Raja Ampat

Going to Raja Ampat is on the top of the bucket list for many. Especially if you are into scuba diving, snorkling or spectacular landscapes and nature. Going here requires a lot of planning and arranging since it is so far remote from the society and you may want to be planning far in advance since it is so popular. For us, we kind of stumbled upon the place, and our planning started on the day we arrived. This is how it went.

We were planning on going north of Halamahera which would have put us right through Wayag, one of the most iconic places in Raja Ampat. Since seeing the photos we were all super excited to be going there! Instead, we had to go south of Halamahera due to the winds, and going to Raja Ampat would be more difficult. We made it to an outpost of RA called the Fam islands, and found decent internet for the first time in weeks. Now was the time to find out what we could do here.

First thing I found out was that we had arrived illegally. Raja Ampat is a huge marine park and you need to purchase a permit to be here. Second thing I found out is that we had anchored illegally. Anchoring is strictly prohibited all over RA to protect the coral reefs and we were supposed to use moorings located around RA. We were anchored on a big sandbar, so we weren’t damaging any corals, and there are exceptions to the rule if there are no moorings. Third thing I found out was that we had arrived in the peak season of RA and every dive shop were fully booked. Getting a scuba dive in while we were here seemed impossible.

I was tempted to turn and go back the way we came from and skip Raja Ampat all together. The permits were expensive and I didn’t want to spend all that money if we weren’t going to be able to scuba dive. It was also Friday and I doubted it would be possible to set it all up in time before the weekend. However, I got in touch with a dive shop who had availability and would be able to meet up with us on our boat. He suggested a place where we could moor and he could come in the afternoon the next day. I also got in touch with the permit people and they sent me an invoice which I paid and our permits were ready the next day. It all fell into place!

Next day we motorsailed up to Yanggelo island and moored up early in the morning. There are strong tides in Raja Ampat and we wanted to have them in our favor, causing us to be leaving at 5 AM. The advantage of this is that we were able to explore a reef nearby using our tender. We had been snorkling around the boat the day before and had seen some amazing sea life, but nothing could prepare us for what we were about to see. The reef outside Yanggelo was like something out of a dream, or a Disney movie. It was so spectacular with corals and fish, I could barely take it all in. Thousands of fish swimming in the same place and we were in the middle of them. Big fish, small fish and tiny fish. To top it all off we saw manta rays swimming past us a bit further out. Wow!

In the afternoon the scuba guide came as promised, exactly at 2 PM. Me and Naomi already have our license but it has been a while since we did any scuba, so we had a refresher course (on 15m depth!) Paul had never scuba dived before and he got to do a discover scuba with the main instructor. Discover scuba can be a bit hit and miss, depending on the instructor, but Paul was in luck. Me and Naomi together with our guide was swimming along this beautiful reef ridge enjoying the scenery when suddenly Paul shows up, from below! He had already mastered the basics and were doing open water scuba diving. The instructor was keeping a close eye on him and helped him with his buoyancy, but Paul was diving just as much as we did. For Paul it was an eye opening experience, breathing under water and being weightless. The reef was pretty good but we all agreed that the snorkling in the morning was the best.

The next morning as we were eating our breakfast we had a choir of jungle birds we had never heard before. This truly was a spectacular place! We were recommended to go to Penemu Island to see some spectacular small and iconic islands of Raja Ampat, but it cost money and we were completely out of cash. Instead I had seen some islands north of us that looked interesting, a little network of small islands west of Gam Island. We motored up there after breakfast and was blown away by what we saw. Tall cliff islands all around us, and the best part was that we were all alone! Nobody else was there. So we anchored up in 32 meters (below 30 is allowed) and went to explore the area by dingy and snorkel. A great adventure.

Later that day we motored 3 miles west to the island of Pef where they have a mooring and a resort. We wanted to have a dinner together as a team, and especially Naomi was looking forward to not be cooking and to have some different food. We were welcomed to the resort with open arms by the owner and we were showed around. They were more than happy to host us, even though they were fully booked, and we joined them for dinner that night. Next day we enjoyed ourselves in the resort and snorkled their reef together with sea turtles! Another beautiful reef!

But now it was time to move on. We had been in Raja Ampat for 4 days and I wanted to get a move on. We were rested and re-energized, ready to embark on the next leg of the journey. Naomi asked if we could please see some more of Raja Ampat before we left and I had something in mind. I had seen this very exciting passage between Gam and Waigeo Island, and I wanted to try it out. It looked like a river on the satellite image and there were some warnings of strong currents. I had planned to be safe, but instead we had quite a ride! That is a story that I want to tell in a separate post 🙂

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