The thousand-odd islands of Maluku - the Moluccas to the Western world - are the original spice islands.

The islands' many havens of sunny, powder-white shores graced by palm trees went unheralded at a time when nutmegs, cloves and mace were worth their weight in gold.

Flights: Domestic flights from Jakarta and Ujung Pandand to Ambon; small aircraft to neighboring islands

Land: Taxis available in Ambon

Accommodations: Comfortable hotels to simple guest houses

Scuba Diving Maluku - The original Spice Islands. A paradise rediscovered. Waters rich and unblemished.

Today, Maluku is under-going a rediscovery by the world for its excellent diving.

In the 19th century, renowned naturalist Alfred Wallace declared the fishes of Maluku "perhaps unrivalled for variety and beauty by those of any one spot on earth. "On the brink of the 21st century, divers are just beginning to understand what Wallace meant.

Then, like now, Ambon was the administrative center of Maluku, the first port of call for all travelers. Scuba is new here, but the pioneering divers didn't have to work hard for their thrills. The undersea world around Ambon and the nearby island of Saparua have top-rate dive sites. Highlights among reef walls here are the presence of large marine life - sharks, enormous turtles, schools of Napoleon Wrasse, giant groupers, tuna, rays and huge lobsters - neighbors to generous schools of reef fish.

Southeast of Ambon and virtually out of the blue, rise a tiny cluster of emerald islands, the Banda Islands. Access is by air via small twin-engine aircraft to an airstrip on Banda Neira Island. The biggest town in this archipelago is Bandeneira, and it has at last count, 12 vehicles. Sleepy Bandeneira belies the powerful pulling strength of its immaculate reefs, paradise to expert and novice divers alike. Heartbeats accelerate over vertical coral drops and encounters with the tremendous variety, size and number of fish at the best sites.