Hammertime onboard the Raja Manta
It’s that time of year again, Hammertime! Every year as the Komodo season comes to an end the thoughts and dreams of our guests and crew turn to the allure of the magical, remote and beautiful Banda Sea. Filled with highlights both above and below the waves, guests from all over the world come to enjoy amazing sunsets, stunning Volcanic islands, clear blue waters, thriving coral reefs, diverse marine life and, of course, the chance to encounter huge schools of scalloped hammerheads which can be found in these waters in massive numbers. Over the last few seasons we have had great success in locating the hammers, but of course nothing in nature is guaranteed and so as the first Banda sea trip of the season begun, one question hung in the air… would we enjoy a spectacular “hammertime?” This year, for the first time, the trip would be onboard our KM Raja Manta (previously the White Manta) – recently renamed and relocated to Indonesia this would be her maiden voyage – and so hopes were high for a spectacular trip.
Departing from the port of Maumere beneath a stunning sunset and heading out across slightly choppy seas the first day was all about preparation, setting up dive gear, preparing underwater camera housings, orientating ourselves to the new vessel and checking out the quality of the first meal! The leisurely cruise also allowed crew and guests to mingle, meet & greet and get to know each other, the main topic of conversation? Yep, Hammerheads! Our first few dives the next morning would be critter dives where the targets would be a little bit smaller than the shark megastars we would hunt later. Instead we were on the hunt for macro megastars, Painted Frogfish, Rhinopias, Indian Ocean Walkman, Coconut Octopus and Long Fin Squid were amongst some of the highlights encountered during the first days diving.
The next day we would enjoy very fishy dives where hunting Dog Tooth Tuna, schooling unicorn fish and multiple sightings of Brown Banded Bamboo Sharks kept everyone happy. One dive, which features a labyrinth of rocky canyons and an underwater arch at 30 meters leading to a fish filled canyon, proved to be a favorite with all onboard; during our safety stop we found a ledge with 20 Painted Spiny Lobster! Further highlights over the next few days included a sighting of a Thresher Shark, an amazing, graceful and much sought after marine megastar, we were also treated to some cavernous swim thrus, swarms of Anthias and Red Tooth Triggerfish in the shallows along healthy and colourful hard coral reefs, multiple species of anemone and reef fish and even some underwater geo thermal activity. During night dives, we found Hairy Octopus, Spanish Dancer, Ghost Pipefish, many species of nudibranch and decorator crab. Dogtooth Tuna, Grey Reef Sharks, White Tips and huge Nurse sharks were also spotted on numerous occasions. Even without the hammerheads, this first trip in Indonesia for KM Raja Manta was proving to be something special!
We were also able to visit some of the remote villages in the Banda Sea, founded on the Nutmeg and Spice trade that made these islands world famous, these villages offered a fascinating glimpse into island life in such a remote part of the Indonesian archipelago. It was hart warming to be welcomed so enthusiastically by the local villagers who offered us fresh coconut juice and provided guided tours of their beautifully maintained villages and homes.
One of the most interesting aspects of these Banda Sea trips is the chance to dive around volcanic islands where amazing pristine hard coral reefs grow on top of underwater lava flows. Huge Sea Kraits & Sea snakes patrol these waters in great numbers, some of these islands are also where we get the chance to encounter schools of Scalloped Hammerheads, and this first Raja Manta cruise in Indonesia proved to be no different – everyone onboard was thrilled as we came face to face with a number of hammerhead schools throughout the cruise. We saw groups of between 20 to well over 300 sharks. There really are no words that can describe just how incredible these interactions are, check out this short video from our onboard Videograher, Nu, during last years Banda Sea adventures.
All the crew on Raja Manta would like to thank our guests who joined our maiden cruise. We truly enjoyed the company of new & old friends from all over the globe; France, UK, USA, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Thanks to John Ung from Great Ocean Divers for supplying some great video evidence of the schooling Hammerheads for our facebook page and of course for bringing along a great group of divers! We would like to make a special mention for James Healy a British ex pat based in Singapore, who made his 500th dive in Alor, perhaps more memorable was his 499th dive as he was lucky enough to see a 3m thresher shark! We would also like mention Ka ki from Hong Kong who had her birthday on the final day of the trip, to celebrate we had a fantastic party and the crew got out the guitars for some sing a long action, luckily it was our last night because the party went on until 3am!
Thanks again to all who joined us, we can’t wait to welcome you back!