The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on ...
Once famous for its role in the spice trade and fought over by colonial powers, Ambon today has become world-renowned for an entirely different reason, as home to some of the best ‘muck’ diving on the planet. And ‘muck’ it is. Some dive sites can be dirty and littered with man-made waste, but they are home to an astonishing array of bizarre and beautiful critters. Ambon is easily on a par of other famous muck destinations and with its unique species and low-key diving, could rightly claim to be the best muck destination in Indonesia.
Diving in Ambon is focused on the famous ‘muck’ sites of Ambon Bay. These sites are concentrated along the north coast and hidden on the gentle slopes are an incredible variety of unique critters - some found nowhere else in the world. Close to the airport is the Laha area, named after a small village on the north coast of the bay. Here, at the ‘Twilight zone’ can be found Rhinopias, frogfish, ghost pipefish, different species of unusual octopus, crustaceans and nudibranchs galore. Amongst the legs of the jetty and amidst piles of debris thrown overboard from fishing boats are schools of striped catfish, silversides and moray eels, whilst Ambon scorpionfish and Inimicus lie camouflaged. Further away from the ‘Twilight Zone’ are equally interesting sites - Rhino City, Mandarin City, Middle Point and more are all home to unusual and fascinating species. Whilst some of the diving is ‘muck’ to the extreme, these sites are some of the most consistent for sightings of unusual critters in the world.
For photographers, these sites along the north coast of the Ambon Bay are amongst the best in the world for shooting unusual species. The guides working at the resorts have developed an understanding of the behaviour of many of the species found here and can guide photographers and help them work through their wish list of species. Much like at Lembeh Strait in Sulawesi, Ambon Bay is a place where lovers of the weird, the wonderful, and the bizarrely beautiful will want to come again and again.
Ambon also has some great reef diving along the south coats, particularly at Pintu Kota and Hukirila Cave. Whilst they are not world-class, they offer the potential for a great day trip and respite from the relentless critter hunt of Ambon Bay. For those interested, there is also the wreck of the Duke of Sparta closer to Ambon’s main harbour.
Snorkelling in Ambon Bay is not worth the trouble - the sites are really only worth exploring by diving. However, a few of the south coast sites are worth a visit, especially around Pintu Kota and Hukirila Cave. But given the nature of the diving around Ambon, and the wide choice of other locations that offer incredible snorkelling, we do not recommend Ambon as a destination if you are a non-diver.
Ambon and its larger neighbour, Seram, lie at the northern edge of the Banda Sea and like all the islands in this part of the ‘Ring of Fire’, are of volcanic origin. The island’s rich soils and gentle climate support an amazing variety of crops, in particular nutmeg and clove, for which Ambon became famous for in the 16th century. in fact the island was once at the very heart of the spice trade and fought over by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, all vying to control the production of cloves in particular. However, once plantations of these valuable spices were established elsewhere, this ‘Spice Island’ drifted into obscurity once again.
In more recent years, Ambon and many other islands of the Maluku Archipelago were the scene of political and religious unrest from 1999 to 2002. Tourism in the area came to a standstill and the island’s peaceful atmosphere was marred by violence. However, today Ambon and the surrounding islands are entirely safe and all signs of the conflict have been erased. For over a decade, tourism and visitors numbers - especially of divers - have been steadily increasing, mainly because of the amazing muck diving of Ambon Bay.
International visitors arriving in Ambon by air are reasonably well catered for and there are daily flights through Makassar in Sulawesi from Bali, Jakarta, Sorong and Manado. Visitors can also fly in directly from Jakarta or stop over in Manado. Given Ambon’s location and connections, divers can easily combine a trip to Raja Ampat with a few days in Ambon, breaking up a sequence of long flights and transfers with some great muck diving, before heading to Sorong and Raja Ampat.
Once in Ambon, all road transfers to the resorts are handled directly by the resorts.
In the 1990’s several small dive centres sprung up along the south coast, catering for adventurous divers looking to explore the local sites, but these were shut down during the political unrest in 2000 and 2001. Ambon was then visited by liveaboards for a few years, and word began to spread of the fantastic muck diving that could be found within the bay. The first resort opened its doors in 2005 and since then a number of othera have sprung up, catering for divers searching for their ultimate critters. These resorts range from home stays to small resorts and all are very much diver- and photographer-orientated.
Being so close to the equator means Ambon has a hot and humid climate throughout the year - day time temperatures of 26 - 29C are the norm, whilst the water temperature varies between 25 - 27C, with the occasional cold current in deeper areas. The wettest months are from May through to August, unlike much of the rest of Indonesia when these months are typically the driest! During this period, strong winds and waves can make diving in the south and western areas, including the well-known muck sites, very difficult and with very low visibility. In fact the resorts in this part of Ambon shut down from July through to September for maintenance.
The best time of year is probably September to December when the visibility can be great and there are plenty of critters to be found.