Spice Islands - Banda Neira, 04:31.4S, 129:53.8E

Serenity of Swanwick
Phil and Sarah Tadd
Sat 12 Aug 2023 09:47

From Tual to Banda Neira, capital of the Banda Group, is 185 miles.  We left at first light on the 6th of August and arrived mid afternoon on the 7th after a largely uneventful passage.  As had been the norm recently we had the wind behind us and sailed with reefed main and poled out genoa.  The only thing of note was a large pod of black looking dolphins that passed us doing synchronised diving down the waves, but went too quickly to get a photo.  Anchoring in Banda is not easy as the water is deep close to the shore: the solution is ‘Mediterranean Mooring’, where you drop your anchor relatively close to the shore then reverse towards the edge until you can take mooring lines ashore to tie to trees, or whatever else is available.  We were lucky to find two other yachts already here and they came out in their dinghies to take our shore lines for us and we are now  in about 8 meters of water with Serenity’s stern 10 meters from the shore next to the Maulana Hotel. It is beautifully protected from the prevailing south east trade winds in the lagoon. Over the next day or so another 5 yachts came in, so we helped them in our turn.

The three main islands of the Banda group; top left Banda Gunungapi, top right Banda Neira, bottom Banda Besar

Our small fleet moored Mediterranean style: anchors out in front and tied to the quay behind

The Banda Islands are part of the Maluku province (once know as the Moluccas), also known as the Spice Islands; at one time the island of Banda Besar was the world’s only source of Nutmeg.  Because of the valuable spices the islands have a long history of tradewith and expolitation by other nations – at one time with Arab nations and China (there is a Chinese temple from the 1600’s in Banda Naira) and later with Europe.  The Portuguese, British and Dutch were all involved at one stage or another, but the Dutch association was longest, leaving a legacy of forts and beautiful colonial buildings.

The town is much smaller than Tual (the island of Banda Naira is less than 2 miles from end to end) and the pace of life is much less frantic, although the scooters still wizz around, even down the narrow alleys of the market.  We are moored not far from one of the town’s mosques so are trying to get used to sleeping through the 0430 call to prayer.  We have to walk through the hotel to get ashore and are always greeted by the staff, in particular a lovely young woman called Imal, who seems to do most things around the place: she runs reception, served us lunch on our first day and did our laundry for us.  The hotel looks colonial, but was built in the 1980’s by the current owner’s grandfather.  The public areas are beautiful, but in other places it is quite run down and must be very costly to maintain.

On our first day we had lunch at the hotel overlooking the harbour.  It was so nice we ordered coffee afterwards so we could just stay there admiring the view

Hotel Maulana by night

Banda Neira main street with the shop fronts shaded against the sun

Street food stalls close to the hotel  – empty a lot of the time, but busy whenever a ship comes in

Because the town is small we have been able to explore on foot, visiting the markets and the two old Dutch forts.  On one day we went on the ‘Spice Tour’ with the crews of four of the other yachts in the harbour.  We were taken in a local boat across to Banda Besau, which is pretty well all spice plantation, covered by nutmeg, clove cinnamon and almond trees.  We were given cinnamon tea, nutmeg coffee and spice cakes among the trees before being shown how the various products are harvested and dried.  We were told that each farmer is allocated 50 trees by the government and this is enough to make a living.

The island’s water comes from these two wells, one used for drinking water and the other for everything else.  It is pure enough not to need treatment.  It is also considered holy and we all had to wash our faces and say a prayer before continuing  up the hill to the plantation

Tea and coffee amongst the trees

This basket  on a long pole is used to gather the nutmegs

But the tree still has to be climbed to collect the higher fruit

A bit of relaxation on a swing for one of our guides

With a 400 year old walnut tree

Opening the walnuts – she was incredibly fast with that knife

The plantation visit was followed by a visit to the elementary school

And then more refreshments at our guide’s family home

That evening one of the other cruisers had arranged a table for all 16 of us to eat at a local hotel.  It was a beautifully ornate colonial building and we sat at a long table in the courtyard serving ourselves from an amazing buffet and serenaded by two men with guitars – with a large bottle of beer each it cost us less that the price of a pizza at Pizza Express!

Our table for the buffet meal, and a section of inlayed floor in the hotel.

The next day we didn’t join the small group who climbed up the volcano on Banda Gunungapi, apparently it was straight up 2000ft on volcanic scree and back the same way. We did arrange to go snorkelling on the north end of Gunungapi where a lava flow descends gently into the sea from an eruption in 1988 and which is now covered in corals. It was the most colourful that we have seen since the Carribean and there were loads of fish. It was good to have been taken out there on a local boat as with some strong currents we could drift and then be picked up later, we didn’t have to swim back.

There are two old forts on this island the oldest one, dating back to when the Portugese were here has been allowed to go to ruin but the Dutch Fort has been preserved and you can climb up onto the towers and look around.

Today was the Belang Boat race, where each of the eight islands in the Banda group enters a boat like a Dragon Boat crewed by about 30 paddlers. They race down between Banda Gunungapi and Banda Neira. The boats are brightly painted and decorated with flags and figureheads

One of the Belang boats and its golden bird figurehead