Season: September - March
Birds of Paradise, Cultural Experiences, Diving, Eco Resorts, Ecology, Snorkeling, Trekking, Wildlife
North Raja Ampat
Boasting some of the world’s most exquisite marine life the underwater world of the Four Kings region, North Raja Ampat is an unprecedented mix of colours, ecology and cultural experiences above and below the sea. Raja Ampat is home to many protected areas and international conservation groups who work to preserve the global epicentre of tropical marine biodiversity and land-based natural habitats for many endemic species which makes it one of the most spectacular yacht cruising destinations in the world.
Cape Kri in the Dampier Strait is at the heart of Raja Ampats tourism with some of the most famous dive sites and stunning marine life due to its high currents. Dive beneath the many jetties in search of ringed octopus, ghost pipefish, flamboyant cuttlefish and critters and where at least 374 fish species have been recorded including barracuda, jacks, small reef fish, rays, sharks, turtles and grouper. Deep in these waters it’s not uncommon to see schools of bright yellow-striped sweetlips, rich coral, grazing sea turtle. While some have reported a resident dugong living amongst the area.
After exploring the Cape, anchorages along the northern parts of Raja Ampat are cruising grounds to experience the other islands on and off the land. Kawe Island lies directly on the equator and south of it is Eagle Rock and arguably one of the best dive spots in the world. Plankton rich waters and black coral forests are home to Mantas which glide above resting wobbegong sharks while tiny pygmy seahorses weave through a vibrant coral maze. The offshore coral reefs, multiple bays and grass beds of Kawe Island receive current-borne nutrients which flow from the Western Pacific and the reason for its rich and abundant marine ecosystem.
Waigeo is the largest of the archipelagos four main islands and located in West Papua near the town of Sorong. It boasts a wide range of activities and attractions with diving, snorkelling and exploring the jungle its centre point for visitors. Best experienced by kayak to get up close for a chance to spot many exotic sea creatures and endemic animals. Although much of the jungle is inaccessible the lush interior is home to a wide variety of species including the famous crimson Bird of Paradise – the only place in the world to spot it. Opossums, snakes, tortoises, frilled and giant monitor lizards, plumed herons and honeyeaters also find refuge in these parts.
For underwater enthusiasts, this area is bragged for its biodiversity and exotic sea creatures. A huge variety of nudibranch species, sea dragons, blue-striped flagtail pipefish, pygmy seahorses, green sea turtles, giant Napoleon, wrasse and Indian lionfish are among some of the abundant fish noted here playing amongst stunning coral and sea fans. From multiple anchorages take in the bird noises amongst nature’s most beautiful illusions – sunrise and sunset. Fully supported jungle routes are another way to explore the island spotting endemic bird, plant and animal species by foot while passing through the remote villages near Waifoi and ngWarimak which lies on the eastside of northern Mayalib Bay. The opportunity to experience the life of the Ambel Maya people and visit their ancient cultural sites. Visit Teluk Kabui an area located between Waigeo Island and Gam Island a spot both divers and non-divers can enjoy, untouched flora and fauna, wildlife and large bats which dot limestone walls, stalagmites and stalactites. Explore the many caves and mystical aura where the unknown origin of human skulls lay. Below the surface, dozens of beautiful coral scatter the bay and clear waters offer snorkelers a plethora of colourful fish and coral gardens which decorate the ocean floor.
Lying northwest of Waigeo is the seascape of conical karst islands of Pulau Wayag. For the common individual visiting the islands is not easy but by yacht, it can simply be included in the nautical exploration itinerary of these areas. Without a doubt the poster child of Raja Ampats landscape there is something magical about this area you won’t find elsewhere. Beautiful lagoons, amazing marine life and underwater flora and fauna are home to sea creatures like wobbegong, sweetlips, sardines, barracudas, tuna, pump head parrotfish, reef sharks, manta rays and black tip reef sharks. Soft coral bloom from the rocky outcrops in stunning colours. Above the waters a testing but rewarding climb up limestone cliffs offer 360-degree views of Wayag, pristine beaches and karst islands before making a descent to join the local rangers in a friendly game of volleyball at the Wayag Station doubling as the baby black tip reef shark nursery.
Kabui Passage lies to the east of Gam and separates the island from Waigeo and a famous snorkelling and diving spot. The landscape is a mix of white sand beaches, crystal bays, mangroves and karst islands. A 3 lookout has been built atop the islands high peak for a panoramic view of the bays karst seascape and the adjacent forest is home to an abundance of bats, birdlife and village burial sites. This rich wildlife and nourishing grounds draw many animals and marine species to the area including dolphins and sea eagles while a small hillside village produces and exports dried and salty tiny fish.
The Fam Islands group including Penemu contains some of the world’s most pristine and oldest coral reefs, brimming with colour and life an exceptional site for divers and snorkelers. Batu Rufus is a breathtakingly beautiful location with a small entry through the rocks which opens into a natural swimming pool and abundant sea life which surrounds the island and has become an underwater photographers paradise. Wobbegong, reef sharks, ribbon eels, schooling fusiliers, pinjalo snapper, anthias and surgeonfish are among the many species here plus various macros, pygmy seahorses, ghost pipefish, mushroom corals and nudibranchs will happily fill any wide angle lens. On land and a short walk up a well-made stairway, one will enjoy views of the emerald bay, rock islands and panoramas across the Halmahera Sea with the possibility of spotting resident Monitor Lizards.
Just a few hours from Sorong Harbour is Bantanta the smallest of the Four Kings covering a land of only 453 square kilometres. The daily water movement from the strong currents creates a nourishing environment for marine life and thriving corals with some sites boasting excellent coral cover and a well-known area for critter and muck diving and a treasure trove of nudibranchs, ghost pipefish, frogfish, devils scorpionfish, ambiguous mimic octopus and manta ray cleaning stations. A waterfall accessible by tender and bird watching areas are sought after views to spot some Birds of Paradise species.
Cruising the west side of Wofoh Island is home to one of the best coral walls dives in Raja Ampat and a marine protected area. The island which is actually in two parts joined by a reef boast gin like waters which plunge 30 to 40 metres with a photogenic reef wall decorated by colourful corals, black coral forests and barrel sponges. Home to schools of surgeonfish, yellow-fin barracuda, unicorn fish, nudibranchs and many other subjects for those in search of macro photography opportunities. While white sand beaches are the perfect area to relax and enjoy a seaside BBQ.
The uninhabited bay of Aluyi is rarely visited by diving boats meaning you’ll have more of this underwater playground to explore to yourself. A day can easily be spent here amongst the white sand beaches, freediving and drift diving and then proceeding to the Atlas Pearl Farm. A remote location from which some of the worlds most prized pearls come from. Take a tour of the farm where you can buy classic strands, fine jewellery and loose pearls directly as a take-home from Indonesia’s most remote corner, Raja Ampat.
South Raja Ampat
Escape the concrete jungles, traffic noise and modern-day stresses to a paradise created by mother nature, complemented by the friendly inhabitants that make up Raja Ampat, among the south end lies Misool. One of the four main islands which make up the Four Kings. Encompassing multiple islands, a shark and manta sanctuary and the famous Misool Eco Resort which is located on a smaller island within the archipelago. Misool holds a greater biodiversity than anywhere else on earth and is surrounded by 1,200 square kilometres of marine reserve. It’s one of the four largest islands in the Raja Ampat archipelago and a world renowned dive destination in the West Papua province. Crystal clear waters carve a traffic lane for many large sea creatures including whalers and allow spectacular views of Misool’s subsurface colourful coral reefs even from the yacht’s aft deck. Misool is carpeted with a thick green of dense forest and mangrove swamps but to the east and west sides of the island; limestone pinnacles and karst jut sharply out of the sea creating natural pieces of art by the erosion of waves and the vegetation which cover it.
A must see is the ‘Thousand Islets’ – limestone pinnacles connected like string by the thousands and a truly amazing view. Home of the Tomolo Cave and Birds of Paradise species which live amongst the splendid green forest. For a special experience – Lenmakana Lake is where you’ll find the beautiful and calm jellyfish creatures. This stingless type mean divers and snorkelers can enjoy their radiance up close. Located in the South of Misool is the famous heart shaped lagoon, literally shaped as it’s famously known. This natural treasure is best enjoyed by trekking to the top of the rocky mountain above for breathtaking photography and a serene atmosphere.
Dive into water so clear with reefs exploding of life. Colourful sea creatures, mammals and coral visible here are some of the best on earth. Whether your diving to depths or snorkelling; every corner of your mask will need full attention to take in the underwater paradise which is Misool Marine Reserve. Reef and oceanic mantas are seen gliding past regularly and pygmy seahorse are in abundant numbers. Flourishing with over forty dive sites around the island suitable for all levels while those looking for unique species will not be disappointed. Pinnacles, walls, cleaning stations and sloping reefs all deliver a feast for the eyes. If the daylight hours of exploration weren’t enough to satisfy. Dusk and night dives are when a whole other underwater world comes to life. Those who are lucky enough to have the connections will be able to go in search of whale sharks and sea creatures you didn’t know existed.