We’re a long way from Morocco (the last post), and while quite a lot has happened in the interval, not much of it has warranted a travel blog post, until now 🙂
Diving in Raja Ampat has been on our bucket list since forever, and was one of the things we thought might happen in this latest episode of “Waiting for the Bike”
This is now Season 4, Episode 3 of Waiting for the Bike.
(The series history is as follows… S4 Ep 1: Flying to Johannesburg, S4 Ep 2: The RORO boat to Italy, S4 Ep 3: Container to Melbourne)
But now I digress, so… Diving in Raja Ampat, what’s it all about? Most people have never even heard of Raja Ampat, where is it, why do you go there, is it really the “greatest diving in the world??”
Raja Ampat is a marine park located in Western Papua, Indonesia (which is the western bit of the big Island to the north of Australia which includes Papua, and Papua New Guinea too). It’s about 1500km directly north of Darwin. The closest city to Raja Ampat is Sorong, and people visit the area for the diving, snorkelling and beautiful undiscovered beaches.
Since about 2012 I’ve been hearing scuba divers mention Raja Ampat, usually in the phrase “we want to go to Raja Ampat next”, and the websites and dive shops all call it the “most amazing diving in the world”, which to be fair, is also said about the Phillipines, Thailand, Malaysia etc, so i was a little sceptical.
After about 4 weeks of S4Ep3 Waiting for the Bike, we had been to Thailand (Koh Chang), Vietnam (the Da Nang area), Thailand again (Chiang Mai), the Philippines (Coron), and now find ourselves in Indonesia for a month en route home.
So we added up the flights to Raja Ampat ($1000), the accomodation ($360 for 6 nights including food), and the diving ($1400 total for 12 dives each), and decided that spending AUD$3000 between us for a week away (when we’ve already been away for 9 months and this is supposed to be the cheap bit!!) was a bad idea and disappointedly decided to stay in Bali and save money.
The following day we wandered around Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, looked at what we could do in Ubud or Nusa Lembongan for a few weeks, scratched our heads a bit, surfed the net for a few hours, and then we booked the flights to Raja Ampat 🙂
Most people dive Raja Ampat from a liveaboard boat, but the boat prices START at $1500 USD per person so we ruled that out pretty quickly and decided to stay in one of the many homestays on the Islands.
We got lucky and somehow came across a little dive shop called Soul Divers, recently opened on the Island Kri, run by a young couple Tibo and Carrie from France and the US respectively. Usually we’d prefer to dive with local guides, but a lot of the reviews we read about the local homestay diveshops in Raja Ampat were less than encouraging, and after speaking to Carrie on the phone, we were convinced. (They’re also more reasonably priced than a lot of the other operators in Raja Ampat).
We also found beachfront accommodation at Warasnus Homestay, only 5 mins walk from the diveshop, so it all fell into place.
Arriving at Sorong Airport we were greeted by the usual shouting touts selling taxi rides to the ferry terminal, but we had lots of time and it was only a few km so we decided to walk there instead. The Indonesian word for ‘going for a walk’ is “jalan jalan” and it’s always fun telling Indonesians that we dont need a taxi because “jalan jalan”. In some bizarre twist of linguistics and culture, the words “jalan jalan” miraculously melt the resolve of the most hardened touts and we pass the sea of men like Moses!
The walk to the harbour was made a little disillusioning by the volume of plastic rubbish being thrown into drains in Sorong, sitting there waiting for the next big rains to wash it into the ocean… sigh.
Anyway, from the ferry terminal we took the $10 ferry to Waisai (2hrs), where we hooked up with a couple of Aussie girls going to Kri Island and split the $70 boat ride there between the 4 of us.
Arriving at Warasnus we were shown to our bungalow on the beach, a simple bamboo and wood structure on stilts, with a foam mattress, mosquito net and shared toilet and wash rooms a few metres away. We usually had rats in our bungalow at night time, but this seems to be normal for the all the homestays in Raja Ampat, and you get used to it. They only have electricity in the evenings.
The toilets were cleanish (by Indonesian standards), and the wash rooms pretty basic (big plastic container usually full of water, with a scoop to throw water over yourself).
Meals were quite simple: rice, tempe, fish or chicken, and some vegetables, the usual suspects in Indonesian warungs. Not overly impressive, but not bad either. Breakfast for the first couple of days was our only real complaint, (sponge cake or white bread and chocolate syrup), but we had a chat with the ladies in the kitchen and they switched it to fried rice or noodles which was much better.
That afternoon we walked the steep ‘path’ over the hill to the Soul Divers shop and met Tibo and Carrie, tried on our dive equipment and started to get excited for the next days diving.
So… is Raja Ampat the “best diving in the world”? Well, in our experience it’s pretty close 🙂 In any single dive we would usually see reef sharks, wobbegong sharks, turtles, barracuda, giant trevally, shrimp, nudies, sting rays, and all manner of reef fish. Several dives also have oceanic mantas which are pretty awesome, octopus, giant napoleons, sea horses, dugong, sweet lips… the list goes on.
Until now our favourite diving has been Komodo National Park, and Raja Ampat comes pretty close to it. The reef in Mexico and Belize was next best, and everything else is grouped into “nice diving”, with the exception of Sipadan which was really nice, but everything else about Sipadan was a bit shit. To put it into perspective for the Scuba divers reading this, we both have 100+ dives, in some of the more well known sites in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, Belize, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Zanzibar etc.
Anyway, we had an amazing time! Soul divers usually came right to the pier at our homestay to pick us up in the morning, we’d do a couple of dives, return for lunch, then were picked up again for the afternoon dive. The dive briefings were super professional, and Tibo and Rocky were great dive guides, who really care about the reef. So if you’re thinking about diving in Raja Ampat we’d definately recommend Soul Divers. (and no we didn’t get a discount, and usually never recommend anyone!)
After 3 days diving we’d initially planned to move to another island, but were having such a good time that we extended our stay in Warasnus and dived 2 extra days with Soul Divers. After the diving we’d usually spend a few hours with the other divers and the staff at Soul Divers, watching the sun set and drinking a few almost cold Bintangs. Pretty cool.
Diving aside, the nicest part of Raja Ampat was the beautiful little island, with no cars or moto’s, not much electricity, patchy phone signal, and no running water, it really felt like we were a world away from anywhere.
If someone is considering diving Raja Ampat we’d recommend avoiding the liveaboards… you can dive the same divesites for less money, and spend your nights sitting on a beach watching the sun set instead of being stuck on a boat with 20 other divers. The other advantage is that Soul Divers was able to organise visits to the more challenging divesites for experienced divers only, which many of the liveaboards skip altogether as they need to please the masses. We also witnessed liveaboard boats throwing waste into the ocean, (which we’re told is commonplace), when we reported the issue to the owners of the boat, their response was “everyone does it”. Not cool.