AMBON & THE MOLUCCA ISLANDS
The Molucca Islands (sometimes called the Malukus or the Bandas) are situated in the Banda Sea, and are historically known as the original Spice Islands. Discovered first by the Portuguese, who were followed by the Spanish and then replaced by the Dutch, who named it ‘The Dutch East Indies,’ these islands were a rich source of mace, nutmeg and cloves. The spices were highly valued as food preservatives as well as their medicinal qualities and prices soared as a result, making them more valuable even than gold in Medieval Europe.
The Dutch were so keen to control one isle, Run Island, with its rich spice resources, that they swapped the island of Manhattan for it with the British in 1677. These days, some of the islands are still dotted with the crumbling fortresses of a once promising trade era. Worthy sights range from the towering Mount Gamalama and the awe-inspiring Lake Tolire to the moderately active Gunung Api Volcano, which visitors can climb and observe sulphur clouds escaping through the vents in the crust. Deep, clear waters surrounding these islands teem with a kaleidoscope of reef fish patrolling the coral gardens, with plenty of excellent muck dive sights.
Set at the centre of the Moluccas island cluster, Ambon has a mountainous terrain shrouded in forest. Surrounded by the tiny islands of Banda, Saumlaki, Ternate, Tidore and thousands more, this region influenced the course of history from the 15th century onwards. Kota Ambon is one of the largest townships in eastern Indonesia, a charming capital fronting crystal clear coastline and backed by a string of emerald mountains. Here, visitors can explore the ancient forts and stonewalls of a lost age and the Siwa Lawa Museum, housing a large collection of colonial artefacts. Nearby, Moluccan paintings, weavings and mother-of-pearl items are sold at markets and inside handicrafts workshops. About 25km from Ambon lies a network of underwater caves where sacred eels emerge to be fed chicken eggs by their local keepers.
WHEN TO CHARTER A YACHT: Ambon & the Moluccas are best visited between March and April or October.