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Menado to Banda and Ambon 1000 miles 14 days

Top Indonesia sea voyages are meant as suggestions for the interesting courses that ships may follow through the archipelago. The routes are for planning purposes only and one must keep in mind that the itinerary and program may have to be modified as a result of unfavorable winds or other circumstances. This itinerary from Menado to Ambon covers about 1000 miles and would take a minimum of 14 days. Depending on your personal interests and preferences it could of course be stretched, shortened or made in reverse.

In a way this voyage follows ‘in the wake’ of the British naturalist and explorer, Alfred Russell Wallace. He is best known for independently proposing a theory of evolution due to natural selection that prompted Charles Darwin to publish his own theory. He was in fact the first prominent scientist who dared to raise concerns over the environmental impact of human activity about a century and a half ago!
From 1854 to 1862, age 31 to 39, Wallace travelled through the Dutch East Indies in order to study its nature. His observations of the marked zoological differences across a narrow strait in the archipelago led to his proposing the zoogeographical boundary now known as the Wallace line. While he was exploring the archipelago, he refined his thoughts about evolution and had his famous insight on natural selection. In 1858 he sent an article outlining his theory to Darwin; it was published, along with a description of Darwin's own theory, in the same year. Accounts of his studies and adventures were eventually published in 1869 as “The Malay Archipelago”. We strongly suggest you bring the book along. It will give another dimension to the voyage. 

On the first day you set your course for a first overnight passage from Menado into the Molucca Sea. The following morning, as the day breaks, you pass by the small island of Mayu. In the course of the afternoon of the second day you reach Ternate. We suggest you go ashore immediately to explore the town and then spend the night at anchor. Today Ternate is still a major administrative center of the Moluccas but the peak of its power and importance was in the fifteenth and sixteenth century when the sultans of Ternate and nearby Tidore ruled an empire that stretched all the way from the eastern part of Sulawesi to Ambon, Ceram and parts of Papua. The islands were the world's major producer of cloves and the sultans who controlled the spice trade were celebrated through the East for their power and regal magnificence. Wallace claims in his autobiography that it was on Ternate that he wrote his initial paper proposing a theory of evolution by means of natural selection.  He describes his arrival on the island on page 312 of “The Malay Archipelago: ” On the morning of the 8th of January, 1858, I arrived at Ternate, the fourth of a row of fine conical volcanic islands which skirt the west coast of the large and almost unknown island of Gilolo. The largest and most perfectly conical mountain is Tidore, which is over four thousand feet high-Ternate being very nearly the same height, but with a more rounded and irregular summit. The town of Ternate is concealed from view till we enter between the two islands, when it is discovered stretching along the shore at the very base of the mountain. Its situation is fine, and there are grand views on every side…” 

On the third day you could sail past Tidore and several other beautiful islands in the same chain, all the way to Kayoa Island, which Wallace reached in October 1858. In the virgin forests he found colorful beetles, "so abundant that they rose up in swarms."  The equator crosses the island in the middle and we suggest that you look for an anchorage near the southern tip of sister island Laluin. At that point you have already entered the southern hemisphere so start the celebrations and spend the night at anchor.

On the fourth day you sail into the narrow strait between Kasiruta and Bacan and past several small islands to Labuha Bay. Bacan used to be another powerful sultanate dating way back into the 14th century. It was an important producer of clove and frequented by Arab and Persian traders long before the western powers entered the stage. Today its capital Labuha remains a port of call for vessels that trade among these islands; the town is the capital of the South Halmahera Regency.  Do spend another night at anchor.

We suggest you visit the early morning market. You will find a colorful scene of vegetables, fruits and spices. Not far from Labua harbor you could also visit Fort Barneveld, a stronghold constructed by the Dutch in 1615 to help protect the clove monopoly. However, on this fifth day you may time your departure in view of the 150 mile passage to the Island of Sulabesi. You will be sailing through the remainder of the day and the following night.

In the course of the sixth day you reach Sulabesi and visit its principal town Sanana, where you find an ancient Portuguese fortress, with its characteristic pinnacles at the four corners of the walls still reasonably intact. Outside the main town there is a Bajo village where you wander through a maze of wooden foot-bridges that connect the houses, all built on stilts over the sea. The Bajo are a nomadic tribe of ‘Sea gypsies’, originally from Sulawesi.

After another overnight crossing you will reach Buru, the third largest island in the Moluccas on the seventh day. Buru is harsh and mountainous. Because of its remoteness it served as the notorious island of internal exile during the Suharto era. Thousands of political prisoners were imprisoned here including Indonesia’s most famous author, Pramudya Ananta Tur. You could drop anchor and make a stop on the North Coast or go straight to Kampung Namlea, the administrative center of the island on the Eastern side. 

During the eighth day of the cruise you may want to go on a short river cruise from Namlea into the jungle of the interior in an effort to spot some wildlife. Like all the islands of Maluku, Buru has its own collection of endemic birds, such as pittas, sunbirds and kingfishers.  In general it must be noted that Maluku is indeed a major hub of global bird diversity with 94 bird species found nowhere else on earth - more birds than for any other similar area. In addition Buru is home to the peculiar Babirusa - an animal that looks part pig, part deer.  It is found only in Sulawesi and Buru and its ancestry is lost in the mists of time.

On the ninth day you could move nearby Kelang Island to go ashore for a trek through villages, vegetable gardens and tropical rainforest; you have another good chance to encounter wildlife here. From Kelang the view over the surrounding islands and toward Ceram and Buru is breathtaking.  During the night you could go on a southerly course round Cape Hatamata, the extreme southeasterly point of Ceram.
On the tenth day you explore the Bight of Hitu on the North Coast of Ambon Island which was a favorite anchorage of the early navigators. We suggest that you go beach-combing and snorkeling around the islands in Piru Bay. Pass through the Horuke Strait in the late afternoon and start the 110 mile passage to the Banda archipelago.

Dedicate the days that follow to the Banda archipelago, considered by some to be the most beautiful islands on earth. Tiny specks in the vast Banda Sea, the three main islands enclose a harbour with water so transparent that living corals and even minute objects are plainly seen on the volcanic sand at depths of tens of meters. 

On the eleventh day you reach Run, the first of the Banda’s.  An amazing historical footnote is the fact that in 1667, under the Treaty of Breda, this small island was ceded by the English to the Dutch in exchange for Manhattan. After rounding Run make a stop at the Island of Ai. Go ashore on the beach to meet with the villagers. A short walk brings you to fort Revenge which was built by the English. Behind the fort you find the first nutmeg plantations.  From Ai you move on to the main Island of Bandaneira. Tie up or anchor off the waterfront and spend the afternoon strolling through the old town of Neira. You will not fail to get a good sense of its history when you view the planters’ mansions, fortifications and churches. You also find that Fort Belgica was an early blueprint of the Pentagon.  Until today the population of Neira is an interesting mix of Malay, Arab, Dutch and Melanesian.

For the twelfth day we suggest an early morning ascent of the Gunung Api volcano. While this is a challenging climb up a narrow track to an elevation of about 600 meters the reward to reach the top of the “Fire Mountain” is more than worth it: a stunning and unforgettable view over the Banda Sea, the surrounding islands and the crater itself. The Banda islands are in fact the remainder of a large volcano that sank into the sea and the curved edge of the largest island clearly traces out the rim of its massive sunken caldera.

On the thirteenth day you could cross over to visit Lonthor, the largest island in the chain.  Here you can visit Fort Hollandia, the Groot Walingen estate and a nutmeg plantation.  Wallace: …”Few cultivated plants are more beautiful than nutmeg trees. They are handsomely shaped and glossy-leaved, growing to the height of twenty or thirty feet, and bearing small yellowish flowers. The fruit is the size and color of a peach, but rather oval. It is of a tough, fleshy consistence, but when ripe splits open, and shows  the dark-brown nut within, covered with the crimson mace, and is then a most beautiful object. Within the thin hard shell of the nut is the seed, which is the nutmeg of commerce. The nuts are eaten by the large pigeons of Banda, which digest the mace but cast up the nut, with its seed uninjured.”  Raise the anchor in the late afternoon to start the 115 nautical mile crossing to Ambon.

On the fourteenth day you reach the capital of the Province of Maluku where you say goodbye to the captain and crew. Yet, before you travel on, you may want to spend a few days to experience this historic island. Top Indonesia will assist you with all further arrangements. 

A last piece of advice from Wallace, who spent three periods in Ambon, between December 1857 and April 1861:” During the time I resided in this place Amboyna  I enjoyed a luxury I have never met with, either before or since-the true breadfruit. It is baked entire in the hot embers and the inside scooped out with a spoon. I compared it to Yorkshire pudding….
< back to Sea Routes
Mayu Islands
Tidore Island - Gamalama Mountains
Kayoa Islands
Halmahera - Traditional Market
City Doors - a hole in a rock - Ambon Moluccas
Bajo Village
Haya Strait West Ceram Moluccas
Banda Neira - Steam Vents, Gunung Api
Lonthor Islands
Uti seeds and dried mace