jpg

Here is the start of the drop-off there:
238_Ai-4b_Reef-Edge_20141120_IMG_6473.jpg

And the wall:
239_Ai-4b_Wall_20141120_IMG_6458.jpg

And some schooling Black Snapper:
241_Ai-4b_Black-Snapper_20141120_IMG_6461.jpg

Are you still thinking about the currents and how you are going to get home? Good.  Point A4b, a few hundred metres past the end of the beach would be a good place to stop and turn around.

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Most of the Southern stretch of this coast has this shallow rocky substrate at the base of its cliffs:
233_Ai-4ab_Rocky-Shallows_20141122_IMG_7171.jpg
At a push, you could walk back to the beach along this. But it is slippery and tedious to walk on.  I wouldn’t plan on using it – consider it an emergency-exit only.

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I continued-on from here and swam all the way around the island.  It took five hours (using fins).  I don’t recommend doing it. At best, you will miss lunch, at the worst, you might end up in Australia.

If you are interested in what is underwater round the rest of the island, here is the stretch from A4b to c – the second half of the West coast.
243_Ai-4bc_Corals_20141120_IMG_6450.jpg

Some hard corals, 5m deep:
244_Ai-4bc_Deep-Corals_20141120_IMG_6460.jpg

and some soft corals just before the drop-off:
246_Ai-4bc_Deep-Soft-Corals_20141120_IMG_6457.jpg

And some mid-depth stuff from further South:
253_Ai-4cd_Corals_20141120_IMG_6422.jpg

Towards the South East corner at A4c, the back-reef starts to go wide – it shoots out a couple of hundred metres away from the cliffy coastline.  It is deep, too – about 8 metres deep at the top of the wall.  There is still some coral on the reeftop here, but too deep to really explore.  I did see a Tuna hunting on the reef-edge, which was fun.

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There aren’t many landmarks here. From the water, it is difficult to know where you are. Although I said that the island is an equilateral triangle – in fact, the coastline is quite ragged and it’s difficult to tell any one of those little headlands from all the others.  Fortunately, the other islands come to help.  At point A4d, the more Easterly islands Banda Besar and Gunung Api start to peek out from behind the headland.
255_Ai-4d_Volcano-Transit_6418.jpg

There are OK corals on the back-reef here:
256_Ai-4d_Corals_20141120_IMG_6417.jpg 258_Ai-4d_Clam_20141120_IMG_6415.jpg

An intriguing feature here is a lot of narrow channels in the reef, running from the island towards the sea.
259_Ai-4de_Channel_20141120_IMG_6411.jpg 260_Ai-4de_Channel_20141120_IMG_6409.jpg
Erosion?  Faults?
Anyone ???

At A4e, the Southern tip of the island, the corals are variable, some not so good:
262_Ai-4e_Shabby-Corals_20141120_IMG_6406.jpg

..some better:
266_Ai-4e_Japanese-Surgeonfish_20141120_IMG_6401.jpg 264_Ai-4e_Corals_20141120_IMG_6402.jpg 263_Ai-4e_Corals_20141120_IMG_6405.jpg

At A4f, Ibn al-Haytham comes back to tell you where you are as Pulau Rhun disappears behind the Southern tip of Ai.

The stretch from A4f to A5a is mixed:
269_Ai-4f_Good-Corals_20141120_IMG_6393.jpg 270_Ai-4f_Medium-Corals_20141120_IMG_6392.jpg 274_Ai-4f_Scrappy-Back-Reef_20141120_IMG_6374.jpg

I saw a fun flatworm making a break for the surface:
274_Ai-4f_Swimming-Flatworm_20141120_IMG_6381.jpg

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We are on the East side of the island now. Here is the whole East coastline:
276_Ai-5n6_East-Coast_20141118_IMG_5908_mu.jpg

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As you travel round the coast. you see some tiny beach/bays dotted here and there.  This one at A5a is bigger than most. There is also some evidence to suggest that it is possible to walk here from the village.

There are many narrow walking tracks all over Pulau Ai.  They are only really used by local farmers to get to their crops. There are no signposts and it seems like most of the tracks fade into nothing, leaving you standing in the middle of the forest scratching your head and wondering what to do next.

Someone had  drawn a map and left it at my guesthouse.  It showed a trail to a “secret beach” somewhere near A5a. I also met a guy who had followed a trail to a beach here. It had a big rock in the middle, so I’m guessing that it was this beach at A5a.
275_Ai-5a_Secret-Beach_20141120_IMG_6373.jpg
He said it was a bit of a scramble down small cliffs to reach the beach.   Good luck with that.

The coral here is pretty decent:
277_Ai-5a_Corals_20141120_IMG_6367.jpg

…and extensive:
278_Ai-5a_Barracuda_20141120_IMG_6365.jpg

If you can find the trail from the village, walking here might give you an exit option if you wanted to visit the beautiful coral further up the East coast without worrying about the currents.

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From A5a to A5b, the corals aren’t in good condition.

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But when you hit the start of the next beach (A5b), things improve a lot:
280_Ai-5b_Corals_20141120_IMG_6349.jpg
281_Ai-5b_Corals_20141120_IMG_6361.jpg 282_Ai-5b_Corals_20141120_IMG_6363.jpg

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The corals in the middle section (A5c) of this long beach aren’t so good:
284_Ai-5bc_Mid-Beach-Depths_20141120_IMG_6348.jpg

….but they get awesome again towards the Northern end at A5c:
287_Ai-5c_Corals_20141120_IMG_6335.jpg 288_Ai-5c_Corals_20141120_IMG_6328.jpg 290_Ai-5c_Corals_20141120_IMG_6320.jpg
This area had the biggest fields of good-condition coral on Pulau Ai.  This one gets my vote for the best coral on the island.

Area A5c was not without its problems. There were always two Titan Triggerfish here, presumably nesting and guarding their young.  Every time I came here, they would take turns in bum-rushing me to try and take a bite.

They were relentless. They just didn’t stop – one after the other, they’d launch an assault, then start over again.

Titans are known for being aggressive at nesting time. Usually, I find them to be timid, but not these two.

It did give me a chance to practice my defensive technique, though. A heel in the face is the best way to stop them actually biting you. Or if your head is towards them, a fist to the side of the head makes them divert away at the last second.  Not that this will get rid of them completely, but it will buy you a little time while they prepare for their next run-up.

They were still biting the ends of my fins as I fled, wailing like a little girl. Titans have chunky teeth and very strong jaws – I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of those nips if I was barefoot.

Presumably, the babies are all grown-up now and mom & pop have chilled-out a bit.

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Continuing North along this long stretch of beach, the coral is still in quite good condition:
291_Ai-5cd_Corals_20141120_IMG_6313.jpg

But is scrappy at the drop-off:
294_Ai-5e_Scrappy-Corals_20141120_IMG_6310.jpg

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If you don’t mind a long swim, this secluded, long beach (A5bcd) is a great spot to visit.
293_Ai-5d_ North-3OClock-Beach_20141120_IMG_6311.jpg
I swam to here a few times and the currents were mild to medium. If you did get stuck in a current, you might be able to make a (tedious and slippery) walk back along the rocky shallows in bay 6. Who knows – maybe there’s even a walking track through the plantations.

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Continuing North, just around the headland at A6b, I met this Bumphead Parrotfish in the scrappy shallows:
299_Ai-6a_Shalllows-Bumphead-Parrotfish_20141120_IMG_6302.jpg

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I found some decent corals somewhere in the middle of the bay near A6b.
301_Ai-6b_Corals_20141120_IMG_6298.jpg 302_Ai-6b_Corals_20141120_IMG_6296.jpg
To be honest, I don’t even remember these, so I’m guessing it must have been a small patch. My camera tells me they were a 15 minute swim from area A1a and 20 minutes from A5d.

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Staghorn corals are among the least hardy of coral species.  These ones on the drop-off at A6b have been destroyed:
303_Ai-6b_ xxx _20141120_IMG_6294.jpg

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On the final stretch returning towards A1a, the corals aren’t too special.  As expected, there is some patchy stuff in the shallows:
306_Ai-6b_Shallows_20141120_IMG_6282.jpg

But further out, there is a decent mix of frondy Soft Corals carpeting the seabed under old Bignose here:
305_Ai-6ab_Soft-Corals_20141120_IMG_6283.jpg

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We have come all the way around the island now. Here’s a quick peek of Area A6 from the East end of the main village beach, where we started. Poke your nose around headland A1a to look East:
307_Ai-1a6b_Rocky-Bay_20141120_IMG_6279.jpg
If you are feeling adventurous, you might want to stumble along this rocky “beach” and see if you can reach the decent coral at the other side of headland (A)6a, there.

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Logistics for Pulau Ai:

There are four cheap guesthouses within a minute’s walk of the jetty. The owners will probably be waiting for the boat and invite you to look at their place. Some might even wait in Banda Neira to hook you.

Guesthouses Greenpeace, Ardy, and Dua Putri are cheapest at about 100 000 IDR (all accommodation includes 3 set meals a day). Greenpeace and Dua Putri have sea views. Ardy is set back a block from the beach and doesn’t have a sea view. Ardy is the only one where English is spoken.

200m further East and on the beach is Green Coconut, with sea views from the communal balcony. The price is about 130 000 IDR. English is spoken here.

I think that there is also a Revenge Homestay (named after the fort, not the intent of the owners).  I didn’t investigate, but presumably it is near the fort.

The upmarket option is CDS Bungalows (also known as Alfonso’s). Starting around 250 000 IDR, this place has a handful of ‘cliff-top’ bungalows in a secluded setting to the West of the village. I say cliff-top, but the cliff is only 5 metres high. There is a set of steps down to the beach. CDS Bungalows is ten minutes walk from the main jetty. Coming off the boat, turn right at the first junction and keep going until there is no more road/track.

If you can’t survive without a beer, you can get one at Green Coconut, Greenpeace and CDS. I’m not sure about the others.

Greenpeace rents out fins.

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I stayed at Greenpeace, which was fine as long as you aren’t expecting the Ritz-Carlton. Rooms are basic with just a double bed, a fan and a mozzie net. Bathrooms are private and mandi-based (that means you scoop water out of a big bucket to flush the toilet or take a shower). Four of the ten room have a sea view, as does the front yard. The downside is that you get woken up at 6:30 every morning by chattering folks waiting for the ferry, which departs from outside the guesthouse.

The jetty and beach outside Greenpeace stick out just far enough to get line-of-sight to the mobile telephone mast in Banda Neira. This is the only place on the island you can get phone/internet signal. I never got a signal (Simpati), but judging by the number of people always outside my window, chatting on their phones, it must be possible.

Island electricity runs from 6pm to about 11pm only. There are no fans after that, so make sure your mozzie net doesn’t have any holes. The owner of CDS Bungalows unfortunately died from malaria a few years ago, so stay protected.

Ferries run once a day and leave Banda Neira for Pulau Ai late morning/lunchtime; and go from Ai to Neira at 7am. 25 000 IDR each way. Boats depart from the jetty at Ai. For some reason, they don’t actually use the jetty – they reverse onto the beach and you have to walk the last 2 meters along a narrow plank of wood from the back of the boat to the beach.

Boats from Banda Neira to Pulau Rhun go past the jetty at Pulau Ai, but they don’t stop at Ai.  If you want to go from Ai to Rhun, you will have go back to Naira first.  You could try jumping up and down on the end of Ai’s jetty, waving and shouting as the Rhun ferry goes past, but don’t rely on it.  Apparently, there is a better chance when doing it the other way around (i.e. on the Rhun to Banda Neira ferry, ask to be set down at Ai).

Apparently, it is not possible to charter a boat on Pulau Ai. Apart from the public ferries, the only boats there are one-man canoes.

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For non-watery things to do around Pulau Ai, you can take a look at the Dutch fort (“Revenge”):
310_Ai_General_Fort-Revenge_20141121_IMG_6899.jpg
There are also a couple of other derelict Dutch buildings further West.

Or have a wander around the narrow lanes of the village:
309_Ai_General_Village_20141119_IMG_5928.jpg

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There are still spice plantations all over Pulau Ai and you can easily waste a day trying to navigate the multitude of tracks connecting them:
311_Ai_General_Track_20141121_IMG_6903.jpg
Half the tracks fade-out into nothing and you will often find yourself at a crossroads of tiny tracks, trying one after another to see which one actually leads somewhere. I recommend taking a compass or (offline) GPS device with you, as you will invariably get lost. Leave plenty of time to find your way home before it gets dark.

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Pulau Manukang

Look again at that picture of Pulau Ai’s jetty:
045_Ai-1c_Jetty_20141117_IMG_5896.jpg
See that tiny dot on the horizon above the blue boat? That is a small island 20km NNW from Pulau Ai. It doesn’t feature on the maps I found, but I’m reliably informed that it is named Pulau Manukang (also known as Pulau Suanggi).

320_Manukan-Intro_South_20141117_IMG_5565.jpg

Some folks chartered a boat to investigate it and wanted to share the costs, so I joined in.

Apparently, it is popular spot with local fishermen. Big Waha, GTs and Green Jobfish gather there.

The island is roughly circular and 500m in diameter. It has a fringing reef surrounding it, 30m out from the steep cliff coastline. There are no beaches to speak of, but there are some big boulders you can sit on on the East side. The coral condition is variable, but generally good, especially over the East side.

Here’s some highlights from the 2 hour the swim round the island:

West
323_Manukan-West_Coral_20141117_IMG_5579.jpg 324_Manukan-West_Coral_20141117_IMG_5750.jpg

North West
327_Manukan-NW_Coral_20141117_IMG_5752.jpg

North
329_Manukan-North_Parrotfish_20141117_IMG_5782.jpg 330_Manukan-North_Coral_20141117_IMG_5587.jpg 331_Manukan-North_Moray-Eel_20141117_IMG_5605.jpg 332_Manukan-North_BumpheadParrotfish_20141117_IMG_5626.jpg 333_Manukan-North_BumpheadParrotfish_20141117_IMG_5614.jpg 335_Manukan-North_BumpheadParrotfish_20141117_IMG_5589.jpg 336_Manukan-North_Bluefin-Trevally_20141117_IMG_5592.jpg

North East
338_Manukan-NE_Coral_20141117_IMG_5629.jpg 340_Manukan-NE_Coral_20141117_IMG_5635.jpg 341_Manukan-NE_Coral_20141117_IMG_5798.jpg 342_Manukan-NE_Coral_20141117_IMG_5791.jpg 343_Manukan-NE_Moray-Eel_20141117_IMG_5636.jpg

First turtle:
344_Manukan-NE_Turtle_20141117_IMG_5788.jpg

East
346_Manukan-East_Coral_20141117_IMG_5802.jpg 347_Manukan-East_Coral_20141117_IMG_5674.jpg 349_Manukan-East_Coral_20141117_IMG_5660.jpg 350_Manukan-East_Tomato-Anemonefish_20141117_IMG_5807.jpg 351_Manukan-East_Coral_20141117_IMG_5823.jpg 352_Manukan-East_Coral_20141117_IMG_5680.jpg 353_Manukan-East_Coral_20141117_IMG_5658.jpg 355_Manukan-East_Eclipse-Butterflyfish_20141117_IMG_5814.jpg 356_Manukan-East_Rainbow-Runner_20141117_IMG_5820.jpg 357_Manukan-East_Black-Snapper_20141117_IMG_5667.jpg 358_Manukan-East_Nudibranch_20141117_IMG_5861.jpg

South East
360_Manukan-SE_South-East-Side_20141117_IMG_5681.jpg

361_Manukan-SE_Coral_20141117_IMG_5703.jpg 362_Manukan-SE_Sea-Krait_20141117_IMG_5684.jpg 363_Manukan-SE_Bignose-Unicornfish_20141117_IMG_5690.jpg 364_Manukan-SE_Striped-Large-Eye-Bream_20141117_IMG_5699.jpg

South
367_Manukan-South_Coral_20141117_IMG_5704.jpg 368_Manukan-South_Coral_20141117_IMG_5710.jpg 369_Manukan-South_Coral_20141117_IMG_5712.jpg 370_Manukan-South_Ornate-Butterflyfish_20141117_IMG_5725.jpg

South West 
372_Manukan-SW_Coral_20141117_IMG_5736.jpg 373_Manukan-SW_Coral_20141117_IMG_5744.jpg 374_Manukan-SW_Regal-Angelfish_20141117_IMG_5735.jpg 375_Manukan-SW_Cuttlefish_20141117_IMG_5740.jpg

 

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B: Pulau Hatta

Hatta is generally considered to have the best snorkelling of all the Banda Islands. Most people find it convenient to visit on a daytrip, as tourist accommodation is a new thing there and is in limited supply.  Public ferries only run every two or three days.

 

391_Hatta-MapMain.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.  For these island maps, click once to expand it to the maximum height of your screen, then click it again to zoom-in some more.
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On Hatta (formerly ‘Rozengain’, but renamed in honour of the revolutionary leader Mohammed Hatta) the action is all at the Northern end of the island. There are two villages – one on the East and one on the North coast.  There is a paved walking track connecting them. There are a few homestays and guesthouses spread between the villages.

There is decent coral all along the North coast, but the currents there can be prohibitively strong. At low tides, it is difficult to enter the water there without murdering lots of coral.  A better option is to focus on the North West corner, where there is a sandy beach giving easy access to the water; lots of hard and soft corals in good condition; a plummeting wall and a couple of other interesting topographical features.

Similar to Ai, the first part of the West coast has a long, empty beach with decent coral down the length of it. Also similar to Ai, there is often North-South current running there, and it is wise not to swim past the end of the beach, in-case you can’t get back.

Hatta is strictly moslem. The locals there are less used to seeing tourists than on Ai and those guidelines about respecting local values and not walking around in your beach-clothes apply even more here.

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We are going to start our tour of the island at the Eastern village of Kampung Baru at Area H1a. The H is for Hatta (and isn’t shown on the map).

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Navigational Beacon:
This North East corner isn’t much of a snorkelling spot – if you are only interested in Hatta’s best bits and/or where the daytrip boats go, then skip forward to Areas H2d to H2g.
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Hatta’s public boat jetty is here at the Eastern village of Kampung Baru:
391_Hatta-1a_Kampung-Baru-Jetty_20141127_IMG_8674n5.jpg

Outside the village is a huge, shallow bay of squishy sand, carpeted in sea grass. At low tide, the seabed is exposed:
392_Hatta-1ab_LowTideShallows_20141127_IMG_8671.jpg
At high tide, there is half a metre of water covering it.

Snorkelling-wise, the only reason to come to Area H1a is if you want to get to the East end of the North coast at low tide.  The North coast, with its attractive reef, often has currents running East to West, so if you want to see the whole thing, start at the East end (H1c/d) and drift West with the current.

At lowish tides, you can’t enter the water on the North coast because of corals in the shallows, but you can get in at Kampung Baru (H1a) then swim around the headland H1b/H1c before picking up the current for a gentle drift West.  At higher tides, an easier option is to enter the water at Tiara Guesthouse, near H1e.

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There is a cute rocky island with a lone palm-tree at the North East corner of Hatta:
395_Hatta-1b_Jetty-to-Island_20141202_IMG_9712.jpg

If you are starting from the beach at Kampung Baru and going round that little island to get to the North coast, then take a very wide berth, because the corals near the island are super-shallow.   This picture from H1b isn’t an underwater photo – it is taken from the surface:
396_Hatta-1b_Shallow-Corals_20141127_IMG_8668.jpg
You can see how shallow the coral is (a couple of branches are actually sticking out of the water).  At low tides, you need to head towards H1c, (not H1b) for enough depth to save the coral.

Turning left from H1c towards H1d, the drop-off is about 150m from the coast.  Closer-in to the coast, on the back reef, there is some good, but not spectacular, coral:
399_Hatta-1c_Corals_20141127_IMG_8641.jpg

But you might find some cool fish like this Semicircle Angelfish:
Indo_Bandas_400_Hatta-1c_Semicircle-Angelfish_20141127_IMG_8666

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Your best option for snorkelling in this area is to head out to the steep drop-off:
402_Hatta-1c_Corals_20141127_IMG_8642.jpg

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These schooling Humpback Snapper are quite uncommon.
403_Hatta-1c_Humpback-Snapper_20141127_IMG_8648.jpg

And here is a Turtle scrambling for the safety of the deep water:
404_Hatta-1c_Turtle_20141127_IMG_8653.jpg

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The closest of these Blue-Finned Trevally, isn’t a Blue-Finned Trevally  – it is actually a Coachwhip Trevally (library pic).
406_Hatta-1c_Bluefin-Trevally_20141127_IMG_8629.jpg
…which was a new one to me.

 

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By far my best sighting on Hatta was these two Eagle Rays, coming up from the depths:

 

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Area H1d – East of Tiara Guesthouse

Some fun fish on the dropoff around H1d include this picture-hogging Doublespot Queenfish:
411_Hatta-1d_Doublespot-Queenfish_20141127_IMG_8603.jpg

Some schooling Humpback (and Humpnose) Unicornfish:
413_Hatta-1d_Unicornfish_20141127_IMG_8525.jpg

…which were bumped-down to background extras when some Bluefin Trevally showed up:
412_Hatta-1d_Bluefin-Trevally_20141127_IMG_8614.jpg

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In the shallows, there is some decent coral:
Indo_Bandas_416_Hatta-1d_Corals-Bristletooth-Surgeonfish_20141127_IMG_8590 Indo_Bandas_415_Hatta-1d_Corals_20141127_IMG_8595

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There’s a good showing of reef-fish in this picture:
Indo_Bandas_417_Hatta-1d_Coral-Meyers-Butterflyfish_20141127_IMG_8593
I’m seeing Blackspot Cleaner Wrasse, Japanese Surgeonfish, Squirrelfish, Redfin Butterflyfish, Blacklip Butterflyfish, lots of Ternate Chromis, a Threadfin Butterflyfish, Six-bar Wrasse, Meyers Butterflyfish and some Anthias.

Apparently, people often confuse Bannerfish with Moorish Idols.  These ones were demonstrating how wrong that is:
418_Hatta-1d_MoorishIdol-Bannerfish_20141127_IMG_8616.jpg

The Teardrop Butterflyfish are hogging the picture here:
419_Hatta-1d_Teardrop-Butterflyfish_20141127_IMG_8606.jpg
but there are also Bristletooth Surgeonfish, Blackback Butterflyfish, Bridled-Monocle-Bream and Dot-Dash Goatfish in there, too.

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Area H1e – Tiara Guesthouse

Tiara Guesthouse is a new place, opened in 2015.  There is a track to it from the main island path and (except at low tide) you can get out to the reef from here.
421_Hatta-1e_Tiara-Guesthouse_20141202_IMG_9717.jpg

A cheeky school of Blue Trevally (aka Bar Trevally) came up to say hello:
423_Hatta-1e_Blue-Trevally_20141127_IMG_8583.jpg

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Near the drop-off, here’s a crowd of Yellowfin Goatfish:
425_Hatta-1eYellowfin-Goatfish_20141127_IMG_8568.jpg

And some nice Black Coral:
426_Hatta-1e_Black-Coral-Dropoff_20141127_IMG_8548.jpg

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You may have heard about the underwater natural bridge in Hatta.  Well this isn’t it:
Indo_Bandas_427_Hatta-1e_Not-The-Bridge_20141127_IMG_8543
(You want Area H2f for the famous one).

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In the shallower waters at H1e there is some decent coral:
Indo_Bandas_429_Hatta-1e_Soft-Coral_20141127_IMG_8549 430_Hatta-1e_Soft-Coral_20141127_IMG_8539.jpg

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At Area H1f, about level with the concrete sea-defence wall, I had a visit from a Giant Trevally:
433_Hatta-1f_Giant-Trevally_20141127_IMG_8501.jpg

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Similar to Pulau Ai, there are a group of dopey-looking Humpnose Unicornfish that cruise up and down the North coast:
435_Hatta-1f_Humpnose-Unicornfish_20141127_IMG_8422.jpg

Bless ‘im:
434_Hatta-1f_Humpnose-Unicornfish_20141127_IMG_8533.jpg

This one is helping to size this table coral:
Indo_Bandas_436_Hatta-1f_TableCoral-HumpnoseUnicornfish_20141127_IMG_8504
(about two and a half metres)

These three Yellowlipped Emperors were also trying to help out, but weren’t so good at it:
Indo_Bandas_437_Hatta-1f_Yellowlipped-Emperor_20141127_IMG_8508

These Striped Large Eye Bream joined in with the schooling Humpbacks:
438_Hatta-1f_BluespineUnicornfish_20141127_IMG_8531.jpg

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Area H2a – East Kampung Lama Beach

This area marks the Eastern end of the beaches outside Kampung Lama village.  Onshore, the walking track takes an uphill turn as it goes East and moves away from the coast.

There is decent coral on the drop-off here, about 4 metres down:
451_Hatta-2a_Pyramid-Butterflyfish_20141125_IMG_8113.jpg

A Napoleonfish heads-off to the safety of the deep:
450_Hatta-2a_Napoleonfish_20141125_IMG_8112.jpg
There was also a Turtle here who had the same idea.

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There are some nice corals as you move into the shallower water:
453_Hatta-2a_Crinoids_20141127_IMG_8395.jpg Indo_Bandas_454_Hatta-2a_Corals_20141127_IMG_8400 Indo_Bandas_455_Hatta-2a_Corals_20141127_IMG_8397

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Every couple of days, a pod of 25 dolphins would show up on the North or West coast.  They never hung around for a chat underwater, but if you went out in a boat there were happy to show-off for the cameras:
456_Hatta-2a_Dolphin_20141125_IMG_8133.jpg

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Continuing West towards the Mosque, there are good corals in the shallows:
460_Hatta-2ab_Shallow-Corals_20141125_IMG_8062.jpg 461_Hatta-2ab_Shallow-Corals_20141125_IMG_8060.jpg Indo_Bandas_462_Hatta-2ab_Table-Corals_20141125_IMG_8072

..and near the drop-off:
464_Hatta-2ab_Soft-Corals_20141125_IMG_8074.jpg 465_Hatta-2ab_Corals_20141125_IMG_8079.jpg 470_Hatta-2ab_Five-Line-Snapper_20141125_IMG_8049.jpg.

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Area H2b – The Ferry’s Beach Stop

The public ferry from Hatta’s Kampung Baru jetty (H1a) to Banda Neira, also calls in at the beach at H2b to collect orang Lama.
479_Hatta-2b_Beach_20141125_IMG_8031.jpg
I’m not sure whether that depends on the tide. If you are trying to leave the island and don’t want to wait two days for the next boat, I would say it’s worth the extra few-hundred metre walk to the jetty, just to be sure you actually get on it.

The corals around here aren’t so good:
473_Hatta-2b_Sergeant-Major-Damselfish_20141125_IMG_8035.jpg 474_Hatta-2b_Crescent-tail-Bigeye_20141125_IMG_8033.jpg

476_Hatta-2b_Coral_20141125_IMG_8042.jpg 477_Hatta-2b_Fan-Coral_20141125_IMG_8040.jpg 478_Hatta-2b_Reef-edge_20141125_IMG_8037.jpg.
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Area H2c – Wall View

One of Hatta’s claims to fame is a place where the reef’s steep drop-off gets so close to the beach that you can kneel down on the sand and look straight down the wall. It is here at H2c:
481_Hatta-2c_Dropoff_20141126_IMG_8138.jpg

This is a convenient place for day-trip boats to anchor-up and let their passengers out onto the beach:
482_Hatta-2c_Dropoff_20141129_IMG_9212.jpg
Of course, the anchors have killed most of the coral here.

But if you go a few metres either side, the coral is OK:
483_Hatta-2c_Dropoff_20141126_IMG_8141.jpg

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Talking of conservation matters, they don’t show this in the tourist brochures, do they? :
487_Hatta-2cd_Bigeye-Trevally_20141125_IMG_8020.jpg
Trash in the water is a common problem in Indonesia. Clear plastic bags are even worse than this black one, as turtles think they are jellyfish and choke trying to eat them.

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This Turtle has the good sense to swim away:
489_Hatta-2cd_Turtle_20141129_IMG_9248.jpg

as does this Shark:
488_Hatta-2cd_Shark_20141129_IMG_9246.jpg

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Area H2d – Outside Sofian’s

If you are staying in the North West of the island at Pak Sofian’s “Rozengain Vitalia” Guesthouse (or if you aren’t, but are still using the beach there for easy access to the sea), this is where things start getting good.

On the drop-off, there is a good range of fish and (mostly) good condition corals:
495_Hatta-2d_Dropoff_20141126_IMG_8152.jpg 497_Hatta-2d_Napoleonfish_20141126_IMG_8154.jpg

There are one-or-two nice clumps of Soft Coral near the drop-off:
Indo_Bandas_499_Hatta-2d_BlackCoral-BigScaleSoldierfish-WhitebellyDamselfish_20141126_IMG_8143500_Hatta-2d_Softcoral_20141126_IMG_8175.jpg

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In the shallows, there is also healthy coral:
Indo_Bandas_502_Hatta-2d_Coral_20141125_IMG_7994

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And the sandy patches in the shallows provides a habitat for Flounders and Anemones:
Indo_Bandas_503_Hatta-2d_Flounder_20141126_IMG_8363 504_Hatta-2d_Anemone_20141126_IMG_8366.jpg

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There are some corals in the sandy shallows:
506_Hatta-2d_Shallow-Corals_20141126_IMG_8178.jpg

.. at low tides, even sticking-out of the sandy shallows:
505_Hatta-2d_Shallow-Corals_20141126_IMG_8179.jpg
..but there are enough gaps between the corals to be able to find a sandy route to the deeper waters.

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Watch out for the local fella spearfishing here:
508_Hatta-2d_Spearfisher_20141201_IMG_9629.jpg

He considers Clown Triggerfish to be fair-game.
Indo_Bandas_509_Hatta-2d_Clown-Triggerfish_20141126_IMG_8259

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Area H2e –  The Left Hand Side

I stayed at Sofian’s (H2d) and would often try and turn right (East) to explore those areas described above.  But usually I would be beaten back by strong currents.   Nine times out of ten, the better option was to go-with-the-flow and drift round to the West.

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The drop-off is steep here:
516_Hatta-2e_Dropoff_20141129_IMG_9207.jpg

and may harbor the occasional Napoleonfish:
515_Hatta-2e_Napoleonfish_20141126_IMG_8187.jpg

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The Banda Islands are often considered to be a decent, low-budget alternative to super-expensive Raja Ampat, 400 km further North.  The snorkelling is undoubtedly better in Raja Ampat, but every now-and-then, the Bandas deliver a “Raja Ampat Moment” with clear water, good corals and a truck-load of diverse fish. I sat by this sprig of Black Coral and watched a train of fish parade past:
518_Hatta-2e_Bluefin-Trevally_20141126_IMG_8192.jpg 519_Hatta-2e_Teardrop-Butterflyfish_20141126_IMG_8193.jpg Indo_Bandas_520_Hatta-2e_BluefinTrevelly-LunarFusilier-YellowbackFusilier_20141126_IMG_8194 522_Hatta-2e_Yellowback-fusilier_20141126_IMG_8198.jpg
That’s Bluefin-Trevally, Black Triggerfish, Teardrop-Butterflyfish, Lunar Fusilier, Yellowback Fusilier, Yellowfin Goatfish, Indo-Pacific Sergeant Major Damselfish, Midnight-Snapper and Highfin Drummer

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Area H2f – The Underwater Bridge

Further West, almost on the far North West corner, is Hatta’s famous underwater bridge.
526_Hatta-2f_Bridge_20141126_IMG_8211.jpg 527_Hatta-2f_Bridge_20141126_IMG_8212.jpg
It is deeper than it looks from the surface – please don’t try to swim under it unless you are sure you can make it.

Underneath, on the right hand side, is where Hatta’s second most chilled-out turtle hooks himself over a sea-fan and catches the breeze:
528_Hatta-2f_Bridge_20141127_IMG_8795.jpg
He is quite chilled-out, but will still take-flight if you scare him, so be nice!

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The North West corner is a popular place for triggerfish and fusiliers to surface-feed:
533_Hatta-2g_Feeding-Triggerfish-Fusiliers_20141127_IMG_8832.jpg

Not that there’s any shortage of triggerfish everywhere else. But while they are distracted with feeding, you might get close enough to figure out which species they are.  Indian Triggerfish (Melichthys indicus) look very similar to Black Triggerfish (Melichthys niger).  I had thought that the throngs in the Banda Islands were all M.indicus, but the proximity and light on this North Westerner suggests that they are probably M.niger.
534_Hatta-2g_Black-Triggerfish_20141126_IMG_8352.jpg

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Often, the afternoon sun warms up the grassy, shallow waters of the West coast – cooking-up a tasty, nutrient-rich vegetable soup for our scavenging friends. Sometimes, the soup is so thick that it makes the water murky:
536_Hatta-2g_Needlefish_20141127_IMG_8838.jpg
But the soupy water is so warm it is like sitting in a bath, making a nice relief from the chilly upwells everywhere else.

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Area H2g – West Beach

The Northern end of the West coast is blessed with a rugged, naturalistic, deserted beach.  The Southern half of that beach gives coral-free, easy access to/from the water. If currents are unfriendly, it is possible to get out and walk all the way from H2h to H2a. (At high tides, there is a bit of knee-high wading required at H2e-d).

Starting at the Northern end of the beach, there is a steep wall at the drop-off:
538_Hatta-2g_Dropoff_20141126_IMG_8264.jpg 539_Hatta-2g_Dropoff_20141126_IMG_8237.jpg

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Looking out into the blue, you can find a range of common schoolers:
541_Hatta-2g_Bluespine-Unicornfish_20141128_IMG_8904.jpg 544_Hatta-2g_Blubberlip-Snapper_20141127_IMG_8708.jpg  542_Hatta-2g_Bluespine-Unicornfish_20141126_IMG_8262.jpg

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Plus the uncommon Pomano:
543_Hatta-2g_Snubnose-Pompano_20141130_IMG_9525.jpg

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Don’t expect a lot of these, but there are a few lovely softcorals dotted here and there:
546_Hatta-2g_Dropoff_20141130_IMG_9462.jpg
547_Hatta-2g_Softcoral_20141201_IMG_9685.jpg  549_Hatta-2g_Seafan_20141128_IMG_8880.jpg Indo_Bandas_550_Hatta-2g_Seafan_20141127_IMG_8771 551_Hatta-2g_Seafan_20141201_IMG_9658.jpg552_Hatta-2g_Crinoid_20141128_IMG_8853.jpg553_Hatta-2g_Tunicates_20141128_IMG_8854.jpg 548_Hatta-2g_Crinoids_20141128_IMG_8851.jpg

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The corals in the shallows are patchy – some good some not so good.
559_Hatta-2g_Convict-Tang_20141126_IMG_8239.jpg 560_Hatta-2g_Corals_20141201_IMG_9645.jpg Indo_Bandas_563_Hatta-2g_Corals_20141126_IMG_8230 562_Hatta-2g_Softcorals_20141127_IMG_8701.jpg Indo_Bandas_561_Hatta-2g_TableCoral-PyramidButterflyfish_20141130_IMG_9467

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With a few interesting critters in the shallows:
564_Hatta-2g_Seacucumber_20141130_IMG_9460.jpg 565_Hatta-2g_Crab_20141130_IMG_9541.jpg

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This leafy-looking juvenile Rockmover Wrasse was in the shallows, hoping not to be noticed:
557_Hatta-2g_Rockmover-Wrasse-juvenile_20141130_IMG_9443.jpg

The juveniles look very different from the adults. These two adults (on the left) were in about the same spot, but a little deeper.
556_Hatta-2g_Checkerboard-Wrasse-Rockmover-Wrasse_20141127_IMG_8765.jpg

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A few notable fishies in the area:
567_Hatta-2g_Skunk-Anemonefish_20141127_IMG_8767.jpg 568_Hatta-2g_Emperor-Angelfish_20141130_IMG_9593.jpg 571_Hatta-2g_Diagonal-Banded-Sweetlips_20141127_IMG_8718.jpg 570_Hatta-2g_Cigar-Wrasse_20141127_IMG_8746.jpg Indo_Bandas_569_Hatta-2g_Teardrop-Butterflyfish_20141126_IMG_8282
(mouseover for speciesnames).

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Another species which looks very different between the juvenile and adult phase is the Masked Grouper.  Over here in area H2g, I had a veritable science-lab of Masked Groupers at their different stages of development:
574_Hatta-2g_Masked-Grouper-Juvenile_20141127_IMG_8693.jpg 575_Hatta-2g_Masked-Grouper-Juvenile_20141127_IMG_8761.jpg Indo_Bandas_576_Hatta-2g_Masked-Grouper-Intermediate_20141130_IMG_9581Species_Fish_Grouper_Masked-Grouper-AKA-Thinspine-Grouper_Gracila-albomarginata_IMG_5872_

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A strange phenomenon spotted around here is this unlucky Yellowmask Angelfish, who was being stalked by an annoying yellow Trumpetfish:
577_Hatta-2g_Tailing-YellowMask.jpg
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Hatta’s most chilled out Turtle can often be found here – he likes to tuck himself under some coral and hope that you can’t see him:
Indo_Bandas_578_Hatta-2g_Turtle_20141128_IMG_8886
You can see from the two ‘plates’ in front of his eyes, that he is a Hawksbill.

He’s fairly chilled-out, but will take flight if he feels nervous.
579_Hatta-2g_Turtle_20141126_IMG_8225.jpg

Apart from this fella, and the one who lives underneath the rock bridge, all the Turtles around these parts are scardey-cats and you will only get a glimpse as they rush past, heading for the safety of the deep waters.

The same goes for the sharks – you can find a few around,  but they will more likely be like this:
581_Hatta-2g_Blacktip-Reef-Shark_20141130_IMG_9584.jpg

than like this :
580_Hatta-2g_Blacktip-Reef-Shark_20141130_IMG_9550.jpg

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As you skull down the West coast, you can laugh heartily at those suckers on Banda Besar getting rained-on on such a beautiful day!
583_Hatta-2g_Rain_20141129_IMG_9164.jpg

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The further South you go, the deeper is the start of the drop-off.  This is about 4 metres deep:
587_Hatta-2h_Dropoff_20141126_IMG_8275.jpg

The back-reef has some decent coral, but it is also deeper here than on the North coast:
Indo_Bandas_591_Hatta-2h_Corals_20141126_IMG_8320
This is about 3m deep.

The shallow waters closer to the beach still have some decent corals:
593_Hatta-2h_Coral_20141126_IMG_8308.jpg 595_Hatta-2h_Anthias_20141126_IMG_8278.jpg Indo_Bandas_594_Hatta-2h_Coral_20141126_IMG_8276

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In the really shallow waters next to the beach, the seabed is a mix between grassy sand and broken-up dead corals.
597_Hatta-2h_Shallows_20141129_IMG_9184.jpg
The South end of the beach, level with H2h, is all like this.

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On the upside, the Orangeband Surgeonfish likes that kind of environment:
596_Hatta-2h_Orangeband-Surgeonfish_20141126_IMG_8339.jpg
Plus, the flat sea-bed gives you an easy way out of the water.

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The South end of the beach is a good place to stop. As you walk back up the beach, you can take in the sunset:
599_Hatta-2g_Sunset_20141126_IMG_8384.jpg

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AREA H3 – Past the main beach
There are often currents running North to South along that West beach.  Cautious folk need not go any further than the South end of the main beach (H2h):
600_Hatta-3ab_South-of-Beach_20141126_IMG_8336.jpg

But if you find a day without current and are feeling like exploring, you might want to continue South towards the next beach at H3b/c.

On the way, you might find some more schooling Humpback Unicornfish:
602_Hatta-3ab_Blue-Spine-Unicornfish_20141128_IMG_8913.jpg

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The coastline on the journey from H3a to H3b is all rocks and dense forest, but underwater there is some good coral, not too deep:
Indo_Bandas_603_Hatta-3ab_Coral_20141128_IMG_8912 604_Hatta-3ab_Coral_20141128_IMG_8929.jpg Indo_Bandas_605_Hatta-3ab_Coral_20141128_IMG_8936

Beaches H3b and H3c are two little beaches divided by a rocky headland:
607_Hatta-3b_3b-Beach_20141128_IMG_8937.jpg
(or maybe they are one big beach, divided by a rocky headland).

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There is some lovely coral at H3b:
Indo_Bandas_608_Hatta-3b_Coral_20141128_IMG_8940 Indo_Bandas_609_Hatta-3b_Coral_20141128_IMG_8944

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Beach H3c is much longer than you expected it to be:
611_Hatta-3c_Beach_20141128_IMG_8945.jpg

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there is also some lovely coral there:
Indo_Bandas_612_Hatta-3c_Coral_20141128_IMG_8949 Indo_Bandas_613_Hatta-3c_Coral_20141128_IMG_8954
This was deeper – about 3 metres down.

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Towards the drop-off, there is some frondy Soft Coral:
614_Hatta-3c_Coral_20141128_IMG_8957.jpg

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The drop-off is a plummeting vertical wall:
616_Hatta-3c_Wall_20141129_IMG_9169.jpg

These Longfin Pike seem to like it:
615_Hatta-3c_Longfin-Pike_20141128_IMG_8947.jpg

The end of beach H3c is a good place to stop and turn around.

If you have trouble swimming back Northwards; technically, it is possible to do some knee-depth wading along the headland H3b to H3a.  Possible, but difficult – the seabed is similar to that at H2h, so you’d definitely need some solid-soled footwear.  You would probably stomp on some undeserving little critters on the way, so it’s not a good option.

I’m told that there is a forest track that connects beaches 2 and 3.  I didn’t look for it myself, but some folks who did, couldn’t find it.

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South from here, the coastline is more ‘cliff-like’.
617_Hatta-3cd_Rocky-Coast_20141128_IMG_8958.jpg
The seabed below these cliffs is shallow and again, technically, you could wade this stretch if you had to, but like the remote parts of Pulau Ai, the rocky substrate is a slippery ankle-twister and would be tedious to walk along.

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Out on the reef – there is some OK coral on the stretch H3c-d.

Near the drop-off:
618_Hatta-3cd_Coral_20141128_IMG_8959.jpg

…and on the shallower back-reef:
Indo_Bandas_619_Hatta-3cd_Coral_20141128_IMG_8963
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1km further there is a nice beach at H3d:
623_Hatta-3d_Beach_20141128_IMG_8968.jpg

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The coral outside is OK:
Indo_Bandas_624_Hatta-3d4a_Coral_20141128_IMG_8977

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After the beach at H3d, you’re all out of options for walking home.  The coastal ‘cliffs’ continue vertically down to a reeftop 3 metres deep.  There is no longer an option to put your feet down and if you find yourself in a strong current, then you are going where-ever it wants you to go.

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Navigational beacon:

That’s about it for Hatta, you can stop reading.  Well, there is more, but you’d probably need a boat or suicidal tendencies to reach the rest of it.  Casual snorkellers might want to skip forward to the “Hatta Logistics” section.

If you are a bit hardcore, you might be interested in the pelagics on the Southern half of the East coast (in which case, search/skip forward to H5d)
———————————————————————————————–

I gingerly continued down the coast from H3d towards the South Western tip of the island at H4a.  There is quite a large garden of Soft-Coral on this stretch:
Indo_Bandas_625_Hatta-3d4a_Coral_20141128_IMG_9027

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Here’s a Turtle sticking out the edge of some Soft Coral, ready to take flight.
Indo_Bandas_626_Hatta-3d4a_Turtle_20141128_IMG_8975

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Notable fishes in the area were this juvenile Emperor Angelfish:
Indo_Bandas_627_Hatta-3d4a_Semicircle-Angelfish-Juvi_20141128_IMG_9003
and his buddies – the escaping Pinktail Triggerfish and Flagtail Triggerfish.

And this Batfish, possibly a Pinnate.
Indo_Bandas_628_Hatta-3d4a_Batfish_20141128_IMG_8981

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Fortunately, there wasn’t much current on the two times I visited this South West corner.  But Sea-fans love current, and the presence of these fellas suggest that things can get breezy on this corner:
Indo_Bandas_630_Hatta-4a_Wallfan_20141129_IMG_9138

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Area H4 – The South Coast

Round the corner at H4b, the long South coast comes into view.
Indo_Bandas_634_Hatta-4b_South-Coast_20141128_IMG_9009

Underwater, the rocks go vertically down to a reeftop four or five metres deep.  There were lots of Sleek Unicornfish around here both times I visited:
Indo_Bandas_636_Hatta-4b_Sleek-Unicornfish_20141128_IMG_8994 Indo_Bandas_635_Hatta-4b_Sleek-Unicornfish_20141128_IMG_8987
They can switch colour between blue-grey and black.

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The South coast is kinda boring.  The reef-top is 6 to 8 metres deep, so there’s not much to see.

Highlights were a few monstrously large table corals, five metres across:
Indo_Bandas_638_Hatta-4bd_TableCoral_20141129_IMG_9127

…an Octopus having a fight with an aggressive Wrasse (too deep/dark for photos); an escaping Turtle:
Indo_Bandas_640_Hatta-4d_Turtle_20141129_IMG_9118

and some schooling Blackfin Barracuda:
Indo_Bandas_641_Hatta-4d_Barracuda_20141129_IMG_9115

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Here’s the beach at H4d:
Indo_Bandas_643_Hatta-4d_Beach_20141129_IMG_9114
You can see how far it is to the beach – and we’re not even at the drop-off here.

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Area H5a – The South East corner

I’m writing this section backwards, just so that it fits-in with the counter-clockwise-ocity of the rest of the text.  In fact, I covered this South coast section by walking down the East coast to H5d then swimming round the South East headland: 5a-4d-4c-4b-4a-3d etc.

Despite the prevailing currents on the East coast being North to South, when I came to the South East corner and tried to swim around it “H5c-H5b-H4d”, there was a screaming current going North. It was so strong, I couldn’t get out to drop-off at H5b, so had to take the shallower option at H5a.  I’m just telling you this, because the shallower option at H5a is pretty boring:
Indo_Bandas_646_Hatta-5a_Shallows_20141129_IMG_9106
I don’t know what the drop-off at H5b is like.
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A leisurely swim from the South East to the North West corner of the island took three and a half  hours.

Now that we have reached the East coast, let’s take a quick diversion into the beach at H5d.

Here is the South East peninsula, looking from H5d towards the cape at H5a:
Indo_Bandas_647_Hatta-5cd_Peninsula_20141129_IMG_9095

Underwater, there is nothing spectacular here – it gets very shallow at low water, which is rarely good for coral or fish diversity.

But there are some fun roots coming down to the sea from the trees on the cliff top.
Indo_Bandas_648_Hatta-5cd_Roots_20141129_IMG_9093
Them’s some thirsty trees!

H5d is a decision-point if you are going to the South coast and/or want to find your way to the big beach at H4d.

This is the view up the beach from H5d to H6c:
Indo_Bandas_651_Hatta-5d_SE-beach_20141130_IMG_9409

I had walked down this East coast to get to H5d.  On the way, there is a wide, tall peninsula between H6d and H6c.  As I started to wade around it, some local farmers called me back and showed me a walking trail over the hill instead.  They were on their way to work near H4d. When we got to H5d, we went our different ways (I wanted to get wet and look at H5c, H5b etc.), but before we parted, they said that it was possible to get to the beach at H4d via the walking track starting at H5d.

I didn’t try it at the time, but came back the next day to try this track.  The start at H5d is pretty obvious.  It goes up a steep hill and round to the right. The track is strong for a couple of hundred metres, but then it suddenly stops at a junction of five ‘sorta-tracks’.  I spent a lot of time following each of them, but they all faded-out to nothingness.  That is what track-walking is like around here.  Probably, I gave up too soon on one of them and if I had pushed on, it would have sprung back to life and led me to my local friends and the beach.

So, this is just a starter for you if you want to discover the track to the big, deserted beach at H4d. Good luck.

I did see this funky pineapple:
Indo_Bandas_652_Hatta-5d_Pineapple_20141130_IMG_9401

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How to get around the headland H6d-H6c

While we’re talking about walking tracks, let’s cover that other one you might need to use – around the headland H6d to H6c.  At low water, you can get around this huge headland by doing a (knee deep) wade through the shallows.  At higher tides, the wading would be tedious, so you might consider taking the hilly trail over the top.

Generally, using small walking tracks in the Bandas is a nightmare because you need to have spent the last 30 years memorizing which ones are fake and which ones actually go somewhere.  In this case, going North to South is easy once you’ve found the start of the track.  Surprisingly, the track doesn’t start right at the end of the beach.  From the end of the beach, go back 30m North, then look for the gap under a tree and the small track almost parallel with the beach, but gently branching off to the right:
655_Hatta-6d_Path_20141129_IMG_9077.jpg
Once you are on this track, just follow your nose, up and over the headland.

Here is the view from the top of the hill looking back (North) to Kampung Baru jetty and the little island at H1b:
Indo_Bandas_656_Hatta-6cd_NE_20141129_IMG_9082

On your way back down to sea-level at H6c there is one Y-junction.  Take the right-hand fork.

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Using the same track from South to North isn’t so easy. You will never in a million years find the start of the track at H6c.  This might be a problem if you are planning on jumping in the sea at H1a and riding the current from H6e to H6a.  You will have to walk back afterwards, and will need to be able to find the South end of the track.

I suggest walking the track from North to South first, so that you can see where it tips-out at the Southern end.  For what it’s worth, The South end of the track is here at H6c, the North end of that Southern beach:
Indo_Bandas_654_Hatta-6c_Path_20141130_IMG_9436
When you reach the North end of that beach, turn around and walk back (South) 20 metres from the rocks and the dead tree, then turn towards the inland forest.

You will be here. Step up a metre onto the rocks on the left:
Indo_Bandas_655_Hatta-6c_Path_20141130_IMG_9434_mu
then the trail is diagonally up the rocks.

Best to try it out for yourself, North to South, first.

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Alright, enough walking – lets get back to H5d and back into the water.

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Here is the whole East coast:
Indo_Bandas_658_Hatta-6ab_East-Coast_20141130_IMG_9286n7n8v2_mu
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions. For this one, click once to expand it to the width of your screen, then click it again to zoom in some more.

Casual snorkellers can forget the East coast. The drop-off is 500m away from the beach.  The first half of that 500m is murky sea grass. The second half is unspectacular corals, quite deep down.

The attraction of the East coast is the pelagic (ocean-going) fishes there.  This is the most Easterly edge of the Banda Islands – next stop, Papua.   The deep water and oceanic currents make for a good showing of big fish.  Hardcore types might like it here.

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This section (6) is another bit that I am writing backwards.  In reality, I swam it H6e to H6a; not H6a to H6e.  The prevailing currents seem to be North to South, so that is the sensible way to do it – riding the current Southwards, and walking home afterwards.

In the interests of counter-clockwise-osity in the text, I’m starting writing from the South at H6a.

The coral at H6a is decent, but nothing really special:
Indo_Bandas_659_Hatta-6a_SE_20141130_IMG_9395

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The South end of the East coast is the place for bigger fish:
Indo_Bandas_660_Hatta-6ab_Barracuda_20141130_IMG_9393
Indo_Bandas_661_Hatta-6ab_Giant-Trevally_20141130_IMG_9390 Indo_Bandas_662_Hatta-6ab_Giant-Trevally_20141130_IMG_9392Indo_Bandas_663_Hatta-6ab_Bluefin-Trevally_20141130_IMG_9309Indo_Bandas_664_Hatta-6ab_GT-Turtle_20141130_IMG_9371

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Mostly, the reeftop on the East coast is deep (5-8m) and is nothing special:
Indo_Bandas_667_Hatta-6b_Reeftop_20141130_IMG_9379

However, just South of the headland H6d-H6c, the coral condition is better:
Indo_Bandas_669_Hatta-6b_Coral_20141130_IMG_9336

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Healthy coral tends to attract reef fish and here are a few notables:

I assume that this is a juvenile Black Snapper:
Indo_Bandas_674_Hatta-6b_Black-Snapper-Juvenile_20141130_IMG_9325
Usually, the predominant colour is black, but this one must be a non-conformist.

A Bignose Unicornfish showing off his colours:
Indo_Bandas_673_Hatta-6b_Bignose-Unicornfish_20141130_IMG_9348

This Whitetail Stingray is unusual:
Indo_Bandas_672_Hatta-6b_Whitetail-Stingray_20141130_IMG_9354n5

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Continuing North, the reeftop is still pretty deep (4-5m), but the coral condition is improving:
Indo_Bandas_675_Hatta-6b_Humpback-Snapper_20141130_IMG_9321 Indo_Bandas_671_Hatta-6b_Coral_20141130_IMG_9360

…improving further as we start to draw level with the jetty:
Indo_Bandas_679_Hatta-6be_Coral_20141130_IMG_9329 Indo_Bandas_680_Hatta-6be_Coral_20141130_IMG_9299 Indo_Bandas_678_Hatta-6be_Diagonal-Banded-Sweetlips_20141130_IMG_9289

And, to end, a convenient 500m swim out from Kampung Baru jetty, the coral at H6e is pretty good:
Indo_Bandas_681_Hatta-6be_Coral_20141130_IMG_9294 Indo_Bandas_682_Hatta-6be_Coral_20141130_IMG_9281

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So that’s a full circle around Pulau Hatta.

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Just for completeness, there is a coral atol 2km South of Pulau Hatta. It is called Seraku Hatta (=”Hatta shallows”) sometimes Karang Hatta (=”Hatta coral)”)). It is all underwater except at very low tides, but you might find it on nautical charts, or see the occasional dive boat or fishing boat hanging around it.  Intrigued by tantalising tales of Hammerhead Sharks on a shelf 20 metres down, I thought I might try to swim out there.

It was a total non-starter.  Much too far to swim in open water with unpredictable currents.

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Hatta Logistics

Transport
The public ferry leaves Hatta’s Kampung Baru jetty (H1a) for Banda Neira at about 7am every other day.  In theory, it stops in at the beach at H2b to collect more passengers (I wouldn’t rely on that, personally). The villagers do all their buying and selling in the market at Banda Neira in the morning, then the boat takes them home again, leaving Banda Neira somewhere between 11am and 2pm.  If everyone has had a good day’s shopping, they might skip a day, so there might be two days without any public boats. The fare is 25 000 IDR one way.

There is no phone reception (or internet) on Hatta, so it is difficult to plan transport in advance – you just have to go to the jetty at Banda Neira and ask around. If a boat has arrived from Hatta that morning, it will be going back in the afternoon. If not, try again tomorrow.

Pak Sofian has his own boat and does a supplies-run to Banda Neira every day or two.  If you are planning to stay at his Rozengain Vitalia Guesthouse, you might be able to get a ride from him. You may or may-not have to pay for the boat-ride. Waterproof your belongings and yourself – if there is the slightest chop in the sea, you will get soaked.  For info about Sofian’s vacancies and movements, try asking Alan at Vita Guesthouse in Banda Neira.

No doubt you can charter private boats from Band Neira to Hatta.

You could also ask around the guesthouses and diveshops to see if you can hop a one-way ride on a daytrip.

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Accommodation

Sofian’s Rozengain Vitalia Guesthouse (H2d) is foreign tourists’ most popular place to stay.  Tucked away at the dead-end of the village road, it has a more isolated, ‘foreign-beach-resort’ feel than staying at a homestay in the village.  You can even put in an advance order for a cold beer in the evening. There are 6 rooms, four with private bathroom.  It is the most expensive option on Hatta at around 200 000 IDR.

All accommodations include three meals a day in the price.

In Kampung Lama, the longest-running option is Pak Yusef’s homestay.  “Homestay” means a variety of things in Indonesia – at one end of the scale, it is used to describe a standard guesthouse – you have your own lockable room (often with a private bathroom) and eat set-meals at prescribed times, sitting down with any other guests staying there. At the other end of the scale, “homestay” might mean a spare room in the family house – there would be no lock on the door, you use the same toilet/shower as the family and eat at the family’s kitchen table (though usually not at the same time as them). In this model, you have to deal with papa’s floaters in the morning and little Kevin’s trombone practice at night.  Pak Yusef’s is more like the second version, and costs around 120 000 IDR.  Not sure about the floaters. Pak Yusef speaks some English.

New in 2015 is Tiara Guesthouse, on its own isolated beach halfway between the two villages.  It has five rooms, going for about 150 000 IDR.

There are a few homestays in Kampung Baru village, including Simone‘s (2 rooms) near the South of the village for about 100 000 IDR. Ask around for the others.

Villagers have noticed the piles of money that Sofian is making and are putting up their prices accordingly.

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I stayed at Sofian’s and, apart from it being twice the price of the same thing on Ai and Rhun, I had no complaints.  The setting is lovely, on a nice isloated beach, right next to the best snorkelling on the island. Rooms are just a mattress on the floor and a mosquito net.  I had a private bathroom (western style toilet (with no seat!) and a trash-can mandi. No shelves or storage).  Shower water has to be brought-in, so don’t use too much.  In the afternoons, the water is warm when the sun has been shining on the two big water tanks in the garden.

Sofian doesn’t live on site and you won’t see him very often.  His wife and daughters bring meals from the family house in the village.  No English spoken.

Pricing seems to be on a sliding scale.  If you are a cute and friendly young lady who speaks Indonesian, you might qualify for ‘the cute-and-friendly-young-lady-who-speaks-Indonesian’ discount plan. Conversely, if you are a pain-in-the-ass, you might get charged the ‘drinking water’ and/or ‘boat transfer’ supplements.  It is best to agree prices up front.
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Some people find the place claustrophobic. There is not much to do after dark, so all the guests are crowded together in the dining area until bed time.  That is fine if everybody is getting-on, but it might feel like a pressure-cooker reality TV show, if not.

You might have to arm-wrestle for a socket/outlet to charge your electronics.
Indo_Bandas_696_Hatta-General_PlugIn_20141201_IMG_9709
This lot are all hanging off a single outlet. It would be wise to bring your own multi-socket extension lead. Island electricity is on from 6-9pm only. Bring a flashlight.

No electricity means no fans at night.  There have been some thefts from the place, so the family locks up the doors at night and recommends that you keep your room windows closed. With everything closed, it was a bit warm at night, but not any major problem.

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These are good guidelines and apply anywhere:
Indo_Bandas_695_Hatta-General_Guidelines_20141201_IMG_9671

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Things to do
Apart from beach and sea-stuff, there’s not much to do on Pulau Hatta.

Maybe a bit of walking. Have a wander round the villages.

Unlike the other outlying islands, you can walk all the way from the North West to the South East of the island (via the East coast beaches). Say hello to the Pelicans.

There aren’t any historic forts.

If you are masochistic, you could try following some walking tracks through the interior forest.  The tracks are ill-defined and mostly fade-out into nothingness, but if you have a compass/GPS, water and plenty of remaining daylight hours, they could provide an interesting diversion. You will get lost, so don’t start it late in the day or you will spend the night sleeping in the forest.
Indo_Bandas_686_Hatta-General_Path_20141128_IMG_9064
There are trails leading up the hill from the back of both villages.

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There is a Partridge indigenous to the island. See if you can see it:
Indo_Bandas_692_Hatta-General_Partridges_20141201_IMG_9678

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C: Pulau Rhun

Rhun/Run (pronounced “Roon”) is considered to be the poor-cousin of the three main outlying islands. It has less tourist accommodation and fewer obvious snorkelling spots than Pulau Ai or Hatta.

The two nice snorkelling spots that daytrip boats visit are widely thought to be “boat-only” jobs, but that is not really the case – at low tides, you can walk to them. At higher tides, it is not that far to swim there. You will also find some other decent snorkelling on the way there.

Public ferries from Banda Neira to Rhun run every two (or three) days.

There is one village on Rhun, stretching out for 1 km at the middle of the North West coast.

There are two homestays in Rhun village costing about 120 000 IDR, including meals.

Rhun’s most famous feature is a small satellite island in the North East – Pulau Nailaka. This tiny island is fringed with a sandy beach and there is some great coral nearby. This is where the tour boats come.

At low tides, it is possible to walk the 2km from Rhun village to Pulau Nailaka along the sandy/ rocky shallows of Rhun’s North coast.   It comes as a  surprise to many people that you can also snorkel the same route (200m out from the shore) along a drop-off which has decent coral and Banda’s usual range of interesting fishes.

The other notable spot is a small beach on the East side, which has some great coral. It takes more effort to get there, but it can be done if either the current or the tide is in your favour.

I snorkelled around the whole of the island and, in fact, there is decent coral around most of it.  But with high cliffs and (almost) no walking tracks, your only options for getting to the Southern half of the island are a boat or a nine hour swim.

Rhun is strictly moslem. The locals are less used to seeing tourists than on Ai or Hatta. Those guidelines about respecting local values and not walking around in beach-clothes apply even more here. You won’t find beer anywhere.

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Indo_Bandas_699_Rhun-MapMain
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.  For these island maps, click once to expand it to the maximum height of your screen, then click it again to zoom-in some more.

Here is the ferry from Banda Neira, reversing towards the beach at Rhun village.
700_Rhun-General_Arrival_20141202_IMG_9733.jpg
As with Pulau Ai – they don’t use the jetty, the ferry just pulls-up on the sandy beach next to it and you have to wade the last ten metres.

There are three ferries that go from Neira to Rhun:
701_Rhun-General_Ferries_20141205_IMG_0163.jpg
One of them has a fibreglass cowling and looks like something Blowfelt would use for transfers to his secret island.

As with the other islands, all three ferries travel at the same time, presumably as mutual support for breakdowns. Also the same as the other islands, ferries leave Rhun early morning to take the islanders to Banda Neira for the market.  Ferries return to Rhun in the early afternoon when everyone is all shopped-out. Ferries to Rhun run every two (or three) days, depending on the demand.

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I found this nice aerial/hillside shot of the village on the web and scribbled over it:
702_Rhun-General_Aerial-Village_mu.jpg
Kudos to panoramio user ‘Giga Nusantara’ for the original.

It looks nicer than my December-day view of the village beach:
703_Rhun-General_Village-Beach-NE_20141208_IMG_0611.jpg

..which was taken looking North East from the island jetty:
704_Rhun-General_Jetty_20141205_IMG_0175.jpg

There are two options for accommodation in Rhun.  Coming from the jetty, both are on the first road (parallel to the beach).  Manhattan 2 Homestay is ten metres to the right (South East) of the jetty; Nailaka Homestay is 30 metres to the left (North East).  They are pretty similar to each other, and both cost about 120 000IDR.

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Area R1 – Out front

Our snorkelling exploits start at the main beach in Area R1.  (The R is for Rhun and doesn’t appear on the map).

The village beach is a working-area for small fishing boats to come and go.  Don’t have any thoughts about rolling out your towel and sunbaking there.

The local kiddies do find the opportunity for their leisure exploits there, zooming around in little canoes:
706_Rhun-1_Playground_20141202_IMG_9738.jpg

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Underwater, there is nothing to get excited about here. The first 20m out from the beach is sandy bottom & sea grass; and ladies walking around collecting these litlle fellas:
705b_Rhun-1a-Free-grub2_20141205_IMG_0022.jpg 705_Rhun-1a-Free-grub_20141208_IMG_0612.jpg

This coast gets hit by the monsoon storms. The corals in the shallows are well and truly smashed-up:
707_Rhun-1c_Shallows_20141203_IMG_9855.jpg
In a few spots, Horned Sea Stars provide a much-needed distraction.

Further out at R1b, there is a ‘bowl’ of deep water, used to anchor boats in.
708_Rhun-1b_Boatpark_20141208_IMG_0616.jpg
This is a few metres deep, but is still just broken-up coral on the bottom.

Further out from the anchorage, the seabed reverts to shallow water and dead coral.

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But life is funny and sometimes you find the best things in the worst places. It was here at R1d that I found this beautiful Dusky Nembrotha Nudibranch:
711_Rhun-1d_Dusky-Nembrotha-Nudibranch_20141202_IMG_9835.jpg Species_Nudis_Polyceridae_Nembrotha_Dusky-Nembrotha_Nembrotha-kubaryana_20141202_IMG_9824_

Take that, Raja Ampat!

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Continuing out to R1e, 200m off the beach, you reach the drop-off:
712_Rhun-1e_Corals_20141202_IMG_9742.jpg
Here, the top of the drop-off starts in just 1 – 2 metres of water, then slopes down to another shelf at 5 metres.  The drop-off at R1e has some nice soft coral. The hard coral varies, fair-to-middling as you move along the drop-off.

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Area R1e (and points North East)

You can turn right at R1e and spend a couple of hours skulling along the drop-off towards Pulau Neilaka in the far North-East.

Before you do, stop to think about the current and how you are going to get back.  The current here varies, but most times, it was mild and flowing from South West to North East.  It was a comfortable swim out to Nailaka, but a tedious pedal (with fins) against the current on the return journey. If you encounter a stronger current, you might need to make the return journey on foot, along the coastal shallows (R3n to R2m).  You will need hard-soled shoes for this and it is best to time your return journey at a low(ish) tide.  The Northern half of the North-East coast (R3n to R2n) is all easily walkable beaches, but the part nearer to the village (R2n to R2m) is rocky shallows with plenty of toe-stubbable rocks on the way.  Try to go at low tide, when it is easier to see the toe-stubbers coming and the rocky seabed is less slippery.

Of course, on currenty days (or if you just don’t want to schelp all the way to Nailaka) you can stay within the village bay.  Here are some sights on the drop-off at the Northern half of the village bay, R1e to R2a:

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More patches of soft corals:
714_Rhun-1e2a_Corals_20141202_IMG_9747.jpg

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The reeftop is mostly shabby, but the Redtooth Triggerfish don’t seem to mind:
715_Rhun-1e2a_Corals_20141202_IMG_9749.jpg

and a herd of Bumphead Triggerfish come by to chomp-up the reeftop some more:
716_Rhun-1e2a_Corals_20141202_IMG_9773.jpg

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Further along the coast, there is some more decent soft coral:
717_Rhun-1e2a_Corals_20141202_IMG_9751.jpg

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The occasional patch of colourful sponges, ascdians and softcorals are a highlight of the Northern drop-off:
718_Rhun-1e2a_Corals_20141203_IMG_9857.jpg
719_Rhun-1e2a_Corals_20141202_IMG_9752.jpg
720_Rhun-1e2a_Corals_20141202_IMG_9755.jpg 721_Rhun-1e2a_Corals_20141202_IMG_9780.jpg

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Continuing North East, the condition of the hard coral improves a bit:
723_Rhun-1e2a_Corals_20141202_IMG_9765.jpg 724_Rhun-1e2a_Corals_20141203_IMG_9872.jpg 722_Rhun-1e2a_Corals_20141202_IMG_9762.jpg

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Area R2 – North of the Village

Getting away from the village at R2a and following the drop-off, the soft coral is looking good:
726_Rhun-2a_Corals_20141203_IMG_9866.jpg 727_Rhun-2ab_Corals_20141203_IMG_9868.jpg

You might spot a Bicolor Angelfish on the reeftop:
730_Rhun-2ab_Bicolor-Angelfish_20141202_IMG_9744.jpg

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Continuing North East, past R2b, some bigger fish hang round the drop-off:
728_Rhun-2ab_Midnight-Snapper_20141203_IMG_9876.jpg  734_Rhun-2bc_Napoleonfish_20141203_IMG_9906.jpg 733_Rhun-2_SquaretailGrouper-BluefinTrevally_20141203_IMG_9889.jpg 732_Rhun-2bc_Blacktip-Reef-Shark_20141203_IMG_9873.jpg 731_Rhun-2bc_Giant-Trevally_20141203_IMG_9870_.jpg
(mouseover for speciesnames)

I didn’t see many Cuttlefish in the Banda Islands.  There was one here:
735_Rhun-2bc_Cuttlefish_20141203_IMG_9897.jpg

Continuing North at R2c, about level with the start of the beachy coastline, the drop-off turns into a steep wall for a bit:
736_Rhun-2bc_Wall_20141203_IMG_9909.jpg

The corals on the reeftop have plenty of character:
739_Rhun-3ab_Corals_20141203_IMG_9926.jpg

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Area R3 – Towards the North End of Rhun

738_Rhun-MapNE.jpg

Continuing North East, at R3a, level with the beachy zone, and with Nailaka in your sights:
740_Rhun-3ab_Neilaka_20141203_IMG_9927.jpg

…the hard corals turn into something worth talking about:
741_Rhun-3ab_Oriental-Sweetlips_20141203_IMG_9929.jpg 742_Rhun-3ab_Corals_20141203_IMG_9931.jpg
743_Rhun-3ab_Corals_20141203_IMG_9934.jpg

…and the soft corals continue to fill in the gaps:
744_Rhun-3ab_Corals_20141203_IMG_9943.jpg

On the reef-edge, here are some Diagonal Banded Sweetlips:
745_Rhun-3ab_Diagonal-Banded-Sweetlips_20141203_IMG_9952.jpg
(there was a posse of seven of them here)

And a Shark down at the base of the drop-off:
747_Rhun-3ab_Shark_20141203_IMG_9955.jpg

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Area R3c  – The Best Bit

There is a gorgeous coral garden here, at R3c.  The pictures speak for themselves:
751_Rhun-3c_Corals_20141203_IMG_9964.jpg 752_Rhun-3c_Bluestreak-Fusilier_20141203_IMG_9965.jpg 753_Rhun-3c_Corals_20141203_IMG_9978.jpg 754_Rhun-3c_Corals_20141203_IMG_9980.jpg 749_rhun-3c_corals_20141203_img_9958.jpg
Sweet!

This is the best coral on the island and is where the daytrip boats come.

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Continuing North East past R3d towards Nailaka, the coral condition fades a bit:
756_Rhun-3d_Corals_20141203_IMG_9984.jpg

I spotted a Vagabond Butterflyfish and a couple of Threadfin Butterflyfish
757_Rhun-4a_VagabondButterflyfish-ThreadfinButterflyfish_20141203_IMG_9985.jpg
… as I climbe