This is the final part of the Lighthouse Consultancy’s article about the incredible Raja Ampat region of Indonesia. Mike Veitch explains more potential points of interest for the adventurous yacht owner.
5. Snorkel or Dive with Giant Manta Rays at Manta Sandy
One of the iconic dive sites in Raja Ampat “Manta Sandy”, is famous due to a consistent population of Manta Rays during the months of November through May. These gentle giants can be found feeding at the surface or hovering over a cleaning station at 40 feet of depth (13 metres) and are not scared off by respectful snorkelers and divers. Typically, three or four of these large rays can be found, but often groups of more than ten cruise the shallows while feeding. There is no feeling on earth quite like the sense of wonder and awe a person feels when coming to face to face with these large rays.
This site is one of the more popular diving areas in the region and is quite popular with dive boats. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find two or three diving liveaboards as well as several boats from resort operators at the site at the same time. Communication with other boats is key to avoiding too many people in the water at the same time and ensuring safe encounters for divers, snorkelers, and mantas alike. Currents can be strong and there are many shallow sand banks throughout the area, caution is needed when approaching.
6. Sunset Cruise at Fam and Penemu Island Group
The island chain of Fam and Penemu is home to some of the most visceral vistas in all of Raja Ampat. After snorkelling or diving the pristine hard coral reefs that ring the islands, a perfect ending to the day is to experience a sunset cocktail cruise via tender boat through the winding channels covered in emerald green foliage nestled within tranquil lagoons.
7. Explore Tomolol Caves and Photograph Ancient Rock Art in Misool
Not to be missed is a trek to the caves of Tomolol on the east coast of Misool Island. The cave system is located in a beautiful setting within a sheltered lagoon surrounded by rich green fauna and shallow blue water. Dotted along the limestone rock faces are hundreds of “Pitcher Plants”, carnivorous plants related to the Venus Flytrap, as well as a plethora of orchids and other unique plant life. The cave system is a collection of water filled caverns located in a depression in the limestone that is well marked and easily accessible. Millions of years of seawater have carved out the stunning entrance to the cave and the lagoon water continues to meander through the main chamber carving the limestone into beautiful shapes. The best way to explore the caves is with a float device such as a tube, life jacket or life ring along with a mask, fins and a water-proof light. The main cavern is accessible even to those with claustrophobic tendencies as the entrance to the cavern is large enough to fit a bus and there is plenty of natural light throughout. However, the water is dark inside the cave and can feel quite eerie as the bottom slopes away. There are several side tunnels that can be reached with a short underwater swim or if the tide is low then these openings are exposed. Stalactite formations in the main chamber as well as the side caves are spectacular and well worth photographing.
Not too far from the cave system are a series of “cave paintings” high up on an exposed wall of limestone. The red drawings illustrate several readily recognizable animals such as birds and fish as well as outlines of human hands in a form that conveys thoughts of “ancient graffiti”. These cave paintings are estimated to be between three to five thousand years old and similar paintings can be found throughout West Papua.
Note: The cave system is located close to a large pearl farm that takes security very seriously. It’s imperative for all visitors to first check in with the pearl farm before continuing on as boats need to pass through the farm to gain access to the caves. As the local Muslim village considers the caves and the nearby burial spots as sacred areas, it’s mandatory to visit the village to ask permission to visit and organize a compulsory village guide.
8. Kayak the Giant Stone Beehives in Balbulol
Nestled within the multitude of islands in the Balbulol group, to the east of Misool, is one of the most picturesque areas of Raja Ampat. Giant “beehive” shaped karst rocks tower out of picture perfect shallow lagoons. Inside this series of inlets and passages, the water glows with multi-coloured hues created by a mix of reef and sandy bottom composition to create a perfect contrast with the surrounding rocks. The ideal way to explore these waterways is by kayak or paddle board in order to get close to the undercut limestone walls which teem with “pitcher plants” and wild orchids. The ideal time of day to explore the area is at dawn or the late afternoon when the sun is not too hot and the sky is a deep rich blue.
9. Swim Momon Waterfalls south of Raja Ampat
Located approximately 150 nautical miles to the south east of Misool, on the mainland of West Papua, is a spectacular waterfall falling directly into the sea. The Momon waterfall stems from a relatively large river that originates in the highlands of the Papuan jungle and terminates in a glorious fashion amongst beautiful primordial jungle. Easily spotted from miles offshore, the falls can be approached by skiff and adventurous guests can jump into the ocean and swim directly to the waterfall. The water pouring over the edge creates a wide screen of fast flowing fresh water. Tucked in behind the waterfall is a small protected rock ledge; swimmers can enter this cavern and take photographs through the curtain of water for a unique view of the world. The experience of swimming out from behind the waterfall is akin to swimming down a white water river. A word of warning, the river water is much cooler than the ocean!
10. Dive, Dive, Dive!
With over 1000 species of fish and the largest variety of coral on the planet, Raja Ampat truly is a divers’ Mecca. From north to south and east to west, the entire Raja Ampat archipelago offers stunning and unique dive sites suitable for beginners and experts alike. The north is known for large schools of fish, brilliant orange soft corals, underwater caverns, and encounters with manta rays. The south-west portion of Batanta is home to numerous “muck diving” sites where wonderpus, blue ring octopus, cuttlefish, and nudibranchs of all shapes and colours can be found. In the south, especially in the Misool area, countless walls covered with multi-coloured soft corals abound. Nestled within many of the sea fans can be found three different species of the much sought after pygmy seahorse. Wave upon wave of fusiliers, damselfish, and chromis pulsate along the reef slopes while sharks, grouper, trevally, and rays navigate the blue. As a diving destination, Raja Ampat offers a variety of topography and marine life unparalleled in the world.
The large geographical size and sheer variety of attractions throughout Raja Ampat are what makes it a world class cruising destination. Every new island that appears on the horizon offers endless opportunities to explore undiscovered coves and secluded beaches, each more spectacular than the last. With proper planning and the right logistical team in place, Raja Ampat offers an unparalleled mix of cultural and natural attractions found only in this unique part of the world. Whether it be a short one week trip or several months of cruising and exploration, Raja Ampat offers a variety of itineraries suitable to any and all schedules.
The Lighthouse Consultancy’s series of articles on Indonesian cruising destinations will continue next time with an in depth look over Komodo National Park
It’s highly recommended to have a knowledgeable and experienced guide on board yacht during any cruise in Indonesia to ensure the cruise optimizes the potential of the region. In the remote areas of Raja Ampat, where hidden caves and lagoons hide unique experiences, it is particularly important. Throughout the years operating in the marine Industry in Indonesia, The Lighthouse Consultancy has developed a strong network of cruising guides, both Indonesian and International, who are able to join and guide a yacht for short or extended timeframes in the area.
Things are improving in the more remote areas of Indonesia, but provisioning is still a little unreliable. The main issue is the consistency of restocking, as some occasions a full supermarket may be found in Sorong, which could potentially be sufficient for the majority of fresh produce required, and then the next month, the same supermarket’s shelves could be bare. As a result, for a more reliable supply, many yachts opt to source imported products through Bali and Jakarta. The Lighthouse Consultancy’s full time Provisioning Consultant, Kerry Shorten is always available to discuss seasonal availabilities as well as logistical constraints regarding the required supplies.
Any imported provisions would usually be sent from Bali using the Consultancy’s contacts within the domestic airline cargo network, arranging delivery to the preferred harbour on the date of preference. Anything sent from Bali is shipped in Styrofoam boxes with Dry Ice or Jelly Ice, depending on what is being shipping. It is even possible to arrange a rendezvous with a vessel at sea.
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