Raja Ampat – Trip Report by Brian Newman, photos by Eileen Furr and Donald Kirkham
The Republic of Indonesia forms the largest archipelago in the world with over 17,500 islands, many of which are considered top world class dive spots.
Located off the northwest tip of New Guinea, in Indonesia’s West Papua province lies Raja Ampat, our long haul destination for 2015. Raja Ampat comprises over 1,500 small islands surrounding the four main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta, Waigeo and the smaller island of Kofiau.
For the majority of the party it was a Monday lunchtime flight to Dubai, followed by a flight from Dubai to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, a couple of nights in a hotel in Jakarta and a flight from Jakarta to Sorong, a short journey by rib and arriving in time for a welcome breakfast aboard the boat on the Thursday morning (GMT +9 hours), circa 20 hours flying time in total.
Having enquired at the hotel reception in Jakarta about ‘Things to do / Tourist places to visit’ and received a blank face and very few suggestions it became clear that Jakarta was unlikely to figure in the top 10 tourist destinations of the world! However, we were keen to see something of the city and hopped on board a couple of taxis for an exhilarating and hair raising journey of around 10 miles which took the best part of 2 hours!
We visited Istiqlal Mosque, and learnt that it was the 3rd largest Mosque in the world. This necessitated Donald and Brian being ‘correctly clothed’ before entry was permitted – no shower curtains were necessary this time (ref Philippines 2012!). We also visited the National Monument which had been built to commemorate Indonesia’s independence. The National Monument is a 132 m tower in the centre of Merdeka Square, Central Jakarta, symbolizing the fight for Indonesia and I am sure it would have commanded wonderful views of the city had we elected to queue for the 2 hours to gain entry.
And that was about it for our tourist adventure with, absurdly, the best bit being the chaotic journey, with motorbikes carrying anything up to families of 4 and one carrying an estimated twenty live chickens all tied by their feet and all raising their heads to take in the sights on what was doubtless their final journeys.
On the Thursday morning we were escorted, via cars and rib to the S/Y Indo Siren which was to be our home for the next 10 days.
The Siren Fleet operates a number of handcrafted boats built on the island of Sulawesi, of Ironwood and Teak. The boat was 40 meters long and therefore a very similar size to the blue o two boats operating in the Red Sea. However, with a maximum of 16 guests (as opposed to the 26 on blue o two) we were able to enjoy the extra room in our palatial cabins.
The Siren fleet of boats strives to be viewed as the very best liveaboards available anywhere in the world and the 8 divers who comprised our party would have no hesitation in agreeing that they are certainly up there with the best.
Many sources place Raja Ampat as one of their top ten most popular places for diving whilst it retains the number one ranking in terms of underwater biodiversity, containing 10-15% of the world’s coral reefs and a huge variety of marine species; from the smallest critters to the largest pelagics. Those seasoned travelers amongst our party who between them have managed to dive extensively around the world would agree with this, placing it on a par or a very close second to the Philippines.
There are allegedly….1,508 fish species (though the author only managed confirmed sightings of 57….), 537 coral species (a remarkable 96% of all scleractinia recorded from Indonesia are likely to occur in these islands and 75% of all species that exist in the world), and 699 mollusk species. PS. If you don’t know what ‘scleractinia’ are, then book yourself on a Fish ID course with Rachael, our in-house Marine Biologist!
We were offered a total of 31 dives including night dives on several evenings. On most dives the variety of marine life was simply staggering with many areas boasting enormous schools of fish and regular sightings of sharks, with sightings of sleeping wobbegongs almost becoming boring.
Amongst our personal highlights were:
- Excellent detailed briefings from our German dive leader (who is now able to distinguish between ‘slops’ (e.g. Pig swill) and slopes),
- the standard of service provided by the boat crew including the meals and the (free) beer
- Two sightings of a blue ring octopus with a venom 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide
- the hot chocolate and the warm towels awaiting us after the night dives
- Massive shoals of many varieties of fish accompanied us on every trip,
- Donald eating them out of chocolate bars,
- The numerous Pygmy Seahorses on most dives which others claimed to have actually seen and some even claim to have photographic evidence. I must get stronger prescription lenses in my mask….
- The Manta cleaning station and the graceful almost balletic movement of the visiting Mantas – a sight which entranced us all,
- Regular sightings of Sea snakes, Wobblegongs, Nudibranches and Turtles,
- Donald still eating the chocolate bars…….,
- Our 3 land visits to remote islands
- The ‘Jerry’ rib, (unsure whether this was because of the presence of the Germans on this rib or whether it was a shortened description of some of the older members on board who had all their gear placed on their rib for them…….),
- Simon struggling (and failing) to fit his 6ft 7ins frame into one of the Kayaks during one of our surface intervals – something which Jason managed with surprising dexterity…..
- Jason Pepper diving with his usually excellent trim & buoyancy provided by his sidemounted 12 litre cylinders and acting as a mobile Air Station by providing one of his tanks to our group’s gas guzzlers who sucked his 15 litre dry 45 mins through each hour’s dive.
- Last, but not least, the company……thanks to each and everyone of you for making it such a very special trip!!