The Four Kings have produced a legacy of warm water, abundant sea life and pristine diving in the Indonesian paradise of Raja Ampat
Text and Photography by Wayne Brown*
(Printed in Volume 41 Issue 8, mistakenly under the name Wayne Hasson)
Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings, is an Indonesian archipelago comprised of over 1,500 small islands, cays and shoals that surround four main islands: Misool, Salawati, Batanta, and Waigeo. The Raja Ampat archipelago is the part of the Coral Triangle, which contains the richest marine biodiversity on earth. The starting point for our adventure was Sorong, a city of over 200,000 people located off the tip of the island of New Guinea, in Indonesia’s northwest.
Sorong has long been a logistics hub for Indonesia’s thriving oil and gas industry, but it’s quickly becoming a scuba divers’ hangout, with excellent hotels and restaurants and a new airport slated to open this year. We arrived on a new Garuda Airline CRJ 1000, but Sorong is also served with larger aircraft and other airlines. Flights from Bali or Jakarta connect in either the larger cities of Makassar and Manado or a couple of smaller cities, so you have several options getting there.
Home Away From Home
Our home for the ten-day charter was the Raja Ampat Aggressor. This steel 100-foot (30m) purpose-built liveaboard accommodates 16 guests and 13 staff. There are no docks large enough to handle the Aggressor, so we enjoyed a short ride out in the yacht’s tenders from a small jetty in the centre of town.
On arrival, we were greeted by the friendly Indonesian staff and Michal, our Cruise Director, an expat from Poland who has been in Indonesia for the past eight years. After we settled in our cabins and got our gear setup and checked, we enjoyed welcome drinks and a lunch buffet before Michal presented his safety and charter briefing. Once everyone was up to speed on how we would spend our next ten days, our Captain motored out of the harbour and on to our first dive site, where we would arrive early the next morning.
The Bucket List
The diving was as diverse as advertised. During our charter, we were told that we would see cute pygmy seahorses at most sites, plenty of colourful nudibranchs and on up the size scale from multiple species of anemone fish, cuttlefish and stone fish to mobula rays, sharks and mantas. Indeed, we saw everything on everyone’s Raja Ampat bucket list and then some!
Our Indonesian dive guides, Herry and Jemy, had an uncanny knack of spotting the most unusual critters hiding in the most unexpected places on every dive. Herry and Jemy have been in the area a long time and know the sites well. They can find almost anything with ease.
The dive sites were diverse, ranging from fully submerged sea mounts to small islands that spread out below the surface like giant icebergs, to piers and bays. Each dive offered a unique experience and focused on an area where something specific (or a particular critter or fish) was most likely to be found: the walking shark, blue-ringed octopus or graceful mantas…
Our dives started out in the central Raja Ampat area in the Dampier Strait at the colourful dive sites of Friwinbonda and Blue Magic. We spent four days in the area, visiting more dive sites off the islands of Kri, Mansour and Arborek. At Cape Kri, we entered the water in the morning on a rising tide with a little current (which is always excellent for good action!) Not only did we have large schools of sevron barracuda, surgeon fish and oriental sweetlips, but we also came across the largest school of huge humphead parrot fish I have ever encountered!
Overnight we made the fourteen-hour crossing to the southern Raja Ampat area, diving the islands of Balbullol, Wayil Batan and Misool. This area is known for its amazing, colourful soft corals and prolific underwater life. Nudi Rock is one of the most famous dive sites in Misool, with beautiful coral reefs and hundreds of different corals. We spotted a walking shark, as well as the denise and bargibanti pygmy sea horses, some of the smallest seahorses known. We were truly amazed at the number of different coral formations and their incredibly bright colours.
We finished off our diving at Boo Island. Gus Ridge, a deep narrow ridge with beautiful coral reef on top was a great way to start out our day. At the very beginning of the dive, we came across a very big marble ray lying on the bottom that was not intimidated by divers and let us all get a photo as we passed by. Two large mantas swam along the wall, getting everyone’s attention. We also encountered a school of tuna, giant trevallies and napoleon wrasse. At the end of the dive, one of my fellow divers even spotted big marlin moving fast near the surface!
By the end of the charter, I had photographed the elusive blue ringed octopus, the incredibly shy marble shrimp, a sea fan covered in the extremely tiny skeleton shrimp and the colourfully small bob-tailed squid, all on my shot list for this charter.
Our weather was an amazing blend of partly cloudy 88°F (31°C) days, mirror flat seas and 82-85°F (27.5-30°C) water. Relaxing on the sundeck as we moved between islands and dive sites, it was ten days of some of the most perfect dive charter weather I have encountered.
As we made the fifteen-hour ride back to Sorong, everyone was occupied deciding which pictures were their favourites and which dives sites they wanted to remember for their next visit here. In addition to Raja Ampat, the Raja Ampat Aggressor offers three other itineraries throughout the year (Ambon, Triton Bay and Cenderawasih Bay – where whale sharks filter feed on the krill surrounding the local fishing boats!) so no one needed an excuse to plan a return visit!
A lot of photographers ask me about what equipment I use. Currently I have a Nikon D810 in an Aquatica housing and two Sea & Sea YS250 strobes. I use the CM Diffusers on my strobes from AquaTerra Imagery for the perfect lighting in all occasions. For lenses, I alternate between a Sigma 15mm Fisheye, a Nikkor 40mm Macro (my personal favourite) and a Sigma 150mm Macro. This is all balanced with float arms from Ultra Light Control Systems. For night photography, I also have a Light & Motion Sola Photo 1200 mounted on top of my housing, which includes both a white and red LED mode. The red light allows the camera to focus, without disturbing the critter whose image I want to capture. A must-have for those skittish shrimp and other shy animals!
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