Dive Sites Part 1 – Forgotten Islands, Banda Sea & Raja Ampat on the Damai II, Indonesia

Introduction

Raja Ampat is one of the world’s top dive destinations for good reason. The abundance of colorful fish, beautiful hard and soft corals and interesting critters is hard to beat. Throw in a few large pelagics such as mantas and hammerheads and you have an unforgettable diving experience.

The 11 day trip on the Damai II, a luxury dive boat, embarks at Saumlaki and runs an itinerary through the Forgotten Islands of the Banda Sea and ends with several days of diving in Raja Ampat before disembarking in Sorong.

Starting south of Raja Ampat in the southern Banda Sea affords numerous equally impressive dive sites with few other boats around.

I cover the trip in 4 posts. The first 3 posts discuss the dive sites and other excursions. The last post talks about life on the Damai II; diving logistics and getting to Saumlaki, the embarkation point.

Trip Date: October 24-November 4, 2023

Dive Sites – Part 1

Day 1

Atoll Seamount, Karang Bara Sadi, South Banda Sea

This first dive was a checkout dive, a fairly shallow dive at 40ft with a good amount of soft and hard corals. Some fish but not tons.

Day 2

Channel Wall, Daweloor, South Banda Sea

This was a new dive site, a wall dive with a good amount of hard and soft corals, some areas of abundant fish, nudibranch and other small creatures.

Butterfly Ridge, Dawera, South Banda Sea

A ridge dive with mostly hard corals and an abundant number of fish. The wall started at 60ft. We mostly stayed on the top of the ridge with the current pushing us and an angle. While the number of fish was awesome to see we fought the current nearly the entire dive. The current did slack off at the end. Numerous butterflyfish and anemonefish.

Dawera Dropoff, South Banda Sea

The third dive was another wall dive. We started without much current. Beautiful coral shelves of mostly soft corals along the wall with butterflyfish and other colorful fish. The fish seem skittish here and it was difficult to get close enough to take a photo.

As we got to the top of the wall near the end of the dive we hit a strong current that swept us along the wall. It was great fun whizzing past but the current was also pushing me into the wall making it difficult to control my movements.

Village Walk

After we cleaned up from the third dive we took the tenders to visit a local village. At low tide the water was too shallow to get the tenders to the beach and we had to walk in the water the last 100ft to shore. The bottom was grassy sand and was easy to walk on.

Just off the beach is a long concrete walkway, a narrow road of sorts, through the jungle to town. As we walked locals, mostly children, gathered to say hello and watch. By the end of our visit we had an entourage following, smiling and watching us.

It was about a 5-minute walk to town. An amazingly tidy village of basic houses along a grid of concrete narrow roads like the one we took from the beach. The streets are even marked with street signs at the intersections. Most of the houses are quite small and basic, made either out of wood or concrete block. Tropical greenery softens the buildings. Groups of children were everywhere, watching and smiling. The town has an impressive church and school. Electric lines run along the streets. There is a generator in the next town over that supplies the island with electricity.

We walked around town and then headed out to the farm fields. There wasn’t much growing this time of year. The ground looked quite dry but one section was irrigated and had vegetables, mostly onions.

We circled around and took the road we came in on back to the beach. As we reached the beach the sun was just setting behind the opposing island. A bright orange sun that as it slipped behind the island left a pink-orange sky, the colors deepening as the light faded.

Day 3

Nil Desperandum, Forgotten Islands, Banda Sea

The first dive of the day was a wall dive with the possibility of hammerheads. The wall is along a sandbar. The current was mild and the reef in good shape with a mix of hard and soft corals. Lots of small fish. Saw a big eel, a big grouper and schools of small fish. Others saw two scorpion leaf fish.

The second dive, also a wall dive, was on the other side of the same dive site. At the start of the dive there was little current but later we hit some current and had to fight to get back to the reef. The first part along the wall was a mix of hard and soft corals. The top of the reef has large expanses of coral. Saw one turtle.

Kekeh Corner, Serua, Forgotten Islands, Banda Sea

The third dive, a wall dive, was at a remote island. There is only one dive site here as they fish the area and much of the reef is rubble after being dynamited. The current wasn’t too strong at first but then we hit some current which got stronger as we went. We eventually turned at went back with the current. At the end of the dive we flew along the top of the reef during the safety stop. There were a number of snakes on the wall. Saw a couple of stonefish and a large barracuda. The guide and one person in our group saw a hammerhead in the distance.

Kekeh Bay, Serua, Forgotten Islands, Banda Sea

The night dive was at the same location as the previous dive. This was a shallower dive along a slopping reef at about 50ft maximum. Again, we saw a number of snakes plus 2 octopuses, 1 small and one large one swimming in the open, a cuttlefish and a stonefish. We drifted some with the current. Overall it was an easy dive.

Day 4

Manuk Bird Island, Forgotten Islands, Banda Sea

Manuk Ridge

The first dive of the day was the most fun dive of the trip so far with snakes, giant eels, octopus and schools of fish. Saw several of each. The coral, however, was not quite as dense here. The site has a volcanic rocky bottom with a mix of hard and soft corals and a fair number of colorful fish. We went down deeper at the corner, getting close to 100ft, to maybe spot something big. No luck. Near the end of the dive we found a medium sized octopus sitting on a rock at about 10ft.

Red Cliff

The second dive was at the same location but a different dive site. At the surface before we back rolled into the water we saw a number of snakes getting air at the surface. The site has a sandy/rocky slope before you hit a wall. There wasn’t much current at first but soon after we hit the wall we were kicking into the current. We turned around and spent most of the dive on the slope. The slope is covered in large rocks and a dark volcanic sand with numerous types of soft corals. Besides the snakes we saw a beautiful white nudibranch and a juvenile marbled ray at the end of the dive.

On the third dive we did the other side of the same dive site as the second dive. It was a fairly shallow dive spending most of our time on the rubble slope. More snakes and several kinds of eels.