D a y 1
-Ambon town is one of the oldest European outposts in the region and in Wallace's time it was the capital of the Moluccas. Wallace collected some stunning species on the island and said that it "...always remain as a bright spot in the review of my Eastern travels, since it was there that I first made the acquaintance of those glorious birds and insects, which render the Moluccas classic ground in the eyes of the naturalist, and characterise its fauna as one of the most remarkable and beautiful upon the globe." Upon arrival at the airport cars will take you to the Ombak Putih at her mooring in the harbour.
-After you have settled in and freshened up, we will go on an (optional) short tour of the island. We will visit the market and see a traditional Balieo house. Also on our tour will be the ancient Waipauwe Mosque (1414), the Immanuel Church (1512) and finally Fort Amsterdam (1514), one of the first European forts built in the Moluccas. Rumphius, an important German botanist, lived in the fort from 1660 to 1670 and we will see copies of some of his psychedelic paintings of local brightly coloured fish.
-After this, we will return to the boat for lunch before heading out on our way to the Banda Islands
D a y 2
-Today we will reach the remote and legendary Banda Islands. Famous for their natural beauty and cultural heritage, and the well-preserved remnants of an extraordinary history of imperialist rivalry, these islands are quite simply one of Indonesia’s highlights. Banda was originally the world’s only source of nutmeg and mace, valued for their rarity and high cost by aristocrats and elites.
-This is a very special destination. Since conditions of wind and tide will determine the order in which we visit various Banda islands, our activities here can’t be assigned to a particular day. Here’s what we aim to cover. In the capital Bandaneira, on the biggest island, Neira, we land near the elegant arches of Hotel Maulana – a little slice of Somerset Maugham. It’s a pleasant stroll through the quaint colonial outpost’s characterful streets, inspecting notable residences, a museum, churches and a waterfront market. Brooding over all is the mediaeval-looking Fort Belgica, its five crumbling bastions now solidly rebuilt. The population is a handsome mix of Malay, Arab, Dutch and Melanesian. Just across the harbour is Banda’s perfect, jungle-clad volcanic cone Gunung Api (‘Fire Mountain’ – 640 metres). The fit and ambitious might make an early morning ascent up a challenging track to the top for stunning views.
-There are some excellent coral reefs nearby and we should see some amazing marine life whilst snorkelling. Ironically, in the less-than-pristine waters of the harbour we have a good chance of seeing (at dusk) arguably the world's most stunning fish, the small but jewel-like Mandarin Fish.
D a y 3 - 4
-We choose from some of the other small islands of the Banda archipelago – Lonthoir, Ai, Run, Hatta – each of them with its own remnants of old plantations, Dutch cemeteries and fortifications. The tiny outlying island of Run was the subject of an unbelievable real estate deal when in 1667, under the Treaty of Breda, it was ceded by the English to the Dutch in exchange for Manhattan. Yes, The Manhattan where New York stands.
-On the island of Ai we can visit Fort Revenge, built by the English before being captured by the Dutch. On Lonthor we will enjoy the tranquil beauty of nutmeg groves, where the shapely fruit-bearing trees grow in the shelter of towering, gigantic kenari or native almond trees. With any luck we will spot the Elegant Imperial Pigeon, a species Wallace discovered and named, which can swallow nutmegs whole. We will observe the age-old technique of harvesting by hand, and can taste (and buy) baked goods, condiments and jams flavoured with fresh mace and nutmeg. The fruit enclosing the nutmeg seed is sold dried and has a unique and intense flavour. It is a delicacy rarely obtainable outside the Banda Islands.
-We will also climb up to fortress Hollandia and go on to meet the last of the ‘perkeniers’ – the small-holder farmers who managed the plantations for the Dutch, on land parcels known as ‘perken’. You’ll learn of more recent wars and eruptions that shook these lovely islands, and value even more their current peace and tranquillity.
-Leaving Banda we will navigate through the Sonnegat (‘Sun’s gap’) between Neira and Gunung Api, possibly escorted by kora-kora – the big Moluccan galleys used traditionally for ceremony and warfare, propelled by banks of warrior-oarsmen.
D a y 5
-On Saparua we land beside Dutch Fort Duurstede (1691), stormed in 1817 in a revolt led by Ambonese Kapitan Pattimura, a national hero and martyr. His story is told by vivid museum dioramas. Brightly painted bemo mini-buses will take us to a morning market before we sail to nearby Nusalaut. Rarely visited by outsiders, this island is home to a Christian community after early missionaries planted their faith here at the same time that Islam was spreading through the archipelago.
-We will visit the Eben-Haezer church founded in 1719. Nearby is the restored Dutch Fort Beverwyck, built from 1657 in a distinctive architectural style we’ve not yet encountered. A highlight here is a lunchtime feast of wonderful local dishes – freshly prepared by villager hosts from forest, garden and sea produce. It’s your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try papeda, the most famous and unusual of the many sago dishes in this region. Our next destination is the Island of Manipa.