Top 3 things to do in Alor
One of our highlights travelling around Indonesia were the islands of Alor. Most divers in Indonesia have heard of these islands since it is known as an upcoming destination with excellent diving. But if you are not familiar with Indonesia’s geography of 17 thousands islands, it is probably the first time you hear of Alor.
Pulau Alor is the largest island in the Alor Archipelago. It is located at the Eastern Lesser Sunda Islands that runs through South-Eastern Indonesia, which from the West, include the more well-known islands such as Bali, Lombok, Komodo and Flores. A long time considered too remote because of the lack of infrastructure, Alor and its capital Kalabahi are now much easier to access. Usually with a stopover in Kupang (West Timor).
Topographische Inrichting (Batavia) 1916, Edited by Travel2Sea.com
It was at the end of our tour around Komodo and Flores that we arrived in Maumere and decided to take a flight to Alor. We heard many great things about diving and after exchanging emails with Alor Divers we decided to see what all the excitement was about. We knew we wanted to dive but did the islands offer more than just diving? We were going to find out.
NUMBER 1 - DIVING WITH ALOR DIVERS
How to get there: Lion Air or Batik Air operates daily 50 minute flights to Alor (ARD) from Kupang (KOE), West Timor. From Kupang you can connect to any mayor destination in Indonesia. 45 min car drive from the airport is followed by 20 min boat ride across Pantar Strait to reach the resort.
From the airport it is an half our ride outside the islands capital of Kalabahi to the jetty from where Alor divers picked us up. It was a calm sunny day and the scenery of the Pantar straight is like a movie. Tropical lush green islands surrounded by the blue ocean and colourful reefs. The Pantar Strait is mostly free of destructive fishing practices like blast and cyanide fishing. And locals are using traditional fishing techniques (bamboo traps and line) therefore coral reefs remain virgin and marine life abundant. This is what makes Alor world class, precious and attractive diving destination.
Where to stay & dive: Alor divers, www.alor-divers.com
After less than an hour boat ride we arrived at the small resort. The eight huts and restaurant are located on a beautiful white sand beach. We were welcomed by the resort managers Dana and Rob and they made sure that during the whole week everything was well taken care off. And we were impressed. Great food, the bungalows are spacious, clean, light and very comfortable. And the food is GREAT! But besides that, Rob and Dana are great entertaining hosts and knowledgeable dive guides. Nothing else we could wish for, in this remote part of the world.
General considerations about diving: You can dive Alor all year round, but the best conditions are from April to November. Water temperatures vary 25 - 32°C, visibility 15m to 40m or less. For some dive sites experience with strong currents might be required.
Highlights: schooling fish & big pelagics, great macro life / marine diversity.
Next day we woke up with sound of the waves, the sunrise shinning on our bungalow and a white sand beach touching our veranda. What a great place to wake up! It was time for coffee and breakfast and we were ready and excited for our first dives. Diving around Alor is for every diving levels. Ranging from reef dives, wall dives, pelagic dives in the blue and even some muck diving for the macro or critter lovers. We heard it was the season for hammerheads and the occasionally challenging deep dive site Yellow Corner was on our wish list. But diving is all about timing and planning the dives according to the right conditions and tides so it was up to the expertise of Rob and Dana to show us what diving in Alor had to offer. During the whole week we had great visibility ranging from 15m/50ft to an incredible 40m/130ft. The water temperature was at a comfortable 28 – 30 degrees celcius.
We were surprised by the healthy and colourful corals, the great variety of reef fishes and the rich macro fauna. Frogfishes, leaf scorpionfish, pigmy sea horses, eels, see snakes and great assortment of nudibranches are just a few to mention. We got spoiled in Komodo a month earlier but the dive sites of Alor certainly were as stunning as those of its more well know rival. And in times without covid there are way less divers which is a great advantage.
During most of our stay we did two boat dives in the morning and the famous house reef shore dive in the afternoon.
YELLOW CORNERS, A SPECIAL DIVE SITE
Towards the end of the week the timing and tides were right for diving the hammerhead dive site. You can image the site as the corner of a long reef that surrounds the island extending out in to the deep blue. Closer to island, this corner starts shallow at 12 meter and extents gradually with two steps to 40 meters, with steep walls on both sides of the corner. The site is known for strong currents and we dove the site around full moon at which the tide difference is the biggest and the currents can be strong. But timing is key and with the experience of our guides we were not worried. Counting, … 3-2-1 negative back roll entry and we descended into the blue along the great wall. To be surrounded by so much blue is overwhelming but you need to stay focussed and follow the guide to arrive at the wall. We followed the edge of the wall to the first and second step and waited at a depth of 35 meters hoping for encounters with hammerheads, thresher sharks and other pelagic. At that depth it was not long before we were getting close to deco and it was time to follow the reef to shallower depths. During the dive we saw several reef sharks, eagle and sting rays, a large group of trevallies, several barracudas and bumphead parrotfishes but no luck regarding the more rare encounters. It didn’t matter much because it is a very impressive and enjoyable dive with plenty to see.
A HEAVEN FOR MUCK DIVERS
For macro lovers Indonesia is critter heaven and Alor is on its way of building a reputation as a top muck diving destination. And that says a lot. Several muck dive sites are located in Kalabahi Bay and few more on Pura and Pantar Island. If you are not familiar with the term, the name “muck diving” comes from the muddy or “mucky” sediment on the seabed often mixed with volcanic black sand and coral rubble. It offers perfect camouflage environment for unusual critters like Rhinophias, devil fish, hairy frog fish, sea moth, snake eel, zebra crab, coleman shrimp, solar powered nudibranch, different species of pipefish, seahorses and many other little aliens that seem to come from another world. What I personally love about macro diving is the immense diversity of our underwater world. And I didn’t really understand what it meant until I arrived in Indonesia. As a beginner macro photographer this new world is highly inspirational and challenging. And that makes it a lot of fun. Some macro pictures you see on the web and social media are a piece of art.
Since me and Celine are relatively new to the whole critter world we saw many species that we could thick of our bucket list! For example the beautiful Coleman shrimp and zebra crab that reside on the variable sea fire urchins.
HEART WARMING ENCOUNTERS
As you realize by know we are very excited by the underwater world of Alor. But what is great about diving in Alor is that when you come up from the dive the fun is not over. You might get surprised by the local kids paddling around and playing on self-made rafts. And in times of ‘pandemic’ with few travellers the kids were surprised to see divers. They gave us a great show jumping off and climbing onto their raft while paddling around our dive boat.
All in all I could probably wright another page or two but we really had a great time in Alor and when you get the chance don’t wait to see it for yourself !
But let’s go back to our main question. What else is there to do in Alor? We had a day to spend before our flight and we got in contact with Mila of Exotics Alor. A local tour guide and teacher who was willing to take us around the island for a very reasonable fee. She organised a car with driver and we spend the day exploring local villages and a surprise encounter with Mawar (Who?).
NUMBER 2 - MEET THE PEOPLE OF ALOR WITH EXOTICS ALOR
East Indonesia is extremely diverse in nature, it’s people and languages. Alor is no exception and many different cultures and tribes co-exist on the archipelago of Alor. To get a better understanding of what is going on, we set out to visit two local villages. Our guide Mila knew the people well and we received a very warm welcome. It was time of harvest so the village was quiet and few woman and children remained busy with daily house hold tasks in the village. Happy and surprised to see outsiders we were invited for coffee to share news from both our worlds. It turned out to be a day full of surprises and stories which we tried to capture in the short clip below.
NUMBER 3 - MEET MAWAR, THE FAMOUS DUGONG OF ALOR
At the end of the day we met with Pak Oneh the keeper and protector of the ‘famous’ Dugong of Alor. The Dugongs name is Mawar and he is so famous he even has his own annual festival in July.
WHAT'S A DUGONG ?
If you have never heard of animal called “Dugong” then according to Wikipedia a dugong is a medium-sized marine mammal. But actually Mawar is about three to four times the size and weight of a human. It is one of four living species of the order Sirenia, which also includes three species of manatees. It is the only living representative of the once-diverse family Dugongidae and its closest modern relative, Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas), which was hunted to extinction in the 18th century.
OUR SEARCH FOR THE LIVING MERMAID
Luckily Mawar is alive and just around sunset we got into a small boat with a noisy outboard engine and of we went to find the mermaid. The engine was so loud it did not seem realistic any animal would like to get close but apparently encounters with the giant vegetarian sea cow were so successful that we were sceptical but hopeful.
According to its protector a former pre-man (gangster), Mawar swims around a small island close to the airport. Probably because he spend his days alone eating grass and he enjoys seeing people and his care taker for a change! He is not being fed and he shows up out of free will.
We were excited to see our first Dugong and after about half hour, there he was !
MAWAR, THE DUGONG OF ALOR
Mawar is an impressive 3-4 meter large male and comes very close to the boat to welcome you. The waters are shallow and clear, so you really get to see this curious creature very well. Mawar is an interesting character that shows very affectionate behaviour towards the boat. Actually he is continuously humping the boat to the point where Pak Oneh has to tell Mawar to stop because he might capsize the boat with his 1 ton weight hanging on one side. And the last thing I want is to swim with this creature and find out how much he really loves humans !
Makes you wonder if he got lonely because he got evicted from the local dugong community for being a sexual predator... The situation was confusing and it seems Mawar would make an interesting case for a marine biologist. Perhaps one day we will find out the truth in a Netflix documentary. Until that happens you can watch our short trailer below.
We got to spend about an hour with Mawar and said goodbye before to sun disappeared below the horizon. We had to catch a flight next morning and we decided stay at the Symfony hotel in Kalabahi, close to the airport. They have a roof top terasse restaurant with great burgers and stunning views for sunset. Full of impressions and slightly confused by the encounter with Mawar, Alor had been a wonderful experience !
PRAYERS FOR ALOR
As wonderful as our experience was in Alor. Last week the islands have been hit hard by floods and landslides triggered by Tropical Cyclone Seroja. The disasters left many people injured and displaced as many homes and infrastructure were destroyed. Our thoughts and prayers are with the wonderfull people of Alor. For those who are willing to help, please contact our guide Mila who is organising donations to those who need it the most.
By Travel2Sea.com (April 13th, 2021)
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