I have been very lucky to visit and to dive in Indonesia twice. First, it was a trans-Indonesian crossing with Jonathan Bird on board the MSY Seahorse. The second time – with Andrew Martinez, staying land based at Maluku Divers Resort on Ambon.

Naturally, as an underwater photography hobbyist, I treasure every shot of the marine flora and fauna that until then I did not even dreamed to observe. But, believe it or not, that was not what left indelible impressions upon my soul.  Actually it was people that I was very fortunate to meet during my trip.

At Maluku Divers resort

I can’t say that I’ve traveled all over the world; hopefully that one day I will have the privilege to claim that I did. But as of now, no matter where I went, people that I’ve met, had shown me nothing, but warmest welcome, unassuming smiles, sincere care and genuine commitment to making their guest felt at home.

Andy and I may not have picked the shortest route, but it definitely was the least expensive one. We flew:

  1. Boston > New York
  2. New York > Frankfurt
  3. Frankfurt > Singapore
  4. Singapore > Jakarta
  5. Jakarta > Ambon

The total airports/flight time was about 46 hours (including spending one the afternoon and staying overnight in Jakarta) and the cost was close to $1400.

Reading it may seem like a long time, but the actual experience was not bad at all, thanks to the awesome organization on the part of Ultimate Dive Travel. Ken Scarbrough (the owner of UDT) suggested that we take a break in our journey and stay overnight in Jakarta. That would give us an opportunity to ease jet lag, get refreshed and, just in case of luggage delay, we’d have time to let our bags catch up with us. We listened, agreed and arrived in Ambon at the same time with all our gear, revived and ready to dive. (You can fly directly from Boston, via JAL, to Japan and then from Tokyo to Jakarta. That would slash travel time in half, but also bump the price of the ticket to $2000).
I’d like to say a few words about Ultimate Dive Travel. It is true – there is no substitute for experience and knowledge. One can say that UDT knows diving related travel very well. They were efficient and paid attention to every minute detail. At all points of our journey, we experienced nothing but the highest level of organization.
Upon landing, we were escorted to the FM7, a clean and very comfortable hotel, located 10-15 minutes from Jakarta International Airport. We spent one night there and the next morning relaxed and refreshed, we were ready to continue to Ambon.

Resort

Upon landing at Ambon a young man met us in the airport and 5 minutes later we arrived at Maluku Divers. There, in comforting shadows of tall palm trees, hugging the shoreline, rested 10 individual bungalows.

Maluku Divers resort

Just a few yards from the cottages, closer to the water, stood a large pavilion, and under its roof were an open dining area, camera room, common area, bar and office. At the side of the building, there were a few separate rinse basins for cameras and regulators. Behind it was the showers with ample area to dry suits, fins and BC’s. Each diver got his/her own shelf to keep an extra mask, keys, towels and any other small items.
The air-conditioned camera room provided each photographer with sufficient space to work. There were numerous electrical outlets, air guns, and fresh towels.

Photoroom. Maluku Divers Resort.

The food was delicious, cooked daily by the top-notch chef. The menu consisted of some local and many western dishes. Snacks, tea and coffee were always available. My favorite treats were coconut sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and peanuts, cooked in garlic and oil, that were prepared by Ingrid. They were disappearing very quickly!

At Maluku Divers Resort.

Dive operation

For our first introduction to the dive team, we brought our gear and for the rest of the stay they took complete care of our equipment. After each dive, everything was cleaned, checked and the next morning loaded on the boat. By the way, each diver was provided with a semi-rigid large camera bag. All we had to do was place our cameras into the bags and the boat crew took care of the rest. In other words, everything was expertly planned and ran like a clock. They did everything to make our stay as easy as possible.

Nus Lobbu is the general manager of the resort. I’ve never seen such a calm, warm and personal attitude towards the guests. He was always extremely attentive and willing to help with any issue from taking care of any immediate dive needs to help with flights and hotel booking. He also happened to be a very adept photographer and would gladly share his extensive knowledge with you. Looking at his wide angle shots made me eager to take my 17-40mm lens much more often than I had planned.

At Maluku Divers Resort.

As you may know, in the Indo-Pacific each day at dusk Mandarin Fish display a mating ritual that is brief and impressive. Nus introduced us to something similar but new, the art of “flasher shooting”. In the late afternoon, the Flasher Wrasses begin their courtship behavior. The male’s colors intensify greatly, displaying their prowess, with hopes of mating with females. In the case of the mandarin fish, one must lie still and patiently wait for the brief, pinnacle moment when pair conduct their reproduction ritual before they disappear in a flash. By contrast, to get a decent shot of a Flasher Wrasse, you must be quick and very responsive to its chaotic movements. The very first time I was only able to get 1 fair shot after watching these nimble fish for more than 20 minutes. Nus, somehow, managed to get more than 10 good pictures. Well, I guess practice makes perfect.

Diving

At Maluku Divers Resort, muck diving is the main attraction. In general, it means that you have to spend most of your time searching sandy bottoms for small, unique animals. It may sound boring and in some places that it exactly how it works – lots of swimming … little photography.

But in Ambon Bay this scenario is in reverse. During most of your dive, you’ll be busy taking many cool shots. First of all, it seems that each Maluku dive-guide possesses a sixth sense. They constantly discover obscure, almost impossible to see critters. Secondly, there is such an abundance of all kinds of small marine life that you will quickly learn to detect them on your own.

Brook’s Urchin shrimp

I think I would quickly bore you if I decided to list the numerous species I was fortunate enough to see in the waters of Ambon Bay. I’m sure that pictures are more exciting. Here you can access my Ambon gallery, and here are the galleries of many famous photographers and former guests of Maluku resort.

The Duke of Sparta offers great opportunity for wreck diving and wide-angle photography. I did not go there because there were other wide angle sites near the resort.

While I was researching what is considered the best place for muck diving, I stumbled upon a few “Ambon vs. Lembeh” discussions. Both places were well known as a “critter paradise” and choosing one over the other became a difficult task. What influenced my decision to go first to Ambon is the “Maluku Divers” catchphrase, promising “critters without crowd”.  And what could be more important for an underwater photographer?

I can assure you that our groups consisted of 2, sometimes 3 divers per guide. No one came out complaining that he or she had to wait to get the chance to take a good picture. And … there was plenty of marine life to photograph. On our second dive day the guide spotted three Rhinopia, a somewhat rare and stunning fish. Seeing that fish was a first for me!

Conclusion

There are many enjoyable places to which one may travel and then plan to return. Ambon is one of those places that right from the get-go you realise you’ll be back. As you stay at Maluku Divers Resort, you realize how everything around you – the people, location, services, accessibility, diving operation, richness of underwater fauna, pictures you collect … and did I mention the people – all the important aspects of a dive trip fall into perfect harmony. You go back home with nothing, but positive memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life. 

Great new discoveries to all.

Photo equipment