The Seven Seas News - December 2014
The Forgotten Islands, November 2014
Trip Report by Elaine Brown
Photos by Carsten Dankemeier, Christine Beulow, Richard Zundritsch, Christian Hoerl, Linda Johnston and Karl Klingeler
When I started thinking about a return dive trip to Indonesia (last visited in 2009), I wanted a unique experience: beautiful diving, comfortable accommodations, healthy and delicious food, some land excursions/interaction with the local people in a place far and away from cities, traffic congestion, highrises and noise. After doing some research and reading very positive reviews on the Seven Seas, I opted for this 14 night Forgotten Islands itinerary.
I was intrigued by this itinerary: East Nusa Tenggara and the South-eastern Moluccas. We would begin our adventure in Kupang (Timor Island) and it would conclude in Saumlaki (Yamdena Island). This stretch of islands from the Savu Sea to the Banda Sea is remote and sparsely populated. But would this adventure live up to my high expectations?
The Seven Seas is a traditional Buginese Schooner - a classic beauty, designed and finished with thoughtful care and attention to detail. The cabins are comfortable (a/c and plumbing functioning well). I appreciated the universal adaptor in my room. The upper deck is well furnished for dining or relaxation. The dive deck accommodates dive gear and related paraphernalia; and there are two camera tables available for photographers (one inside the salon, the second one is located on the dive deck). Three tenders transport divers to dive sites; and kayaks are available for guests wishing to paddle to beautiful bays, soft sand beaches or quiet coves.
Karl (Cruise Director) and his wife, Linda (Videographer) welcomed us aboard. An easy-going couple, they established a friendly, supportive rapport with all guests. Our questions/concerns with respect to diving or local customs were handled with grace and good humour. Meal times were relaxing as we all swapped stories of our favourite adventures.
The boat crew (about 14) were also outstanding. Sharp-eyed Divemasters were able to locate the tiniest emperor shrimp, obscure nudibranch, flirtatious juvenile black snapper or a delicate leaf-scorpion fish. They kept an eye on "the blue" and signaled us so we wouldn't miss a Napolean wrasse, dog-toothed tuna, mobula ray, a school of barracuda and even a hammerhead shark!
Cameras and gear were handled with care; assistance in and out of the tenders was provided and the tenders were always close at hand upon surfacing.
Dive briefings were concise. We could shadow the Divemaster or poke about on our own.
Overall, I thought the crew worked seamlessly together. They are a happy, hard-working group: quick to smile and lend a helping hand. Several guests indulged in a Balinese massage and noted they felt limber and loose and totally relaxed.
We were spoiled. Breakfast made to order, lunch and dinner offered many delicious choices. Given the limited space in the kitchen, our chef treated us to beef, chicken, fish, pasta, salads, fresh fruit and lovely desserts and, of course, late afternoon snacks were available. The Jura coffee machine was enjoyed by all: cappuccino, espresso or regular coffee: just a push of a button. Much credit to the kitchen staff for taking excellent care of us.
The dive sites were simply outstanding. We enjoyed fabulous walls bursting with colourful corals and marine life.
We drifted over amazing fields of pristine coral, stretching far and away. Telang Island was unlike anything I had ever seen or experienced. Pulau Limtutu was rich and dense with corals. The consensus among the divers in our tender was that this indeed was an incredibly special place.
We saw gently sloping reefs with schools of colourful fish, white sand patches with amazing critters. Again, the diving was outstanding.
Marine Life at Surface
We enjoyed melon-headed whales, spinner dolphins and Frasier dolphins as they surfed the bow wake. From a distance, we could see water buffalo on the shore. One morning, we spotted the carcass of a water buffalo - perhaps the result of a mishap in transit. Pods of pilot whales were viewed on several days.
At the end of one particularly stellar dive, we spotted two blue whales cruising the waters. Our tenders followed them as they zig-zagged through the water, leaving their massive footprint at the surface. I thought it ironic that our dive ended with the spotting of a pygmy seahorse (thanks to Susan, a sharp-eyed guest) on the reef in shallow water. Once in the tender, we were tracking two giants of the sea. From pygmy seahorses to blue whales - our amazing adventure continues.
Interaction with Local People
During our stay at Reta Island, a small boat load of local women motored out and pulled up alongside. These ladies had hand-crafted textiles called ikats (blankets: in two sizes) that were rich in colours and patterns. Guests had an opportunity to buy these local, artisanal goods: a unique souvenir from a very special part of the world.
While anchored at Wetar Island, we visited a local village, Napar. Karl had made inquiries regarding crocodile sightings. While we did not locate a croc, we were able to do a tour of this village. The local people greeted us with shy smiles. We saw the cashew, breadfruit and mango trees that sustained these people. A tray of mace was set out to dry in the sun - a valuable commodity for local trade. Waist-high bushes of lemon thyme grew along the walkways. Chickens and pigs were evident. A villager returned from a hunting outing: he had shot two birds with his rifle.
I especially enjoyed seeing the local children. They would paddle out to our boat in their hand-made, wooden outriggers. They were curious and engaging: delighted to receive the chocolate bars that guests gifted to them.
Thus far, we are at the mid-point in our itinerary. This wonderful Indonesian odyssey has exceeded my expectations.
The second week of our adventure began at Pulau Meatimiarang; a large atoll somewhere in the Banda Sea, measuring approximately 13 miles by 5 miles. Large schools of batfish greeted us on our morning dive - travelling up and down the wall like a freight train. In the shallows, a school of bumphead parrotfish held our attention; reminding me of a herd of buffalo. A large school of barracuda soon followed.
The elusive ghostpipefish made an appearance when we dove the north-west corner of this atoll. Our eagle-eyed divemaster spotted him drifting like a leaf in the current, just above the sand.
At day's end, we headed towards the lagoon in search of dugongs. None were found on this day, but we settled happily for a beautiful sunset and fresh sashimi (the latter was provided by a local fisherman).
Diving at Pulau Pulau Sermata, we followed a large cuttlefish, giving him a wide berth. We saw pygmy seahorses, Napolean wrasse, trevally, pompanos and batfish galore - a very fishy dive indeed!
Pulau Pulau Damar are volcanic islands offering superb diving: schools of fusiliers and anthias, spawning sponges, tiny soft coral crabs, orangutan crab, mating nudibranchs and even a leaf scorpionfish tucked away on the wall.
In the afternoon, we hopped in the tenders and set out for "Secret Bay", an uncharted bay with no formal name. Frigate birds soared overhead. One guest likened Secret Bay to Jurassic Park. The first 30 seconds of the that movie featured a remote, lush island; far removed in time and place from civilization.
The island of Teun (within the Pulau Pulau Damar configuration) has a very small charming village: dominated by a church and small cluster of homes, it supports a population of about 55 people. The village leader came aboard our vessel. A guest on the Seven Seas presented him with gifts: Swiss army knives, boxed crayons for children and a cash donation. These gifts were, in part, an expression of appreciation for allowing guests to visit and tour the village. The kind gesture was also meant, I believe, to honour the spirit of Thanksgiving: to give thanks for our blessings and to share with others. Today was Thursday, 27 November, American Thanksgiving. That evening we dined on a delicious roast turkey dinner under a starry sky.
At Nil Desperandum, our goal was to find pelagics! The sharks were running deep - a few brave souls dove 30 + metres to find them. Most of us were very content to stay shallow and enjoy thousands of fusiliers, barracuda, dog-tooth tuna and Goliath groupers. On a later dive, we were thrilled to see a hammerhead shark!
Diving at Dai Island was contingent upon gaining the approval from the leader of the village at Leina. A crew member was dispatched to negotiate with the person of authority. In exchange for diving privileges, the Seven Seas staff were required to pay $75 and 35 litres of fuel. The village leader has a reputation for being a person of honour - the money would support the ongoing construction of a new church.
We enjoyed superb fish action on our morning dives. Swirling masses of fusiliers, schools of snapper, different schools of barracuda - the trevally were running deeper (at 30+ metres depth). We even saw a large school of unicornfish. Dogtooth tuna and Napolean wrasse were sighted, and in the shallows a nice school of wahoo cruised by. Our afternoon dive was quieter but very fishy. My favourite sighting was 4 very large Bumphead Parrotfish in the shallows.
Before our night dive, we went ashore for a village tour. About 300 people (55 families) live in the village of Leina. The new church is under construction but accorded a place of prominence. A large cross has been erected. At its base, is a carved, wooden boat - a symbol of their proud heritage. The children attend elementary school in this village but must travel to other villages for additional schooling. Breadfruit, coconut, banana, mango and betelnut trees thrive here. Tobacco and cassava are grown; several households raise chickens, ducks and pigs. Local teens were enjoying some volleyball action - so we gave them a little competition!
A night dive close to Leina village was a perfect ending: lots of neat critters hiding in the shadows!
Our Indonesian odyssey will soon conclude. The Seven Seas has taken us on an incredible journey. A few milestones along the way: Daniella logged dive #600; Carsten logged dive #700.
We are 14 intrepid divers, 1 courageous snorkeler/kayaker, and a remarkable crew.
Terima kasih. Selamat Jalan.
1st December 2014
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