Raja Ampat - part 1

Jan 11th 2020

Oh the sweet relief of arriving to a postcard perfect island after a long stretch in a dusty Indonesian town!

No really, it IS postcard perfect
Twenty four hours after leaving Sorong, we are anchored in Wayag at the northern end of Raja Ampat, the Mecca of Indonesian diving and snorkelling. Not only do we get here in record time but contrary to our usual Indonesian voyaging experience, we manage to sail almost the whole way.

Raja Ampat actually means four kings, as the island group is geographically defined by 4 large islands. Wayag is the northern king and it ticks all the boxes; uninhabited, pristine beaches, incredible snorkelling, hikes with mind blowing views and bay upon picturesque bay to be explored.

Pick your snorkelling spot

Last but not least - we finally reunite with our friends from Zig Zag and Family Circus. Happiness all around!

Beach bbq fun with everyone
The next week is a blur of snorkelling expeditions, afternoon fun around the boat, sunset dingy cruisers and beach barbecues.
The dingy driver in deep thought

We see manta rays swim past our anchorage, swim with black tip reef sharks, drift snorkel down a channel full of hump-head parrot fish and spend hours snorkelling along my favourite reef (yes, that’s its official name, Vanja’s fave reef) running the entire length of of a very long beach. Graham called it the wall of beauty and it really was.

Dogs who chase sharks
Circling black tip reef sharks

Lara and Jake try scuba diving for the first time with their friend Aya and Chris from Family Circus, who spends hours teaching them in and out of water. The verdict? They both love it.

Diving - tick!
Graham and I try our luck at a drift dive, which was amazing after a challenging start. The drop off site was in a very strong current where the trick is to descend fast, grab onto the bottom, then crawl along the bottom to the start of the dive. However by the time I equalised a few times, I was already well away from the group and struggling not to drift further. I finally managed to grab onto some coral, when Chris came to my rescue and dragged me back. The only damage was some burnt fingers from stinging fire coral.

Then it was onto a turtle sanctuary on a small island just off nearby Sayang. Judging by the fresh tracks on the beach, tens of turtles come here to nest every night.

The turtle anchorage
No not 4WD but turtle tracks

Local rangers meet us on the beach after sunset where, after a spot of walking around in the dark stubbing our toes on dead coral, we witness a giant turtle quietly sweeping sand over what I can only presume were freshly laid eggs (these we never saw pop out, she was discreet). She then zig-zags back to the water, desperately trying to avoid the cameras and the accompanying torch light of the rangers trying to be accomodating (not to the turtle unfortunately).

Next morning we are back on the beach to join the rangers on their sweep of freshly hatched nests. They check for any lagging hatchlings requiring rescue and release them in the evening to maximise survival chances.

Turtle nest
The first find of the day is a dead hatchling which while fascinating to hold smells a bit. Two year old Lino from Zig Zag is however very happy to carry it around in his little bucket until the next nest, where two live hatchlings are found. Kids are excited to say the least save for little Lino who is a bit confused about the loss of general interest in his little pet. The rangers happily hand the baby turtles to us to release at night time with instructions to ‘put in bucket’. The Indonesian definition of sanctuary is definitely NOT to be taken literally.
Holding the hatchlings is too tempting
Uneasy about this level of interference, we reluctantly take them back to the boat but hand them back to the rangers a couple of hours later as we decide to leave that day anyway. I hope the little turtles made it back into the ocean safely.

We decide to head back to Wayag for three days while the other two boats check out a different island nearby. We have the whole place to ourselves for a couple of days which is surreal. At the risk of sounding a bit repetitive, more snorkelling, bush walking and beach fires happen.

A private barbeque
The posing tree

Then it’s onto Wofoh where we meet up with the other boats again. Again a beautiful spot with snug beaches and diving along a vertical coral wall. It’s easy to get a bit blasé about one scenic spot after another when sailing along the equator, and especially in a region like Raja Ampat where almost every spot is near perfect under and above water. So we try to fight the scourge of indifference but it does happen. 'Is this really photo worthy?' I hear myself ask, more often than I care to.

For our last stop before going back to Sorong for visa extensions, we anchor in a quiet bay at the end of a narrow channel between the islands of Gam and Waigeo. The channel itself is packed full of underwater caves perfect for snorkeling.

Just outside one of the caves, we come across a colony of the biggest and most colourful giant coral fans I have ever seen. A sea of bright orange, pink, yellow and purple, they sway in the current like peaceful giants.

Mesmerising underwater scene
Swaying giant A
Swaying giant B
I could watch them for hours but it is getting dark so instead we drift down the channel using the very fast current as our transport back to to the boat, trying not to think of crocodiles while swirling in the whirlpools. Picking Raja Ampat as our first glimpse into Indonesia has definitely paid off.