Kei Islands – Southeast Maluku

 

About a week ago (beginning of October), my husband and I took on a trip to the Mollucas, our main destination being the Kei Islands. Since coming back from the trip, quite a few people have messaged us asking about our itinerary so I thought I’d share it on here!

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-9-52-03-pm

To get to the Kei Islands we needed to catch a flight to Ambon, then connect to Langgur – Tual on Kei Kecil. According to Google Maps we would be flying about 1,800 miles east off Jakarta – which seems pretty far – sometimes it’s easy to forget just quite how big Indonesia is! We booked a Garuda flight leaving Jakarta at about 8am and we were in Tual by sunset.

We had arranged to stay in Ohoiew Island Resort (http://ohoiewislandresort.com) for 4 nights, and the owner, Patris, arranged for a car to pick us up from the airport and take us to the resort which is located by Ngilngof Village, a 25-minute drive away. Upon arriving to the village we were greeted by Deky, the friendly guy who would taxi us to and from the resort in his boat for the next four days. He was only too happy to help us lug our luggage onto the boat to take us to the resort just as the sun was setting.

14595795_10154091214847523_7327391690101093644_n 14590372_10154091214917523_4883388363231208537_n 14440648_10154093916777523_1378893080040001125_n 14570298_10154094069597523_7277832280918538458_n

I unfortunately didn’t take many photos of the resort itself, however you can see photos of the rooms from the resort’s website. Our room was quite large and airy, with two very comfortable queen beds pushed together. It’s not an en-suite but it wasn’t a problem as for most of our stay we were the only guests. All the rooms in the resort have air conditioning (I was told they were the only resort in Kei with A/C) but only when the electricity is on which was between 6pm – 10.30am; this was perfect as we were out and about during the day anyway.

14606422_10154091222852523_3595964345113722117_n 14717271_10154120970432523_1622360062188129651_n

Dinner was included in the price of our stay, we had a very lovely grilled fish dinner on our balcony. Highlight of the day came when we were having a night stroll before going to bed and spotted a banded sea krait (sea snake) hunting on the beach in front of our resort. Sea kraits are highly venomous – with neurotoxic venom 10x more potent than that of cobras – but they’re nocturnals and they won’t bite humans unless they’re really provoked. I was happy enough to get just a  little bit close to observe it properly before it went off to hide under corals. A perfect little encounter to start off our holiday!

Ohoidertawun & Snorkelling around Ohoiew 

We’d read about a cave with pre-historic cave painting on a beach called Ohoidertawun. Deky the skipper took us to Ngurbloat beach where a car and driver was waiting for us to take us to the cave. When we arrived there at about noon, the tide was already coming in and we were told we wouldn’t be able to reach the cave by foot then as it would be surrounded by water. It wasn’t too disappointing as the beach itself was stunning, and we found a set of swings near the entrance to the it – perfect for WanderDave.

14642405_10154118462642523_6268637676650379413_n

The driver recommended that we stop by a seafood restaurant in Langgur, which we didn’t manage to find the name of, but seems like the go-to restaurant for locals as we were taken there twice by different drivers. The restaurant is located by a lovely little bay, and we had some of the freshest seafood we’ve ever had for about £10.

 

14650313_10154118462242523_1745276638922206734_n 14731174_10154118462187523_1758031968869001152_n

I had tried to research for dive/snorkel sites around Kei Kecil but failed to get really good articles about where the best coral reefs are. Several articles mentioned Ngav & Ngodan island, and I found this journal (https://www.academia.edu/9167895/Coral_Reef_Condition_in_West_Coast_Kei_Kecil_Island_Maluku_Tenggara_Regency) which says that the reefs around Ohoiwa island are in the best conditions compared to the other islands, and we asked Deky to take us there. There are no dive centres in Kei, and most places don’t have any dive/snorkel gear, so we brought our own.

14691104_10154118462447523_8301503508821494662_n  14485177_10154091215652523_4986293742237373520_n

Ohoiwa island is about 10 minutes away by boat from Ohoiew resort. When we got there though, Deky didn’t know which part of the island with good coral reefs so we jumped in at several random spots. Conditions weren’t very good as there were only some small fish, and hard or dead corals in all the spots we snorkelled in. On our way back to the resort, Deki pointed out that the corals at the back of our resort are quite nice too so we gave it a try. Conditions there were better than the corals in Ohoiwa – bigger schools of fish, more colourful corals – but because it had been raining, there were little stinging jelly fish about and since we were just in our normal bathing suit instead of wetsuits, the stings became unbearable very quickly. We decided then that maybe we won’t make this a diving holiday after-all, but the above water scenery with the sunlight glinting off the azure ocean more than made up for it and we had plenty more to explore anyway.

 

14484786_10154091216267523_1202524968146421615_n 14595770_10154091216457523_7548547353315060761_n

14590344_10154091216462523_3162123025701624654_n

We returned to the resort around 4pm and decided to explore the beaches on the island. Deky told us that there is a footpath behind the resort building that leads to a small bay with a hidden beach, which we reached very easily after a nice short walk through the forest. There’s a mangrove patch next to the bay and it was very lovely and peaceful as there was no one else there but me and the husband – it’s a perfect place to sit down with a book to wait for sunset.

Just before dark we decided to have a little dip by the sandbanks in front of the resort. The water there was perfectly clear, and we were treated to a stunning sunset swim.

 

14590300_10154120970447523_4358674229449917447_n 14681847_10154120970767523_8357114700787186617_n14581330_10154121002712523_3134250733761590352_n  14708375_10154121002722523_2964613001101205026_n

Bair Islands & Hawang Cave

To get to Bair island, we had to drive the car for about 30 minutes up to Dullah fishing village just north off Tual, before getting another boat to the island which took around 40 minutes. On the way to Bair, we were treated to some of the clearest, bluest water, and passed through several beautiful little islands with white sandy beaches.

14611000_10154091221832523_9198667150912559543_n 14494664_10154091222162523_4847075676487892974_n14680548_10154118462092523_865656296587667549_n

Bair island itself comprises of many little karst islands – something resembling the islands off Raja Ampat. As we entered the little bay, husband remarked that it looks like an entrance to a pirate’s cove from a children’s adventure book. I don’t think I can describe in words quite how beautiful Bair Island was. We were both just stood at the edge of the boat with our jaws dropped, unsure of whether to look at the jutting rocks, the whole scenery, or the massive schools of fish swimming around our boat.

14581327_10154094069467523_2534727574100258177_n 14517537_10154091221827523_7793751269677188808_n                  14470378_10154091221837523_7851862817828438422_n 14610909_10154094069297523_9191923397623414915_n

We both couldn’t resist to jump in to snorkel around. There were plenty of little fish in big schools, hiding around the sea grass. We were told that sometimes you get baby blacktip sharks around but we weren’t lucky enough to see them that day. We spent a couple of hours swimming in different spots in the bay and jumping off cliffs, before heading back to the mainland.

14485135_10154091220902523_5361679719536055120_n 14492391_10154094068932523_1173113292991751194_n

On our way back to the resort, our guide recommended that we stop at the famous Hawang Cave with a freshwater pool in it to cool off. We didn’t need much convincing. The cave is located not far from tual and when we got there, it was really quiet. No entrance fee, and it was just a 2 minutes walk off a footpath. I though that the cave was very beautiful, with crystal clear blue water, though I also found it somewhat eerie – the husband just jumped in and according to him the water was cold and very refreshing, albeit a little strange smelling.

Ngurtafur & Ngurbloat  

Bright and early (8am) on our last full day in the Kei Islands, we arranged to go to Ngurtafur, a sandbank that juts out almost 2km away out to sea off the island  of Warbal, about an hour away by boat from our resort. Aside from the stunning white sand peninsula, we were told that we could also see wild pelicans there – stopping for a rest en-route to Australia. We shared the trip with another guests, a lovely couple from our resort, Dennis & Mary, and because Deky’s boat was having a problem we had to go with another skipper.

The 1 hour boat ride was lovely despite being a bit choppy, and soon enough we could spot the sandbank, and at the end of it, a pod of pelicans! I couldn’t wait to jump off the boat to see them closer, but our skipper seemed to be steering us away from the island. When I asked him why we were heading the other way he said “lapor kampung” which means we had to go the village first to report. I faintly remember reading in an article somewhere that sometimes tourists have to pay for a permit to get to Ngurtafur, which was fair enough as it is apparently a protected area, except that no one had explained to us about this. As we neared the village, we could see some young men brandishing rifles on the beach, which was rather worrying. Not wanting to be separated, all four of us followed the skipper to the first house at the end of the jetty to meet the ‘kepala adat‘ (head of the tribe) and pay our fees to get the permit, which was Rp.300,000 (£17) per group. That went pretty straightforward and we hurried back to the boat to get to the sandbanks to see the pelicans.

14485152_10154091222312523_1512982654885429318_n 14595837_10154091222572523_4896933607764195975_n14516546_10154091222237523_6550196799809890403_n

My photos really don’t do Ngurtafur any justice. If you Google the place you’d see some drone photos taken of the sandbank and it’s really worth all that hassle to be there. The blindingly white and soft sand seemed like it snaked off for miles – and we could spot the pod of pelicans in the distance. Wary of scaring them away, we trekked slowly to approach them. I was focusing on my camera lens  and didn’t notice a man approaching us from his boat, carrying a machete and looking rather menacing. He barked at us asking where we came from, who took us there, and whether or not we’ve paid the fees. It took a while to explain everything and once he felt satisfied that we’ve paid the permit fees his whole demeanour changed. He explained that because there has been some tension between the island tribes, only boats from Warbal village are allowed to take tourists to Ngurtafur. We explained that we weren’t aware of the situation and he seemed to be happy enough with it to leave us alone to get to the pelicans, which by that point were already flying away as my husband managed to scare them off.

14691101_10154123162972523_3015557349358295602_n 14718859_10154123162797523_6957769177114106529_n 14724384_10154123162807523_7547056465983119730_n

After about an hour walking up and down the sandbanks, we decided to head back to the resort to shield from the midday sun. About 3pm we joined Dennis & Mery to go to Pasir Panjang or Ngurbloat beach. Deky dropped us off there and promised to pick us up just before the sun sets. Approaching Ngurbloat beach, we got to see a postcard perfect tropical scenery with calm crystal clear water, soft white sand beach, and towering palm trees. The beach itself spans for about 5km, hence the name Pasir Panjang, and as we jumped down from the boat our feet sank into the softest, whitest sand that had flour like consistency.

14568197_10154091223112523_5693823380907151822_n 14495440_10154091217902523_8130580030457111987_n 14492359_10154091217892523_7857339274964183031_n

There are several facilities available for tourists here such as gazebos to rent, volley ball net, and small cafes tucked behind the trees. We got to try a rather unique local dish which was banana fritters served with chili sambal – delicious beyond believe. The water was so clear and calm and made it so lovely to just sit and frolic in the shallows while we waited for the sun to set.

14469532_10154093933727523_2294479455447612403_n 14572843_10154093938667523_8226236855249686361_n 14595749_10154091221912523_4509214572203343528_n 14724504_10154120970337523_3423729837558749841_n14632900_10154094068922523_1426737321493361766_n

Ambon and freediving in Satan’s Cape

We left Ohoiew resort at 4am to get to the airport for our 6am flight. The 10 minutes boat ride to the port was really cool as we could see fish & squids jumping onto the surface attracted to our flashlights.

An extra night in Ambon wasn’t part of our original plan but we thought it’d be worth exploring for a day before flying back to Jakarta. We stayed in Natsepa Resort, about 45 minutes away from the airport. Since we didn’t get to do any diving in Kei, I arranged a freediving trip that morning with the Mollucan Trip (https://www.facebook.com/exploremaluku/), our guide Glenn met us in the hotel and we drove to the site which was again about 45 minutes away from the resort. It started to rain heavily on the way there and I was getting worried about visibility in the water. As we arrived, the site was located on an unassuming roadside bay, with some basic tourists facilities available. We rented a small fishing boat to take us to a quieter area of the bay.

14469722_10154093425337523_8966019836167041672_n  14494784_10154093425317523_2638006102603804160_n 14520558_10154093425292523_5310731294032066491_n 14568043_10154093425212523_6119382114407404673_n

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical at first, but as we dived into the water we were very pleasantly surprised. The dive site was teeming with colourful soft corals decorating the deep walls all throughout the bay. We saw massive schools of fish, lobsters hiding under crevices, and even a couple of turtles. There was a bit of a current so we took the boat upstream and did a drift-dive back along the bay. Our guide told us that when the season is right we could see a school of hammerhead sharks swimming along the wall. The scenery around the site was stunning as well,  right above the water we could see a dense, hilly, ancient rainforest covered in mist and as we had our face underwater we could still hear birds calling in the background.  We’re definitely going back to Ambon in not too long to check out more of their dive sites.

—————————

A few people have also asked me about the costs of flights, transport, and accommodation – I’ve listed the essentials below:

Garuda flight return for 2: Rp. 9,800,000 (£600)

Ohoiew Island Resort 4 nights: Rp. 2.400.000 full board inc. meals (£150)

All land and sea transport in Kei: Rp. 3.000.000 (£180)

Natsepa resort Ambon: Rp. 1.000.000 (£60)

Half day freediving trip: Rp. 550.000 (£30)

4 Comments

  1. Very nice article, nice pictures – thx 4 sharing.
    BUT one thing changed: There’s is now since May 2017 a SSI Dive Centre on Kei Kecil, located at the Southern end of Pasir Panjang (or Ngurbloat in local language), only 6 boat minutes from the resort where you stayed: Kei Pirate Divers. We already made an agreement with Patris that we organize picking up his guests for the diving and bring them back afterwards to his resort.
    Please check for further information: http://kei-pirate-divers.com
    So next time when you coming back there will be Scuba Diving available here – amazing coral reefs with breathtaking biodiverstity

Leave a Reply