…for a price!
We had very high expectations for Raja Ampat- we had done a lot of research and made the decision to do a 12 day liveaboard dive boat in order to see some of the less explored islands and areas around “The 4 Kings”. We selected the Dewi Nusantara boat (previously Paradise Dancer) which was the single biggest expediture of the 10 month trip – as much as our round-the-world ticket. And it was worth it- our expectations were exceeded all around and this makes the list of things we would like to do again.
Getting to the best parts of Raja Ampat is not easy- you have to fly into the tiny airport of Sorong which until recently was just a tin roof building. International flights into Sorong come from only 2 places: Manado and Jakarta via Makassar. And Sorong itself is no gem. We arrived 1 day early in order not to miss the boat and spent the night in a nice hotel recommended by the boat. There was nothing around us so we just stayed in. The day of departure we were picked up and delivered to the harbor where our tender boat brought us to the Dewi Nusantara- our home for the next 12 days. We could see this beautiful blue, triple masted boat from the plane the previous day and were delighted to finally arrive. We were greeted by the whole crew (of which there were 20), briefed and showed to our room. The boat was meticulous and spacious- 2 things you usually don’t find on boats:). We settlled into our room and later that evening, set sail and headed north.
The next 11 days found a similar routine:
7am first light breakfast and dive- after dives we got a warm towel and a neck massage 8:30am breakfast made to order
10:30am- second dive
3:00pm- third dive
5:30- Marine biologist Dr. RIchard Smith presents information about the area and his research on pygmy seahorses
6:45pm- night dive- or for us, beer on the top deck
7:30pm- 3-course dinner
The diving is breathtaking and probably the best in the world for the variety of marine life and corals. For us, hands down the best diving we’ve had so far. In general, on every dive, there were more things to look at than we could possibly take in- the coral is so beautiful and plentiful- this is what diving in some other areas of the world must have been like 30 years ago. I felt a sense of great responsibility to ensure that I didn’t bump or touch anything because we were seeing it in its natural and perfect state. And you can tell by the way the fish and aquatic life are not afraid- mantas came right up to us and fish actually touched our masks!
This is diving in its purest form- and the only place I’ve experienced it (so far).
On the entire trip we saw only one or two other boats, no other tourists, divers, or people- aside from the villagers who live there. Wayag was my favourite place for above the water scenery. We woke up on the 4th morning to 25-30 little karst islands with bright green jungle on top the bright blue water. After the afternoon dive, we took the tender boats around to explore around them. We stopped at 3 beaches with absolutely nothing on them. I felt like an explorerer, discovering these places for the first time. After running around for a bit, we would all pile back in and head on to discover another beach. On the 3rd beach, we hiked to the top of the mountain for one of the best views I’ve ever seen. A 360 degree view of Wayag- little islands dotted around the green/blue crystal clear water. It was a tough but short hike but about half of us went. I think we took 50 photos:) After the hike down, we swam in the water to cool off and enjoy the view. Guido (one of the owners of the boat who was on the trip with us) had the crew bring us beer, wine and snacks from the boat whilst we swam around. Eventually (after 90 minutes and 3 glasses of wine) we had to get out and go to dinner.
We managed 2 visits to land to see some of the villages. On the third day, we got up at 4:30am and headed to a village where we trekked an hour in the dark in an attempt to see Wilson’s Birds of Paradise (a very rare, beautiful bird) but in the end, a few of us only saw the bird briefly and we didn’t see it at all. Oh well, nice(?! = hot, sweaty and pointless) morning walk in the jungle!
Here are some of the things we saw while diving:
Oceanic mantas- 4m long black and white. We saw 8 in one dive and stayed in one place while they swam in patterns around us. Also saw them on 3 other dives
White tipped and black tipped sharks- 1-2m long
bump headed parrot fish – 1m very large, bright blue, we could hear them eating the coral!
glass fish- hundreds of them
fusiliers- schools of several hundred
huge fan coral (bigger than John)
bommies with loads of beautiful coral and fish
The diving was fairly challenging for us (we were doing our 40th to approx 75th dives on the boat, I think the most inexperienced divers on board), with light or moderate currents on nearly every dive, and a few dives with some very strong currents. Only once did we get blown off into the blue, which was not a big issue, as lots of safety equipment (safety sausage, whistle etc) was provided, and we were well looked after by our dive guide, Wendy (who was also the expedition manager). The most challenging dive we had was when a drift along a wall went crazy with a very strong down-current, and it was necessary to nearly fully inflate our BCD’s to overcome it.. it was crazy to see the cloud of bubbles flowing downwards and the fish at the wall swimming frantically vertically upwards in order to stay in the same place! and then it was necessary to be very careful as we ascended out of it to avoid over-buoyancy as we were ascending up underneath an overhang.. of course we ended the dive after that which was a shame, but one of only two dives on the trip that ended prematurely due to the current conditions.
Overall, the thing I appreciated most about Raja Ampat aside from the natural beauty, was the prestine state of it. It’s one of only a few places that isn’t ruined by people. In fact, there are a number of great initiatives in place to help ensure that it stays that way, so I suppose it could be that the small amount of impact people have had, is actually postiive! We were very lucky to have seen such a beautiful place on such a beautiful boat. We also lucked out with the weather. While the rest of Indonesia is on the “off” season, Raja Ampat weather is perfect. We had only 1 day of rain and temperatures consistently 30-32 degrees. I really hope Raja Ampat stays as beautiful and remote as it is today- and I cannot wait to go back soon and see what else we can discover.