Season: October to June
Water Temperature: 23-28°C/77-84°F
Diving: Sharks, Manta Rays, Whale Sharks, house reef, walls, coral gardens, critter diving, shore diving, boat diving, caves, swim-throughs
Willing to share option on liveaboards
Can be combined with Manado, Lembeh, Bali or Gangga, Sulawesi.
Increasingly well-known as the world epicentre of marine biodiversity, the islands of Raja Ampat offer a world of thrilling big animal encounters, the chance to see new species, pristine reefs of hard and soft corals and some of the world’s most intriguing macro creatures. Moreover, after a regional law in 2013 it became a Shark and Manta Sanctuary. Raja Ampat is now surely ‘The World’s Ultimate Dive Destination’!
The remote Raja Ampat archipelago lies off the northeastern coast of West Papua, Indonesia’s most easterly province (formerly known as Irian Jaya), which occupies the western part of the huge island of New Guinea. Exotic? Mysterious? This fascinating, vast and rugged province is both. Indeed it was perhaps the last of planet Earth’s regions to remain untouched by civilization. In 1770 Captain Cook and his landing party set foot on the western shores of the island and a volley of arrows sent them packing from a territory then inhabited by headhunters. Fortunately, a more welcome reception awaits visitors these days!
All the major islands of the Raja Ampat archipelago, Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo, and also over 1,500 islets and cays, are formed from limestone and those who have travelled to Palau will find these green-capped, limestone outcrops looking very similar to the latter’s Rock Islands. No two islands or islets are alike, and no two dive sites the same. The steep-sided walls of the rocks are shaped by wind and water. Soft, vanilla-coloured, sandy bays are ideal for spending time exploring between dives. But it is under the water where one finds the most amazing creatures in abundance. Raja Ampat is, almost incredibly, home to over 1,000 fish species, 537 coral species and 699 mollusc species! This is very probably the richest, diving area in the world! Above the waves is worth exploring too, as there are some wonderful birds to be seen. The forests of Waigeo and Batanta harbour both the beautiful Wilson’s Bird of Paradise and the gorgeous Red Bird of Paradise, both endemic to the area, as well as spectacularly coloured parrots and lorikeets.
Take the opportunity to visit Raja Ampat now and be amongst the first to dive these varied sites (which may include several ship and plane wrecks from the second World War). See the amazing sharks of the region and experience the vast array of fish and corals. Marvel at the beautiful scenery and enjoy the thrill of remoteness in this spectacularly wonderful area.
One of the larger islands, Misool, is surrounded by many, many tiny islands and islets, almost all of which are potential dives sites. The water is so calm and still in the many maze-like channels between the islets and limestone outcrops. This is a stunningly beautiful area. The colourful dive sites of Misool are in exceptional condition, with little environmental impact and so few visiting divers that there is no diver damage. The volcanic nature of the islands is clearly seen under the water, with large rocks like giant church spires, dramatic overhangs and caves. Some of the caves are said to hold human remains, reflecting periods of lowered sea-level. This is the place to find those pygmy seahorses, Mandarinfish, and invertebrates of every type, ranging from giant clams, cuttlefish and octopus to mantis shrimps, nudibranchs and tiny shell dwellers. Hard and soft corals abound, and enormous sea fans bloom from the reef. For those who want a rest from the fabulous macro photo-opportunities, search for Tasselled Wobbegongs and Epaulette Sharks. Since you are unlikely to see a Tasselled Wobbegong outside Far-eastern Indonesia, New Guinea or Australia, it is essential to put this very unusual shark at the top of your ‘must see’ list for Raja Ampat. This small shark (up to 1.3 metres in length) has a very broad head with numerous skin flaps along its lips. Its unlikely that you will misidentify this creature which can often be found under ledges or curled under cabbage corals during the day, emerging into the open at night. Since they can lock their mouth onto anything they can fit into it, it is a good idea not to touch or handle them! There will be opportunity to enter some of the larger caves and marvel at the fantastic patterns of stalactites and stalagmites.
One of Misool’s best known sites is Boo Windows. The main draw of Boo Windows was the ‘windows’ themselves. Two oval shaped holes have been eroded into a seamount protruding above the waves at different heights according to the tides. At time you can see the tops of the windows from the surface. Boo keeps her windows in good nick and they are a perennial favourite with photographers coming to Misool. The trick is to get your buddy to swim through the window and frame the shot with the colourful soft corals in the foreground whilst taking advantage of the light and the textured surface; no mean feat for both photographer and model in the surge! If the windows didn’t take up a great portion of your attention then the White-spotted red Pygmy Seahorse, or the large schools of Oriental Sweetlips, or Napoleoon Wrasse, or Bumphead Parrotfish might!
Misool is not only fascinating below the waves but also below. The green islets sit like droplets of emeralds on a sea several shades of blue. Limestone rocks covered in vegetation pop up out of the ocean seemingly at random. Larger islets can have beautiful secluded beaches and coves and the journeys to and from the dive sites were just as enchanting as the dives themselves! The southern region of Misool, Batu Kecil was where one of the top dive sites of the trip is located. Gorgonian Passage can be an unpredictable affair due to the often changing direction of the current which can either make for a pleasant drift or a more thrilling ride through the passage. The passage is formed by two large islands, rising high out of the sea, to create a perfect u-shaped valley, the sides of which are covered in gargantuan gorgonian sea fans.
BATBITIM ISLAND, SOUTHEAST MISOOL
For security reasons aimed at protecting the reefs, most dive site information cannot be revealed. Suffice it to say that the number of dive sites in the area around Misool Eco Resort is incredible. Situated off the southeast coast of Misool lies a tiny island known as Batbitim – one of the most remote locations for a dive centre on this planet! In 2006 Misool Eco Resort reached an agreement with the local village and secured the rights to 200 square kms of sea surrounding their resort island. Inside this protected area all fishing, cyanide fishing, bombing, shark finning, harvesting of turtle eggs and shellfish are prohibited. Thanks to their extremely remote location, Misool Eco Resort is able to offer the variety and quality of liveaboard diving with all the creature comforts of a land-based location. Over 60 dive sites have been explored within a one-hour boat ride from the resort and there are more waiting to be discovered. There are 20 world-class dive sites within a 10 minute ride from the resort! Visibility is around 25 metres plus and the clear waters surrounding the island are patrolled by massive schools of hunting fish and many large marine specialities including Manta Rays, Wobbegong Sharks, Tawny Nurse Sharks, Guitar Sharks, dolphins, whales, Whale Sharks and turtles. Blue-ringed Octopus, Bumphead Parrotfish, Napoleon Wrasse, giant clams, Mandarinfish, ghost pipefish, frogfish, a host of nudibranchs and several species of elusive pygmy seahorses are all here. The recently discovered ‘walking’ Epaulette Shark and mobula rays are waiting for you. For some reason it seems that the reefs of the Raja Ampat are more resistant than others to coral bleaching and disease. Powerful underwater currents from the Pacific Ocean force their way through the Raja Ampat, washing coral larvae westward and repopulating reefs throughout South East Asia. As the world’s reefs are further degraded by pollution and over-fishing it is becomes paramount that these important reefs are conserved. Misool Eco Resort is committed to demonstrating that tourism can support the local economy more favourably than mining, logging, overfishing and shark finning.
The following description is intended to give a flavour of the diving. You will see for yourself the wonderment of the reefs when you get there. Equally as beautiful as Palau’s Jellyfish Lake (and some say more beautiful!), Batbitim Jellyfish Lake was an incredible find. Steep cliffs covered with vines and sweet-smelling flowers surround the lake and you will be able to see the small pink and orange blobs of the jellyfish well before you arrive. These vibrating, pulsating blobs of living jelly are everywhere, following the sun remorselessly. Large ones move slowly and the smaller ones seem to be powered by an unseen source of energy as they throb through the water. Smooth as silk and fragile as a spider’s web, take care that your movements do not harm their bodies. Fin gently!
Misool Eco Resort House Reef is going to blow your fins off! Words on paper cannot do justice to this natural treasure where highlights include Mandarinfish, the newly discovered ‘walking shark’, frogfish, ghost pipefish and pygmy seahorses. Here you will find walls that drop to 50 metres or more, gentle slopes with coral bommies, rocky outcrops and huge barrel sponges. The coral gardens in the shallows are, perhaps, the jewel in the crown. The house wall is a great place to admire large hunting fish patrolling the waters. Thousands (millions?) of baitfish attract barracuda, Spanish Mackerel, Bluefin Trevally and tuna which hunt in groups amidst the colourful schools of triggerfish and fusiliers. Grey Reef and Black-tipped Reef Sharks regularly scout the area.
The recently discovered ‘walking shark’ is a nocturnal predator and is a frequent visitor to the shallows around Batbitim (there is probably one under your cottage as you sleep!). The corals and sponges of the reef are here in unrivalled quantity, colour and variety. The colours are amazing: pink, yellow, green and orange with huge purple Muricella fans. Feather stars are host to a menagerie. Look carefully for colour-co-ordinated clingfish and crinoid shrimps. A large school of Bumphead Parrotfish graze the reef, chomping lumps with their noisy feeding habits and poor table manners.
In the patches of Halimeda algae there is a chance to see the rare Halimeda Ghost Pipefish. In the stony areas of the reef look out for Crocodilefish and scorpionfish or even the Giant Shovelnose Ray that can grow to almost a metre in length.
We could continue with the list: jawfish, shrimp gobies, dartfish, nudibranchs in rainbow dress, mantis shrimps … but best go for yourself and join this marine treasure hunt that thoroughly deserves its world-class reputation.
NORTHERN MISOOL, SALAWATI, BATANTA AND WAIGEO
This area is explored only by liveaboards.
Mansuar offers regular sightings of Tasselled Wobbegongs, Manta Rays and turtles. Dolphin pods move through this area and it may be possible to don snorkel gear and get in to the water to experience the thrill of swimming along with them. Strong currents attract feeding Manta Rays, so it can be a good idea to take along a reef hook and enjoy this remarkable show. One unique feature of some of these mantas is that, unlike most Manta Rays, which are dark on the upper surface and pale below, the ‘Mansur mantas’ can be dark all over. Raja Ampat must be one of the most spectacular dive destinations in which to witness this most impressive of nature’s displays. Manta Sandy is the best known site for seeing multiple Manta Rays including the mysterious black individuals. The trick here is to get down quickly and wait behind a line created totally naturally from rocks and coral rubble in the sand. From here you can view three cleaning stations where the Manta Rays come from all directions. You must keep your wits about you and continue to look over your shoulders as well as forwards as these ‘big birds’ swoop right in over your head and hover over the pinnacles.
West of Batanta Island is the Jef Fam group of islands and islets. There are about twelve limestone islets and islands where the wind, rain and sea have formed channels, bays and quiet lagoons. The conditions here are usually calm and offer divers the opportunity to see some superb hard corals and more of those amazing, rare and weirdly beautiful Tasselled Wobbegongs. The list of fish is just too large to list, but look out for a superb selection of those gorgeous angelfish. The Keyhole Angelfish is a dusky blue but with a keyhole patch of bright white on the side. The Lemonpeel Angelfish should be easy to spot. Quite large groups of these bright lemon-yellow, blue-margined fish can be found on the coral-rich reefs.
The large cave at Uranie provides a spectacular light show. Search the bottom of the cave and you should find sleeping White-tipped Reef Sharks. The mystical and serene atmosphere of the cave just adds to the ambiance of the dive. Kri is already famous amongst underwater photographers and fish watchers for this is the area where world records in counting fish have been broken. From pygmy seahorses (all three species: H. barbiganti, H. denise and H. pontohi) to Manta Rays, the reefs on Kri are sure to amaze. Visibility is usually good in the mornings and fast currents mean that most dives are done as drifts. Down at 25 metres, Wafak has a superb black coral garden to explore. When the sun is just setting is the time to look out for Mandarinfish and Mimic Octopus. As the sun fades it is time to work on some night photography. Look out for feeding squid popping their long ‘tongues’ out to capture some small, tasty creature.
White Arrow sits in the shadow of a large limestone cliff. This is a stunning macro wall, replete with Flabelina species left right and centre. Macro critters dot the rocks and walls below, with various types of cleaner shrimp, huge sea squirts and pygmy squid as well as a plethora of crustaceans and some tiny tiny soft corals.
Citrus Ridge is so called due to the ‘bushes’ of soft corals that cover every surface. Pink, orange, white, green, purple and golden soft corals contrasted fabulously with the blue. Currents can make this a swift drift dive but on a calm day it is a delight to meander slowly over and through the soft corals. Night dives in this region can yield Tassled Wobbegong Sharks and Blueringed Octopus!
The Dampier Strait is probably the fishiest region of Raja Ampat, which means that there are A LOT of fish! At Mioskon and Blue Magic divers swim through sheets of yellow snapper, Yellow-fin Barracuda, Surgeonfish and trevally. Great Barracuda drift in and out as well as Manta Rays. Don’t get too distracted though or you may miss the Pontohi Pygmy and Bargabanti Pygmy seahorses!
COMBINATIONS: It is straightforward to combine a visit to Raja Ampat with another of Indonesia’s fabulous dive destinations. Talk to us about the possibilities.
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