Updated: Jun 7
The Last Paradise
Situated off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula on Papua, the most eastern island of the Indonesian Archipelago, Raja Ampat or literally meaning ‘The Four Kings’ is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals surrounding the four main islands of Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati, and Misool.
The name Raja Ampat itself is believed to derive from a legend where a woman found seven eggs with four of them hatched to become the kings of the four main islands, while the other three became a woman, a ghost, and a stone.
For underwater enthusiasts, Raja Ampat definitely offers some of the world’s ultimate experience. The territory within the islands of the Four Kings is enormous, covering 9.8 million acres of land and sea, home to 540 types of corals, more than 1,000 types of coral fish and 700 types of mollusks. This makes it the most diverse living library for the world's coral reef and underwater ecology.
My journey begins packed & ready to leave my home of Adelaide, Sth Australia with a direct international flight with Virgin Airlines to Denpasar (Bali).
After an overnight stay in Sanur with a friend my next flight consists of 2 connecting flights from Bali - Makassar - Sorong. After approx. 36hrs I arrive at 6.20am the day of departure of the Sea Safari 8 Liveaboard which will be my 'Ocean Home' for the next 10 days.
Insider Divers is a company that organises guided scuba diving group trips. Our itineraries are designed to get the best possible diving. We aim to design travel packages that included the best nature experience with the best possible operator.
KLM Sea Safari 8, with a length of 35m and a beam of 10m is a spacious liveaboard schooner, ideal for cruising in the vast Indonesian waters. This luxury schooner, built of ironwood in traditional Buginese Phinisi style, it can comfortably accommodate up to 24 divers on liveaboard cruises around Raja Ampat & other regions.
The itinerary for the 10 days starts by heading South to Misool which is arguably the best place in the world to dive. It is a remote island in The Coral Triangle's Ceram Sea, which has the most diverse range of marine life anywhere in the world. Divers of all levels of experience are able to enjoy Misool. There are more than 50 world-class dive sites around the island, which offer something special of all shapes and sizes. Its remote location ensures that the biodiversity remains protected, and the cost & difficulty getting there makes every trip even more special.
The mix of guests derive from all over the world consisting of USA, Germany, Greece, Aust, UK, Sth Africa & more.... This unique sport blends itself to having no barriers to gender, race, expertise or skill level, so as I embark the Liveaboard and start to mingle and forget sooo many names it only takes less that 2 days to become a cohesive and singled minded group. We are assigned rooms to share, instructed to setup our scuba equipment and resume in the dining room for the obligatory safety briefing and room allocations.
After settling into my room and meeting my new roomy for the week (Andy from Hong Kong) and become acquainted, everyone re-groups for a light lunch while the boat commences its journey South. Good news, it is planned to do a 'Check-Dive' ASAP which allows everyone to sort their gear, adjust buoyancy and weights etc, plus at the Safety Stop everyone is required to demonstrate their efficient deployment of their Surface Marker Buoy (SMB).
The divers are teamed up with Dive Masters and I am grouped with Joni (DM), Andy, Evan & Tom. The check dive started off with a storm, literally as the weather turned with black clouds, thunder, lightening and hailing rain - not the best start to a holiday. However apart for some surge and waves with a potential murky water we all embrace our idyllic location and grin and bear the conditions and get on with the dive.
For the rest of the week, the typical format would remain the norm;
Light Breakfast at 6.00am
Check camera gear and suit up
Dive briefing at 7.00am for 7.30am dive
Return to boat, wash gear and change
Full Breakfast at 8.00am
Dive briefing at 10.00am for 10.30am dive
Return to boat for lunch, rest and hydrate etc
Time to recover and relax, check camera gear etc etc
Time for afternoon 3rd dive briefing for 3.00pm
Return to boat to shower, dry clothes, rest and dinner.......
ENERGY pending either night dive or Blackwater dive at 7.30pm
Dinner around 8.30-9.00pm, then Goodnight and reset for tomorrow
Living on board an Indonesian Phinisi you get up close and personal to your dive buddies and all the crew as there is not much room on board, the dive deck and the rooms. This makes for a personal trip and because most divers are like minded space and inhibitions isn't a real issue.
As we cruise around the Islands of Misool we are reminded of the tranquility and majestic wonders of nature and its wonders that we are blessed to experience. It is around day 2 when the days, dives sites and timeframes become a blur as they start to meld into one. If you don't take stock of your thoughts and keep a dive log, notes or chronological record weariness soon erodes your short-term memory. Luckily the boat crew keep a record of the days, dive sites and schedule to help with your recall, plus if you take photo's you can use them to construct your timeframe. If all that fails you call upon other guests/dive buddies notes and log book entries.
To give you some idea of the copious amount of days and sites we encounter please review the photo's below!
Nicknamed the ‘species factory’, Raja Ampat is a globally significant biodiversity hotspot and these abundant reefs surrounding its 1411 islands provide a vital source of nutrition and a basis for local livelihoods. Raja Ampat’s reefs are teeming with an abundance of life and colour that can be found nowhere else on the planet. Brilliantly hued soft corals and sea fans, sponges, tunicates, crinoids and hard corals merge to form habitats for mollusks and crustaceans, nudibranchs, giant clams, urchins and sea stars.
Raja Ampat has many dive sites which are renowned for Manta Ray sightings and on day 3 I was excited to visit Magic Mountain for an opportunity to witness Manta's visiting the known cleaning station.
Cleaning stations are large coral patches where marine megafauna gather to get regular hygiene checks by cleaner wrasses that remove parasites from their skin, gills and teeth.
Sadly it was not meant to be, with no Manta sightings during the dive. This can happen for a multitude of reasons relating to the timing of the day and currents. Later that day we got to dive on a small seamount call Puri Pinnacle. This seamount is connected to three smaller pinnacles. The current was mild which can bring a lot of fish on the split point where we entered watching the action of school of Jacks, Giant Trevally and Snappers hunting into the cloud of Puri fish. We continued from pinnacle to pinnacle diving around the seamount, looking for critters such as Nudibranchs, Pygmy Seahorse and Flatworms, hiding on the shallow soft coral garden.
In amazement and out of nowhere Joni (Guide) signals to the group "Manta" - by flapping his arms to mimic a Manta Ray and pointed to the top of a pinnacle in the distance. As first none of us could see anything, but followed him in trust of his signalling. It wasn't long with some furious finning we could see a predominantly white Manta chillin' at the top of a pinnacle. We (the group) enjoyed this private moment for what seemed a very long time, up close & personal for at least 10-14 minutes of this surreal majestic moment.
Friendships made, experiences shared and sooo many diving stories told between everyone along with advice, hints & tips just shows what an amazing the dive community is. It was nice to see many people interacting and sitting at meal times with different people to mingle and get to know others whom in their normal daily world would not do.
As the days of diving continues we take stock of the majesty of Raja Ampat and take nothing for granted as we steam on from Misool for our last 2 days before heading North to the Centre.
Day 4 we were treated to a special experience in between the days diving sites, an opportunity to walk, swim & snorkel in the beach of Yillet Island where there is a baby 🦈 🦈 🦈 nursery. WOW, where else could you dream of doing such a surreal interactive activity in such an idyllic location - I can't imagine anywhere else in the world that could top this.
Many thanks to the skills of Simon Lorenz in capturing these special moments on camera.
At first glance, Misool Island seems impenetrable, as it is covered in dense rainforest. This is Lake Lenmakana, a turquoise lagoon isolated in the middle of the island can be reached by a short hike up a steep limestone cliffside, which can be a bit challenging for some tourists. Despite the arduous journey, once on the top of the cliff, the view down the lake and the treasures found within it are worth it.
Living without any predators nor danger around, jellyfish residing in the lake have developed stingless bodies. The moon, golden medusa, and Cassiopeia (the upside-down jellyfish) are the three different species that bob around the lake, inviting visitors to join them for a refreshing swim. The lake is indeed deep, but there is no need to scuba dive too far into the dark depths of the lake in order to enjoy a synchronised swim with jellyfish, and have them curiously wrapping around your torso, arms, and legs.
It is an unusual experience swimming with Misool jellyfish. Hundreds of golden and spotted medusa jellyfish, some smaller and some larger, make swimmers feel like they are diving inside waters made of bulbous bodies that pulsate and dance to various rhythms. It is a wildlife encounter that must be experienced in order to be believed, as the swim itself is indescribable.
The entire group visited jellyfish lake which is a privilege that requires a sense of responsibility, as human visitors can be the biggest threat to the existence of these vulnerable creatures. In their own kingdom, these delightful creatures live almost isolated, with only a few fish as lake companions. It is important to remember that they are not used to outside elements, and therefore require a gentle approach from people who join them in their home. The harmless jellyfish of Misool expect visitors to swim slowly and carefully without fins or any gear or objects that can easily kill them.
Part of the Raja Ampat trip includes a mandatory visit to the Geosite Piaynemo Lookout for an afternoon trip and hike. Was nice to get off the boat, hit some 'terra firma' and walk up to the lookout where we shared many laughs, photo's and moments to up-lift everyones spirits. The day was warm and slightly muggy but well worth the moderate climb to appreciate the views and take some time-out from the past few days.
From here we were treated more, yes more idyllic dive sites such as Melisa's Garden, Keruo Channel and My Reef which delivered in spades with vast variety of fish life, soft coral's and pristine clear blue warm water to treat the soul.
As we venture further North away from Misool we are blessed with some outstanding weather conditions, calm waters and plenty of sun which is a pleasant change. Mayhem Reef, Citrus Ridge & The Mangrove were our next sites to encounter on Day 7, and then Day 8 we were treated to Arborek and Sawandarek Jetties.
An array of fish life, soft corals and images from these dives.
Day 8, Manta Ridge dive site: intense anticipation with years of hope and wanting to have that Mantastic Moment I have been waiting for years to experience. Don't get me wrong or sound ungrateful, as I have dived with Manta Rays many many times before throughout Asia and the Maldives but have felt wanting for more.
Today I was super excited and sooo keen to get in the water, however our group was last to hit the water and not knowing what the site was producing was killing me. Finally the tender returned and our group quickly got it and started to head towards the site, not coming quick enough for me. Once there it felt like forever before we back rolled into the water and followed Joni, who kept signalling to us to take it slow, slow was not in my vocabulary today Joni, what if we were missing out on the most intense Manta cleaning ever existed !!!!!!
Finally we could see the huge cleaning station, sooo many divers hooked in and 'YES, YES' Manta everywhere in all shapes, colors and even pregnant females. Manta mania was manic and magnificent, everything I hoped it would be and I couldn't get enough or close enough to take it a moment I've been dreaming of.
Below is just a few of MANY photo's and some amazing video of the experience I sooo want too share with you, please please enjoy.....
Video below by my Roomie & good friend Andy
You could only imagine if possible my emotive state, OFF THE CHART! and it showed at the end of the dive when we finally had to surface with screams of jubilation. The bonus for me as well was my dive buddies just had their first Manta mania experience which also made the dive so special as I was just as happy for them as I was for myself.
Time to re-board and head to some more dive sites further out in the Central Region, this is what we came here for, Let's Go Diving as there was literally no time to waste. As we kept steaming out to different dive sites, there was one day where we had the most amazing, idyllic and picturesque Surface Interval you could ever ask for on a remote sand bar called Pasir Timbul.
Just before I take you to some final stages of the trip, let me re-cap on a night dive where I got to witness and video a quite rarely seen marine creature endemic to Indonesia. There was talk of 'The Walking Shark' 1 of 2 known in the marine environment, to which I have seen neither. Some divers had seen the walking shark on previous night dives and to be honest I did get a glimpse of 1 2 times during other dives, but not what I would deem worthy.
Finally on my last night dive on Saporkren Surprise dive site Joni our guide was casually leading and pointing out many fish, corals and other marine creatures. It was getting towards the end of the dive and BLAST out of nowhere Joni fins away from us like a demon signalling and pointing in the dark black distance, to what I did not know. Of course we follow like crazy to keep up with him and as a group we descend on Joni pointing to a walking shark fully out in the open cruising through and around the hard coral.
WOW, wow, wow, not only is the walking shark regularly seen let alone vulnerable out in full view for all to see. I already had the GoPro and video lights activated not to miss a second of what I was about to witness, and yes it was amazing and surreal to see my 1st ever walking shark and take the time to really absorb the moment.
Here is my video of the Indonesian Walking Shark
Our final destinations to dive were the infamous Cape Kri and Yenbuba Jetty to witness the large schooling 'Sweetlips' and the soft corals on the jetty piers. Cream rises to the top, and in the last few moments of my last dive on Yenbuba Jetty I happened upon a small group of Mobula Rays cruising through a school of silverside fish, again my 1st experience.
Mobula Rays & Silverside video
In closing, 'Take Every Chance You Get In Life, Because Some Things Only Happen ONCE', & let my stories and experience give you inspiration to create your own Moments.
Another 'Rivetting Moment', to inspire & ignite the traveller in you, to broaden life challenges & experiences!!!
The proof is in the smiles of us all below, so go out there and do it!!!!!