Despite being blessed with almost-infinite options for an island holiday–with 17,000 islands remaining uninhabited–very few Indonesian-archipelago explorers venture out of Bali, Lombok and Java. One of the reasons for this is the remoteness of these locales, which means rare and complicated transportation, very basic lodgings and amenities and unreliable logistics.
As a diver, I’ve been fortunate enough to explore some of the most pristine regions in Indonesia. Sharing unique diving experiences is a favourite pastime among scuba divers. It’s all about who sees what first, where and when. The more unique and inaccessible the place is, the bigger the bragging rights. One exceptionally indulgent trip to the über-exclusive Amanwana in Moyo Island later, I’m spoiled for life and have earned the envy of my peers for many years to come.
“To your right is Mount Rinjani, an active volcano and Indonesia’s third highest mountain at 3,726 metres, and its crater lake is called Segara Anak,” the pilot of the eight-seater Cessna Caravan amphibian floatplane announces as we fly along the rim of the magnificent crater on our way to Moyo Island. And with that, our adventure begins.
Mention Moyo Island and you’ll get quizzical looks, even among domestically well-travelled Indonesians and seasoned divers. This quaint 349-kilometre-square island (two-thirds the size of Singapore) off the north coast of Sumbawa in the province of West Nusa Tenggara is a nature reserve and a paradise for naturalists, birdwatchers, and divers. Its inhabitants include more than 3,000 villagers and wild aquatic and land species such as sharks, turtles, migratory manta rays and whale sharks, wild cattle and pigs, native deer, macaques, monitor lizards, and numerous varieties of birds.
Moyo Island owes its modest rise to fame to Amanwana–a multiple award-winning luxury wilderness retreat catering to the primal and whimsical needs of the seriously private and mildly adventurous. Adrian Zecha, the man behind Amanresorts’ quintessential chain of intimate getaways worldwide, saw the potential in this part-savannah-part-jungle island long before the buzz around “private island holidays” among the globetrotting élite. And thus in 1993 Amanwana, or “peaceful forest”, was born.
Brilliantly located in a protected cove under a tropical canopy on Moyo’s western side, Amanwana’s twenty tents (with oceanfront or jungle options) were meticulously designed by a Belgian architect to adhere to a local law forbidding the construction of a permanent hotel structure. The result is unmistakable. You feel it from the moment you step into the 58-metre-square eastern-colonial elegance.
Top Ten Moyo Moments
1. Be amused by wild macaques practicing their trampoline skills on your tent roof or attempting to steal from your fruit baskets. Feeding the macaques is strictly discouraged. Never leave your doors open.
2. If you’re staying in an oceanfront tent, look out your windows at dusk for sightings of juvenile black-tip reef sharks’ dorsal fins slicing the surface of knee-deep waters. Or better yet, grab your snorkelling gear and join in the fun!
3. Stroll along the beach in the late afternoon and follow the road uphill to the ridgeline. The track will lead you to Crocodile Head. Take in the stunning view of the Flores Sea over the setting sun.
4. Book a guided three-hour trek to the Bat Cave. Pick up the friendly park ranger, Pak Fredi in the small fishing village of Brang Sedo on your way there. For an extra adrenaline kick, ask him to take you deep into the cave to witness pythons feeding on fruit bats. Not recommended for the faint-hearted or sensitive-nosed.
5. The waterfall excursion is not to be missed. The half-day tour starts with a speedboat hop to the village of Labuan Aji, a brisk walk to a funky Landcruiser, and a bumpy, slightly offroad ride along a jungle path that leads to a series of waterfalls. A refreshing dip in the mossy limestone pool is followed by a perky picnic of tropical fruits, homemade treats, and fresh coconut water.
6. There is a photographer in all of us. The villages of Brang Sedo (walking distance) and Labuan Aji (a short boat ride away) offer amazing photo-ops: children and village life. Be sure to ask for permission before snapping away to avoid scaring children.
7. Arrange for a private movie screening on the beach and watch one of the “Ring of Fire” DVD series to completely immerse yourself in the remote island experience.
8. Indulge in a private romantic beach barbecue and enjoy the fresh seafood and produce from the resort’s organic garden, complete with your personal chef.
9. Amanwana’s sheltered bay provides the ideal conditions to earn your diving certification from the resort’s well-managed and fully equipped dive centre. For a quick taste at a fraction of the time, opt for Discovery Scuba.
10. If you’re a certified advanced diver or an underwater photographer, a night dive is a must in the Moyo House Reef, right off the jetty. Be patient, maintain perfect buoyancy and let the nightlife unfold right before your eyes.
The underwater world of Moyo Island offers some of the best diving I’ve ever experienced in Indonesia. Kudos to the resort’s introduction of the Moyo Conservation Fund. Divers are charged an extra US$ 5.00 per dive, which promotes conservation and educational initiatives such as buying turtle eggs from farmers, the installation of bio-rocks (artificial reefs), partnerships with local fishermen on the protection of reefs, and the prevention of destructive and illegal fishing methods.
It’s obvious that the hard work is paying off. The corals are unbelievably healthy and bursting with life everywhere I look. Plan your dives in advance and ask for Kazz or Yoyok, Moyo’s best dive guides with 12 years of experience.
Recommended dive sites by Luke Ives, Amanwana’s freelance divemaster
Labuan Aji Reef
A great dive site for both macro and pelagic fish action, Labuan Aji Reef has a large shallow reeftop and is immediately recognisable by the small sandbar which breaks the surface at low tide. The vertical wall on the eastern slope drops to depths below 70 metres and is covered with crinoids, gorgonians and giant sponges, providing the perfect habitat for numerous macro gems. The wall eventually gives way to a more gradual slope and large schools of fish congregate at the corners of the dive site where relatively strong currents can sweep across the reef.
Highlights: pygmy seahorses, ribbon eels, soft coral crabs, nudibranchs, napoleon wrasse and tuna.
A small and exposed circular reef, Angel Reef offers one of Moyo’s most exciting dives when the currents are running. Divers can experience being surrounded by huge numbers of fishes: surgeonfish, bannerfish and redtooth triggerfish form the mainstay of this backdrop. Fusiliers school in thousands and this brings in the pelagics with tuna, trevallies and large snappers all competing for a part of the action. Combine all this with a never ending army of batfish, and Angel really can offer divers a visual treat!
Highlights: trevallies, dogtooth tuna, schooling batfish, blue spotted ribbontail rays, lionfish, clownfish.
Panjang is a long reef system that is entirely submerged and begins at five to six metres below the surface. The reef slopes away to depths greater than 50 metres but has a sandy plateau at about 30 metres towards the northern end of the dive site. The dive will often be done as a moderate drift dive heading in a northerly direction, and the reef has a windswept feel about it with a lot of the topography angled by persistent currents.
Highlights: pelagic fish, eagle rays, seasnakes, cuttlefish, scorpionfish.
Moyo House Reef (Seawall)
Straight in from the jetty, the Moyo House Reef offers an easy dive and the perfect introduction for beginners. There is a sandy area directly under the pier and a beautiful shallow coral area only a short swim from the entry point. This becomes a steep wall which bottoms out at around 35 metres, and many lionfish, groupers and small crustaceans make their homes amongst its nooks and crannies.
Highlights: moray eels, pipefish, cleaner shrimps, cuttlefish, turtles, lobsters.
1. The indulgent way:
From Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport, book a seat or charter the Cessna Caravan floatplane (weather-permitting), which will fly straight to Moyo Island and land next to the jetty in front of Amanwana.
2. The stylish way from Bali:
Fly with Bali Helicopters from Bali direct to Moyo Island and land on the designated helicopter pad above Amanwana’s boardwalk.
3. The island-hopping way:
Fly with Trans Nusa from Bali to Sumbawa with a brief transit in Lombok. Amanwana’s luxury cruiser will pick up guests from Sumbawa airport for an hour-long transfer to the resort.