Halmahera is the large odd-shaped island just west of the Raja Ampat region and east of northern Sulawesi. In terms of tourism, it’s pretty much new to the scene. With the exception of the occasional liveaboard passing through and the two snorkel and dive resorts in the southern tip, Halmahera is rarely visited by snorkeling enthusiasts. This lack of tourism is by no means a reflection of the area’s reefs and snorkeling potential, quite the opposite actually. Halmahera’s unique position between two of the world’s most bio-diverse marine eco-systems—Sulawesi and Raja Ampat—makes it one seriously good destination for snorkeling.
There are two ways to arrive to Halmahera for snorkeling, with the first being by plane. There are a number of routes in which to arrive, however, the easiest and most comfortable is via Manado in North Sulawesi. From Manado, it’s a short hop to the small port town of Labuha which may or may not involve a brief stopover in Ternate. Once in Labuha, it’s a quick shuttle ride to the harbor followed by a 30-minute boat to Kusu Island Resort where all the snorkeling will stem from.
The other way to get to Halmahera is by liveaboard. At least at the moment, liveaboards do not start or finish from Halmahera directly. Instead, any liveaboard snorkel safari to Halmahera will begin in Sorong and sail through Raja Ampat as well as Halmahera before finishing in Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi, or vise-versa. There’s just not enough infrastructure to support the refueling and stocking of high-end liveaboards in Halmahera at the moment.
The best snorkeling in Halmahera is around the south between the Bacan (pronounced Bachan) islands and the long southern tip of Halmahera. Around this channel, you’ll find numerous smaller islands and several large shallow sea mounds which host many great snorkeling spots. Coral reefs run all the way up the coast of both Bacan island as well as Halmahera, providing even more great snorkeling opportunities.
The snorkeling in Halmahera is really quite exceptional with stunning coral plateaus that start right at the surface and ever so gradually taper off into a gentle slope. Since most of the area has only just recently emerged as a new snorkel and dive destination, it really hasn’t been explored the way places like Raja Ampat or Komodo have. Not only that, but most of the underwater exploration that has been done has been with divers in mind. Since we all know that what might be a good site for a diver doesn’t really mean it will be good for a snorkeler, on a recent exploration trip to Halmahera with Kusu Island Resort I spent a significant portion of my time sprint swimming over large sections of reef that either looked good from the drone or were known dive sites to make sure that they ticked all the boxes for snorkelers as well, which just about all of them did.
I’m also really happy to say that in all our time zipping around by boat, sending out the drone for aerial reef reconnaissance missions, and plenty of good old fashioned swimming, we found some entirely new reefs which are more than perfect for snorkeling, one of which was very possibly the most beautiful reef I’ve ever seen and took the liberty of naming it “Montse’s Garden” after my fiance. Boom, brownie points!
Kusu Island Resort has its own house reef that extends from the end of its pier in either direction and basically just wraps around the island. The reef is mostly made up of a vast mixture of hard corals that go from the surface and forms a sort of plateau that eventually starts to slope away as you get further from the island.
So, what are the reefs actually like? Short answer, amazing! Long answer—aside from one very long and very shallow coral-covered sea-mound, most are fringing reefs that extend from the shoreline and very gradually start to slope away from the island before either turning into really interesting walls or steep slopes. The reefs are very snorkel friendly in that they are very shallow, so much so that at very low tides around full or new moon large portions of the reefs can be completely out of the water. Like most shallow reefs in Indonesia, they are predominantly hard coral with some large sea fans, sponges, and brightly colored soft corals mixed in.
As the area where all the snorkeling takes place is essentially a large channel, the area is prone to currents, particularly around the full or new moon. That being said, as long as you are mindful of the currents and listen to the briefings of the snorkel guides and resort/liveaboard you won’t have anything to worry about. Also, as with all of our snorkeling safaris when encountering stronger currents, we will either move to a more protected site if the current is particularly strong or casually drift with the current when it’s moving at a moderate pace. We never swim against the current.
In terms of marine life, there’s no telling what you’ll find. As the area is so close to Raja Ampat you have the same or very near the same level of biodiversity, which is a lot to say the least. The reefs just pulse with life and color. One of the things I found most stunning about snorkeling around Halmahera was the sheer volume of little reef fish like chromis, basslets, and athias which seemed to form clouds around the large coral heads.
There are some larger fish like batfish, snappers, bumphead parrotfish, and sweet lips but they were all quite shy and usually hang out in a bit deeper. From what I saw, Halmahera is very much a coral reef fish destination and for those of you that love the brilliant colors and the joy of searching for things like nudibranchs, crocodile fish, anemone fish, and ticking off all the different reef fish in the ID books, this is an ideal destination.
Likely Marine Life Encounters
Halmahera Snorkeling Season
Southern Halmahera can technically be snorkeled year-round, but in our opinion, the best time of year starts around October and ends around May. This is when the weather is most favorable and snorkeling conditions are more predictable. As Halmahera lies really close to the equator, it is a very tropical location where rainstorms happen quite frequently. The good thing is that these tropical storms do pass quickly leaving blue skies and calm seas in their wake. Average air temperatures hover around 85°f in the day and 78°f at night, though it may feel a bit warmer as Halmahera can be quite humid. The water temperatures throughout the year, no matter what the tide or current are doing, are consistently around 80-82°f.
Snorkeling Holiday Examples
We run two different types of snorkeling safaris in Halmahera at the moment, one is via liveaboard, and the other is resort-based. Our resort-based Snorkeling safari starts in Halmahera where we’ll spend a full week exploring the area’s best snorkeling sites while indulging in the luxurious island life that Kusu Island Resort has carefully cultivated. Following our week in Halmahera we move onto another resort in Raja Ampat for one more week of epic snorkeling and resort pampering.
A very brief day-to-day for our resort based snorkel safari will look a little something like this. We’ll be picked up as a group at the Bacan airport and then shuttled to the harbor where we’ll board the Kusu Island Resort’s own transfer boat to the resort where we’ll be based. We will have the entire resort chartered exclusively for us. Every day after breakfast we’ll jump on our own private snorkel boat complete with guides and head out for at least three different snorkels on three different sites.
Kusu also has its own fantastic house reefs that is always open for those that want to spend a day relaxing and snorkeling at their leisure, or for those that just haven’t had enough and want to spend every waking moment in the water. As with just about all our snorkeling safaris, all meals, snorkeling, accommodations, transfers, and internal flights are included. Alcohol and rental equipment are generally the only additional costs.
Our liveaboard option is with the Mermaid II liveaboard and is also chartered exclusively for us. As I mentioned briefly above, our Halmahera liveaboard snorkeling safaris start and finish in either Raja Ampat or Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi. Like our resort-based tour, we’ll not only get to experience the best snorkeling in Halmahera, but it will also allow us to get a taste of what snorkeling is like in Raja Ampat as well as Lembeh!
The day-to-day onboard a liveaboard is very similar to a resort style safari, 3-4 guided snorkels each day with all the same or similar amenities and activities included in the cost. Guests will be picked up as they arrive at the airport and transferred to the liveaboard before we ‘set sail’. A couple of big differences between a resort-style safari and a liveaboard is that there’s no house reef to jump in on whenever you choose and that you’re on a boat which will allow us to explore a much larger region.