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Halmahera, a hidden gem for scuba divers

Yes, it has been a while so let’s catch up! We like to find ourselves in remote places and this time we have been on a very special trip. Halmahera in the Maluku province.

If it is the first time you hear of Halmahera, do not worry, you are not the only one! But as a diver it should be high on your bucket list as soon as travel returns back to normal. First things first. Where is it?

Halmahera is the largest island in the Maluku Province that is located East of Sulawesi in the Eastern part of Indonesia. However, in this blog, when we speak of diving in Halmahera we speak of diving around the many little islands and islets south west of Halmahera.

Pointed out on the map below.

The naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace visited Halmahera and wrote about it in his famous book “The Malay Archipelago”. It was in February 1858, on island of Ternate, with high fever, that a suffering Wallace came to the idea of the natural selection through survival of the fittest. Wallace wrote his ideas during the next couple of days, and sent the historical letter to Darwin.

When you sail around the islands, you do not need to be a Darwin or a Wallace to understand that you find yourself in a truly unique environment. Personally, for us one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited. Most of the islands are still covered in lush pristine tropical rain forests. Being on a boat, every corner we turned and behind every volcanic peak we passed the landscape seemed to be constantly changing.

Located in the heart of the Coral Triangle, it is an understatement to say that Halmahera and its marine ecosystem are rich biodiversity. A survey by Dr. Gerry Allen, a well-known coral reef fish authority, recorded a total of 803 species of reef fish – compared to the 828 species he recorded in Raja Ampat during a similar survey conducted in 2001. Besides, the area counts several endemic species like the Halmahera walking shark (Hemiscyllium Halmahera) that is only found here.

So if diving is so great why are not many divers visiting? Indeed, the Halmahera islands are still preserved from mass tourism. And hopefully it will stay like that for a long time. On our journey through the islands we only saw small communities that live from fishing and growing coconuts for copra production. Tourism and accommodation or dive resorts are very few or non-existent. Needless to say that as a diver your options are limited and a live aboard is your best bet if you want to dive here.

During our 12-day trip we were lucky enough to get a spot, on board one of our favourite dive operations in Indonesia. Blue Bay Divers and the KLM Sunshine liveaboard. Blue Bay Divers is located in Bangka (North Sulawesi, just North of Manado) and the owner Anke Andree is THE pioneer of diving in Sulawesi and Halmahera. Anke and her crew have been sailing the area over 10 years and discovered most of the dive sites.

There is no better way to go diving in Halmahera than to join the KLM Sunshine and we had high expectations.

May is a good month to dive Halmahera with generally good visibility15 - 40 meters and warm waters (28 - 30C). We left the Blue Bay resort in Bangka crossing to North Sulawesi and Lembeh for our first day of diving. After the crazy critters of Lembeh we crossed the Moluka sea to Tifore island early next morning. We had great weather and sailing was smooth. It took 12 hours to get to this little island located between Lembeh and Halmahera. At first sight of the island, you realize that you are truly in the middle of nowhere.

The dive site of Tifore, Barracudas Point, is an underwater mount where large schools of trevallies, snappers, reef sharks and other pelagic gather. We were there just after full moon and we had great conditions for diving. Visibility around 25 meter and moderate currents that attract the schooling fish. We had heard about the large school of barracudas residing here but until you see them you cannot comprehend what it really means.

On the afternoon dive the sun was getting low and light penetrating the water creates beautiful effects. Out in the distance we noticed a large shadow. The current had dropped and we were able to swim towards the dark shape moving in the distance. Then we saw the barracudas. Reaching from the surface all the way down to 40 meters it was an enormous tornado of schooling giant barracudas. Words cannot describe what the feeling of being surrounded by millions of curious looking oceanic hunters up to 1.5 meters in length.

After this impressive start, it took another 10 hours to cross to the Western islands of Halmahera archipelago. We sailed from Siko to Lata Lata islands and back, with world class diving. All onboard were impressed by the diving in this remote part of the world. The biodiversity is truly impressive.

Colourful large shallow reefs with healthy coral with high densities of many different fish species and even Mantas. Beautiful sites with hard corals, soft corals and gorgonians great for wide angle photography. During our twelve days of diving in Halmahera we encountered more reef sharks than during 16 months of diving in all of Indonesia.

And the diverse seascapes make you feel you are really exploring uncharted waters.

During the cruise we have been filming a lot and a specially dedicated Halmahera diving video is coming out soon !

Keep an eye out for our facebook updates.

But also, for macro enthusiasts the area does not disappoint. No matter how small, nothing escaped the eyes of Edo and Norfri, our experienced and professional dive guides. So the nudis and critters lovers on board were excited by the many unique species of nudibranchs, frog fishes, crabs, octopus and other species we encountered during day and night dives. Every afternoon there was a lot of identification going which made the diving even more exciting. We never knew what we would find on our next dive.

Dive, eat, sleep and repeat. We can’t wait to go back and explore more of Halmahera.

A truly a magical place that offers great diving for everyone at the level of the world top class dive sites like Komodo and Raja Ampat. Halmahera is truly a hidden Indonesian gem waiting to be discovered.

A big thanks to the crew of Blue Bay for a wonderful trip!

By (May 16th, 2021)

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1 Comment

Dana Horne
Dana Horne
Jun 14, 2023

Wow! What a wonderful story about your experiences! I am thoroughly in awe of your diving, cinematography and photography skills, along with your professionalism. Thank you for sharing your superior dedication to travel with the world. Many continued blessings, Dana

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