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Destination Raja Ampat

When sailor and adventurer, Captain Rod, envisaged his super trimaran, he really had no idea the things he would discover and where this mighty craft might take him. Oh, the things he has seen, and learned. The vast and wild protected waters around Raja Ampat is the place that he and his worldly Bigkanu keep returning to. Here’s why:

You can waste half a lifetime sailing around trying to find something as spectacular as Raja Ampat. I did. So lets not start with an overload of adjectives and endless use of the word, biodiversity.

Let’s just do a comparison.

Bio fishy stuff

So yes… More bio fishy stuff than anywhere on earth is found here. Let’s not get too scientific about it, other than to say, when you take a dip, there’s a hell of a lot of weird things down there. All rather beautiful actually. Astonishing in places.

Sadly that’s where most Raja Ampat commentators leave off, which is rather remiss, given that above the water, the Raja Ampat geology and botany is equally astonishing. Komodo is Indonesia’s other great dive zone, but it is a moonscape by comparison to Raja Ampat.

The underwater world of Raja Ampat is every bit as fascinating as the islands

Then there’s the boats

Indonesia is about the last place on earth where it’s no big deal to launch 300 tons of hardwood schooner using coconut tree rollers. Phinisi, as these big fat luxuriating timber boats are called, are like a sort of Hilton Hotel meets Noah’s Ark, and there is a fleet of them in Raja Ampat ready to accommodate any Spanish Armada on RnR.

Some would suggest Raja Ampat is all about blowing bubbles; Night dives, manta dives, muck dives, shark dives, teck dives and free dives. But hey, quite frankly all you need to see Raja Ampat’s oceanic wonder is a cheap snorkel kit. Oh… And a boat.

Raja Ampat
Big Kanu offers day and live aboard cruises as part of their Raja Ampat boat trips

Getting there

So most arrive by redeye flight into Sorong on the mainland and then get the $12 morning or afternoon fast ferry to Waisai, where outboard long boats, and some odd Soviet era styled speedboats, do the run to the many island homes awaiting.

Some flights are now arriving at Waisai direct, although few stay as the town itself has little appeal.

Where to stay

Misool coral
Local, family run homestays like this one on Gam Island in the Dampier Straight are rustic yet idyllic

Dampier Strait, flanked by homestays and the odd resort, is about 25km by boat from Waisai. Kri and Arborek are the busiest accommodation bases, with Waigoe Island 10k across the Strait. Dampier discovered it, Alfred Wallace drew his line theory here, and divers of the 80’s named the dive hot spots. Most of these are where current is strongest, as fish love to congregate while swimming without actually going anywhere.

There are over 100 locally owned homestay businesses, all visible on StayRajaAmpat.com, and most cost about $35 a day including very basic meals. The locations where these fully biodegradable homestays are dotted are often breathtakingly beautiful, most being simple thatched, over-water, or on-beach huts. Mainstream resorts would likely never get approval or title to these Swiss Family Robinson hideouts, and it makes for a wonderful difference to most other Asian holiday destinations, where the impoverished local islanders don’t get a look in.

In Raja Ampat, local homestays well outnumber resorts.

What to see

The most spectacular photo fantasy in Raja Ampat is called Wayag, a lagoon of mushroom karst islets, towering cones and azure white sand beach-lets. It’s not easy to get there, so many opt for its similar cousin island set, called Pianemo.

Indonesians themselves make up the biggest nationality of day visitors, as Raja Ampat is the nation’s most spectacular royal jewel. Raja means king, and there were 4 kings here, and whilst popping out of their mythological eggs to rule, they did a fine job of preserving this pristine place. Quite frankly, Raja Ampat’s ridiculously tough terrain is its best defence against human invasion. But an army of conservation groups, NGO’s and a RP1,000,000 (A$100) park entrance fee complete the preservation well.

Budget considerations

Be prepared to pay $US250 to $400 a day to dive from a luxury phinisi. It’s expensive but they deliver a lot of value.

Sadly Raja Ampat has been a bit overlooked as a simple cruising ground, which given the beautiful bays, welcoming villages and sheltered waters, is sure to change soon, with boats like Bigkanu.com offering snorkelers, drone photographers and free divers a much more up close and personal trip from $US170 a day, attracting anyone who wants a ‘whoa’ nature based experience without the luxury price tag.

Don’t miss Misool

200km south of Dampier Straight is Misool, which is simply beyond astounding in its kasrt madness and breath taking coral. Few get to see Misool, but it’s just a matter of time before people will awake to the idea that Misool is maybe the most spectacular island chain on earth.

Go east and discover

Eastern Indonesia is possibly the least visited island chain on earth. Outside Raja Ampat tourists are rarely seen. But with a growing number of $US100 to $170 flights into Sorong each day, ex Bali or Jakarta or Singapore, but the world is catching on to it.

There is more to this biodiverse idea than just a lot of living things.

Raja Ampat has a community of life where there is a soft communal song line between all life; that says everyone is loved, and completely incongruous neighbours can all happily coexist, no one hogging the food or the light, no species dominating another, just everyone getting along.

Imagine all the people, Raja Ampat seems to hum, in a John Lennon kind of dream.

Local tips:

BYO

Beer is virtual contraband in Papua, with a case of tall cans costing 900,000rupiah in Waisai, in some kind of corrupt message that Indonesian Papua is not going down the same violent alcoholic path as their PNG neighbour. So BYO.

Times are changing in Raja Ampat and prices and accessibility are improving, with boats like Bigkanu offering an €990 exploration agenda for a week of liveaboard cruising at www.raja-ampat-boat-trip.com. Liveaboard diving in Raja Ampat is fabulous, but so too are the new google eyed tours through the fields of limestone karst islands, the village wharf dinner parties, and hidden lagoon antics of Bigkanu, where no tanks are needed, just grab a mask and snorkel and get yourself 100% overboard. Story supplied By Rod David (of Bigkanu), photos by David Burden.