Indonesia p2: Raja Ampat

Written by on June 21, 2013 in Asia, General

I was transported from my hotel to the harbor where I joined a few others on a small “ferry” that transported us from the not-so-nice town of Sorong, to the isolated paradise called Raja Ampat, an archipelago of 1,500+ small islands, cays and shoals in Western Papua, Indonesia.

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Two hours later we arrived at the jetty of the Kri Eco Resort, where any and all doubts I’d had about splurging for my week in this diver’s paradise completely washed away.

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Kri Eco Resort is the cheapest alternative for divers to access Raja Ampat, which divers usually visit on very expensive (>$6,000/week) live-aboard dive boats.  Kri was still very expensive for backpackers like me at $2000/week, but that included food, lodging, 20 dives and equipment.  It was easier to justify in my head by thinking that it was only a one-hour and $70 flight from Manado, OR I could come back to Raja Ampat some other time, but it would take me 3 days of travel each way from the US, plus a $1500 flight, plus, plus, plus.  After I thought about it that way, it made even more sense.

Anyway…this was my room…which I found super-cute and quite perfect.  Still very basic, but what else did I need?!?

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I had told the resort I was fine sharing my room with another person to avoid paying a single supplement charge, but was happy to find out that I had the room to myself.  In fact, there were only 3 other guests at the resort for the entire week I was there!  Luckily, Ulrike and Stephan (divers from Munich) and Rianne (young snorkeler from Holland) and I all became fast friends.

We were briefed on the resort and how things worked before lunch, and then introduced to our dive guides before our 3pm dive.  Dives would be at 7a, 11a, 3p and we had the option of a sunset or night dive every day.  Another monster bonus to having so few people at the resort…I was given my own personal dive master!  I had a private dive guide for the whole trip.  Awesome!

As stunningly beautiful above water as it is below, Raja Ampat (which translates as “The Four Kings”) is the global epicenter of marine diversity in the world.

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What does that mean, exactly?  Well…the region has over 600 species of coral. By comparison the entire Caribbean Sea has only 58 species.  Raja Ampat has 1,669 species of fish recorded to date and that total keeps rising every couple weeks as researchers find new species. That number is far greater than the Great Barrier Reef, which is also a much larger area.

Every dive site was supposed to be totally different, and every habitat has its own unique suite of species and that makes Raja Ampat just such a unique place.  Many refer to it as an “Underwater Eden”, and I couldn’t wait to jump in and take a look for myself.  This was at one of my favorite dive sites, Blue Magic, which absolutely described what I saw.  I think this must be the dive site that inspired the scene in “Finding Nemo” where all the surgeon fish were giving directions by grouping together and changing shapes.  There were so many of them…none of my pictures do it justice.

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The sheer amount of fish I saw all week was unbelievable.  There were more of everything, and fish I’d seen in other areas were just bigger here.  It was amazing!  I actually don’t know how the scientists keep finding new species as there was just so much to look at, it was almost dizzying.

I love this picture…a giant trevally licking his lips before lunch!

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The water was warm and there were no other dive boats on any of the sites we visited.  It was crazy that we had this area all to itself.  And sooo beautiful!

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During surface intervals, we’d visit small villages in the area where our dive crew lived.  My resort employed all local Papuans, who were all super-friendly.

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Or we’d stop on uninhabited islands for snacks or lunch in between dives.

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It’s funny…before arriving in Indonesia, I’d always wanted to see a seahorse, which I’d only seen in aquariums before.  And pygmy seahorses are normally extremely difficult to find.  Here, we saw one on almost every dive.  It was CRAZY!  I am definitely spoiled now.  They are so cute!  And literally the size of your thumbnail.

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I really love the orangutan crabs, too!

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Of course we had beautiful sunsets…

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And amazing night dives, with loads of crabs, lobsters, eels, cuttle fish, squid and other cool nighttime creatures like this ornate ghost pipe fish.

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The couple sunrises I was awake for were also spectacular!

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It did rain a few times, but only at night, which actually cooled things off and made it easier to sleep as it was quite hot during the day. But we were diving most of the time, so it didn’t matter how hot it was 🙂

One day we visited a dive site called Manta Point, where we saw at least 6 spectacular giant mantas…including this unique black one with a heart on his chest.  Beautiful, isn’t he?

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We visited the Fam islands, which were about 2 hours away.  The visibility was pretty poor underwater (<10 meters), but the scenery above the water made up for it.  We went for a hike to get more of an aerial view.  Too bad my pictures don’t capture the variations of blue water near the coasts of all of these little islands.  It was breathtaking.

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We did another longer trip to an island called Gam to visit one of the area’s most famous dive sites called The Passage, which was unlike any other I’ve encountered.  The Passage is only five meters deep, and is a river-like sea fjord between two islands, which snakes inside the forest, with tree canopies often closing above it, strange purple sponges and gigantic orange sea fans almost reaching over the surface, where the sea and sky mirror each other. It was beautiful!

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To borrow another diver’s description of the Passage: “It is a mystical place, rich in silent grottoes, underwater passages, submerged tunnels leading to still underwater pools hidden inside the forest, sun rays slanting down in the green darkness, like light shining through a cathedral’s multi-coloured windows.”   It was an amazing dive – one of my favorites ever.

Stephan and Ulrike loved it, too 🙂

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I saw my first electric clam inside one of the caves here, which was quite cool and looked like it had an electrical current running through the center of it.

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And, inside the actual “passage”, the current was super strong and we were FLYING across the bottom.  So fun!  We saw a huge turtle along the way, but were moving so fast the pictures all came out blurry!

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Raja Ampat is a gorgeous place that I would highly recommend to any diver (who can afford the splurge).  It is way off the beaten path, but well worth the trip!  I left a happy diver, but hungry to see what other fantastic dive sites Indonesia has to offer.

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I think the week at Kri will be tough to beat – probably the coolest place I’ve stayed for my entire trip.

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I was sad to leave, especially as Stephan and Ulrike extended their stay for another week!  I had an uneventful day in the hotel in Sorong while I awaited my flight. I generally don’t take pictures out of airplane windows, but I think I was in a brand new plane (or it had just been washed) and have to share this gorgeous aerial view.

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Next stop…Java!

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