Where has my wobbegong?

Diving Raja Ampat, Indonesia’s last frontier

Another outstanding Kapal Selam dive trip.

Between May 19 and May 26, a total of 18 Kapal Selam members and guests boarded Sea Safari III for six days of world-class diving in the unique and rich bio-diversity of Raja Ampat National Park.

As usual the Sea Safari III proved a comfortable home away from home for divers and non-divers alike. The cabins were cosy and cool, the food scrumptious as always, the service attentive, and the dive facilities simply world-class.

Those who survived the traditional end-of-trip party were more than satisfied.

The diving part of the trip was divided into three main destinations. The first two days were spent amid the dramatic limestone scenery of the Kalig/Fiabacet/Boo islands off Misool. Day three saw us around the softer, flatter islands of the Farondi group, and for the final three days of diving we moved north to Waigeo, around the Gam/Tapok islands.

Each of the main areas we visited has its own unique attractions, both above and below the surface of the sea.

After a rough overnight passage from Sorong to Misool, we were all ready to get into the water, despite the cloudy conditions.

The weather for the first two days around Kalig was wet, which made the diving a bit subdued. We all enjoyed the amazing walls, and fantastic Gorgonian sea fans in a variety of purples, yellows and pinks. Highlights here included a beautiful white leopard shark (which Kaufik captured on film), and our first wobbegong.

The evenings here were marked by beautiful, vivid red sunsets.

On the third day of diving we moved north to Pulau Farondi. Diving highlights here included the Killer Cave, a really interesting, varied dive with an entry through darkness into the “blue light” inner lagoon, and mid-dive surface into the cathedral-like stalactite cave. The Killer Cave entrance is just below this, a small enclosed cave. Some good reef diving here around Farondi Reef, and we began to see the elusive wobbegong on a regular basis. What a beautiful animal!

On day four, after a night sail north to Waigeo, in the passage between Gam and Yangello, the night divers saw a number of leopard sharks, and the famous ‘walking shark, only very recently known to science. The other feature of this area is the “jumping” gobies (double-eyed goby) which kept the photographers jumping.

On the fifth day of diving we had a stunning reef dive at Arborei Islands (Lalosee 5 Reef). This reef is in beautiful condition, and has a high density of fish of all types and sizes including barracuda, wobbegong and rays. Also clouds of smaller fish.

The big highlight here was Manta Alley on Pulau Kri. This is a manta cleaning station, and we were not disappointed. We immediately saw several huge mantas and kneeled in awe on the sandy bottom as they wheeled gracefully above us, while being cleaned by wrasses and other fishes. Fantastic! The other features here are the cute Pegasus sea-moths performing synchronised dancing on the sand.

The dive right after this was the sea pinnacle at Sardine Point, and this was another outstanding reef dive, with a huge variety of shoaling fish, lots of barracuda, sweet-lips, snapper, grouper, and dense shoals of smaller fish. A few sharks were prowling around, including a sizeable black-tip which came to have a look at us.

The last day of diving saw us on the P-47 Thunderbolt WWII bomber which lies in 25 to 30 meters of water. The shape of the plane is still very clear. The guns on the front wing edge are still obvious, and the bent propeller hints at its violent entry as the plane was ditched having run out of fuel. This is a very atmospheric spot, and I sensed that we all tried to imagine the events that led to the plane ending up on the sea floor here on Waigeo. (According to Seno the pilot is still alive in the US).

Beach Parties
The top side attractions of Raja Ampat are as interesting as the underwater walls and reefs.

The noisy white cockatoos, large green parrots, and hornbills, clearly visible from our boat, hinted at the famed bio-diversity of this part of Papua. Overhead Brahminy kites and huge sea eagles patrolled the reefs in search of fish.

We took our traditional “jumping for joy” photos on a remote and pristine beach near Pulau Boo.

And we had the mother of all beach parties on Mios Kon, which was beautifully set up by the crew on a white, sandy beach on the end of this little island. The ship’s initials “SS III” blazed out of the sand in burning letters of fire. Inhibitions were dispensed with, and dangdut was definitely the music of choice. Just as things looked about to get out of hand….. divine intervention! Rain sent us scuttling back to the boat.

The most interesting land trip, though, was a visit to the lagoons and cave on Pulau Farodi. The lagoons are beautiful… shallow blue-green lakes surrounded by towering limestone cliffs. Beautiful delicate white wild orchids cling to the cliffs. At the end of one of these lagoons, entered through a narrow, hidden channel, is a mysterious cave which can be traversed for about twenty minutes. The dank, dark, stuffy interior is festooned with limestone stalactites, and the floor is covered with thousands of years’ worth of bat droppings. This led Zaki to christen it “Batshit Cave.” Very appropriate……

It was wonderfully refreshing to leave the cave and dive into the cool waters of the lagoon. This was very reminiscent of our swim in Kakaban Lake in Derawan, minus the jelly fish. As someone remarked on the way to the boat, one of the most beautiful lakes that we had ever pee’d in!

I’ll skip quickly over the last night party on the boat. Suffice to say that it did not disappoint, and continued the Kapal Selam tradition of letting it all hang out at the end of the trip.

So big thanks to Seno and the dive guides, and to the endlessly helpful crew of the good ship Sea Safari III, for making us so welcome and comfortable. Thank you also to everyone who joined this trip for being such a fun, sharing, generous group…I think the great photos says it all!

And finally, views may differ on Acuan’s new hair colour, but all of those who went on this wonderful trip are completely united in saying a huge “thank you, Acuan!” our buddy, for, yet again, organising a dive trip that was memorable in every way.

Bring on the next one…… soon please!

Farquhar and Lily
May 2008