Raja Ampat is widely regarded as one of the best places in the world to go scuba diving, but what makes it so special? Veteran underwater photojournalist Tim Rock joins Chris Mitchell to discuss why Raja Ampat keeps divers coming back year after year.
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Diving Raja Ampat – Dive Happy Episode 1 Summary
The Diversity of Life Below Water in Raja Ampat Is An Absolute Eye-Opener.
Raja Ampat is seated in far eastern Indonesia and is one of the greatest places to go diving in the world. Some people come back and visit two or three times a year, while most make it an annual trek once they get their first fix of Raja Ampat. So what is so special about Raja Ampat and why should someone make the very long journey to go and dive there? In Raja Ampat there are many dives, that can only be described as a sensory overload. From the minute you hit the water until the end of the dive, there is always something happening. The diversity of Indonesia is incredible, and once you get under water it is an absolute eye-opener.
Discovery Attracts Divers to Raja Ampat From All Over the World.
In Raja, and in the surrounding parts of Northern Indonesia, there’s still plenty to be discovered in the water. Divers love the untouched discovery, yet there still seems to be a lack of focus on the are by the scientific community as far as just the diversity and all the invertebrates that you find there. Of course there are several endemic species living in the Raja waters, from walking sharks, with different species all in different places. As more scientists arrive and the studies continue to expand with more divers coming to take photographs, the surprises of Raja Ampat just keep on continuing.
The Blue Water Mangroves are Home to Even the Occasional Crocodile.
One of the most favorite dive sites of Raja Ampat is Blue Water Mangrove. It is a beautiful mangrove area that slopes down into deep channel. In certain parts of the channel there are beautiful see fans and fusilier schools, and a host of diverse sea life, almost like a coral reef in some areas. and quite a bit going on that almost looks like a coral reef and then other areas, it’s better for macro stuff. You can spend several hours just going in and out of the mangrove roots, without having to dive more than a few feet deep. It is a beautiful maze with the archer fish, that spit water to knock insects off the leaves and eat them. There are juvenile bat fish and beautiful soft corals that grow right at the surface on the roots of the mangroves. It is truly a photographer’s candy store.
Raja Ampat Liveaboards Welcome Snorkelers and Divers Alike.
Although several spots in Raja Ampat are better suited for divers, the liveaboards do host and accommodate for those who prefer to do some snorkelling instead. Many of the dives are normally fairly easy for everybody to see. A lot of them are done close to islands and you can stay close to the shore and snorkel around, or you can follow the divers around the surface. In Raja Ampat approximately 60% of the dive sites would be good for snorkelling too. There are even some that would be very good for free divers who could go down and appreciate all the big fish schools in the area.
Protection of the Environment is Paramount for Raja Ampat Pioneers.
The pioneering people building resorts in Raja Ampat have really strived to protect the environment and bring conservation to the forefront. They also get the local people involved to try to give local folks a reason to want to have an environmentally positive resort in their village and their area. Like with Misool Eco Resort, who have a lot of the staff is from the village on the island or a couple of nearby villages. The Misool Eco Resort lease reefs from villages all in the area so the villages are making some money from the tourism that comes to that area and by doing that, then they also turn the people in the village into rangers. There are people from each village and each area that go patrol the reefs and make sure that there is no illegal fishing going on and that nobody is damaging the coral and the dive sites. That’s another key aspect of Raja Ampat why it’s so popular, is just the philosophy behind it.
Experience Raja Ampat Through the Adventures of the Liveaboards.
There are several liveaboards that operate out of Raja Ampat. There are around 40 boats that are now allowed to operate in Raja, which they all have to go through the Raja Ampat National Park process and are all strictly licensed and monitored. Every diver has to buy an annual license to operate and dive in the region to contribute to the protection and paying the rangers for their care. Each captain has their own unique spirit, whether it be adventure, culinary pleasures, or even simply hosting a wonderful trip. Often times the boats will operate out of Raja Ampat for six months and then maybe go over to Komodo for six months, while a few of them have decided to base themselves in the area permanently. The liveaboards move between areas to give divers the best that Raja has to offer.
Taking On the Raja Ampat Dives Requires Some Experience.
Before heading to Raja Ampat, make sure to have a few dives under your belt. Although the dives are not wile and out in the middle of nowhere, it is not a swimming pool either. When you make your first trip, be prepared, have plenty of dives, be fit. Be comfortable in the water and have a few dive trip experiences completed. Also, give yourself a few days to get there and a couple of days to get back. The beauty of Raja Ampat is that it is still quite remote. So give yourself plenty of travel time and just know, once you dive Raja Ampat, you will be coming back. Each spot is truly unique and different, so don’t try to do everything at once; pick an area, see it and then next year come back for the second and the third visit.
Diving Raja Ampat – Dive Happy Episode 1 Show Notes
- Tim Rock and Simon Pridmore:
Diving and Snorkeling Guide to Raja Ampat and Northern Indonesia
Buy online at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Blurb.com
- Burt Jones and Maureen Shimlock’s
extensive Raja Ampat website Bird’s Head Seascape
- Burt and Maureen’s personal website
- Andrea Marshall and manta ray research at the Marine Megafauna Foundation
Raja Ampat Resorts and Liveaboards Mentioned:
- Max Ammer’s Sorido and Kri Resorts
- Misool Eco Resort
- MSY Damai
- Raja Ampat Aggressor
- MSY Seahorse
Dive Happy Raja Ampat Trip Reports
Indonesia’s Main Dive Site Locations
Diving Raja Ampat – Dive Happy Episode 1 Show Transcript
[0:00:06.4] CM: Hello and welcome to Dive Happy, the Podcast about the best places to go diving in Asia. I’m your host Chris Mitchell and my guest is veteran under water photographer and journalist Tim Rock. Tim, welcome to the show.
[0:00:20.1] Tim Rock: Thank you Chris, great to be here.
[0:00:23.0] CM: Thanks mate. Today we’re going to talk about one of the greatest places to go diving in the world, Raja Ampat in far eastern Indonesia. Tim has just published a book along with co-author Simon Pridmore, Diving and Snorkelling Guide to Raja Ampat and Northern Indonesia. Managed to get all the key words in there. So Tim, can you tell us a bit in a nutshell, what is so special about Raja Ampat and why should someone make the very long journey to go and dive there?
[0:00:57.1] TR: Well, a lot of the dive sites, it’s just really hard to describe other than sensory overload, just from the minute you hit the water until the end of the dive, it just seems like there’s always something crazy going on, there’s a big school of fish going by or a big trevally comes in and hits a school of fusiliers or something like that and the currents are pumping and there’s a chance to see maybe a Marlin or a sail fish come through.
Some of the dives in the Raja Ampat area are just real adrenaline dives, not so crazy that your average diver can’t do them and appreciate them. Not super deep, usually the water is nice and clear and just action, action, action. It’s really a fun place to dive and you can see why it’s so addictive to so many people. Some people come back and visit two or three times a year, most people make it an annual trek once they get their first fix of Raja Ampat. It’s really a special place.
[0:02:06.2] CM: Awesome, that was — and how many, to give it some context, when did you first dive there and how many times have you been back?
[0:02:14.3] TR: Actually, I first went through there in 2002, I believe it was on one of the Koharu trips back when Tony Rhodes and Larry Smith and a lot of those Indonesian pioneer kind of guys checking it out. I think Eddy from the Pindito had already spent a couple of years there and word got out that the diving was really quite good and people started making special trips during the calm season over there.
What turned out to be kind of an odd trip for two or three liveaboards turned into, I think there’s probably now 40 liveaboards actually stationed in Sarong in Raja Ampat. Turned out that these foresighted pioneers were really onto something and I was lucky enough to get on the first few cruises. I must admit I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing, I live very close the Palau and I used to go to Palau a lot and so they showed me a bunch of rock islands and I went, “Well, that’s kind of like home.”
But once you get under water, the diversity of Indonesia — Palau is a pretty diverse place but once you get under water and see all the Indonesian diversity in one place plus just the absolute shoals of fish life, it really was an eye opener and it just made us want to find more spots and go back and see what else the place had to offer.
[0:03:43.6] CM: Yeah, for sure. It’s pretty incredible to think that it is as recently as 2002 that the first trips were going out to Raja. These things become sort of calcified in like dive destinations, it feels like they’ve always been there and yet that’s less than 16 years that Raja has become an actual diving destination. What was there before? Was is it just the oil and gas industries out there? It’s a pretty remote place isn’t it? The top of Papua Island.
[0:04:14.9] TR: There really wasn’t that much going on there. If you get to the northern part to include areas like Halmahera of course there is like the spice trade, I think there’s probably some fishing going on in the area and then of course in West Papua some of the oil industry had taken hold and also I believe timber but there’s nothing like tourism.
Even like today, there really wasn’t much developed there. So when we would first put into port, it was kind of a search to find provisions and even to get people in and out of the area, it took quite a few flights. Even nowadays if you go in to some places like Manokwari, there’s nothing like tourist gift shops or anything like that. There is still that area, still not really used to dealing with any sort of tourism. It’s mostly local industry, local trade, some local education. If you drive out of town, more than 20 miles or 40 kilometers, the road ends and it just becomes a jungle trek or just turns into jungle. So the area right now still is very new, they saw a lot of other places to discover and see even within Raja Ampat and that’s what makes the whole thing so exciting.
[0:05:33.5] CM: You just mentioned earlier about the bio diversity of the marine life and I know that you’ve spoken quite a lot to some of the main marine biologists and scientists that have been working the area. Apparently, Raja Ampat actually has the greatest marine biodiversity in the world, doesn’t it? In the fact there are the most species in a given square kilometer of water, is that correct?
[0:05:59.6] TR: I’m not positive of that because I’m not a biologist. I think what they found in some areas, yeah, there’s a huge amount of fish species within a very small area in some of the bays, especially I think around Triton Bay area, they found some 500 different species just in a very small region and then up around Misool and going further up into the Dampier Strait. For the size of the region, I do believe that it’s quite diverse. The one thing that they really haven’t studied is when you’re talking about the studies that you’re relating to they’re — that’s mostly just from the fish people.
They haven’t really gotten into the invertebrate people and the coral folks, there’s only been a few folks that have come out to study that. I was with a retired coral specialist last year eating on the University of Guam for quite a while. He was with us on the other side of Raja over in Cenderawasih Bay, he said he saw some corals that he’s never seen before and he’s sure that there is new species and he’d never dove Raja Ampat so we’re going there next month and I’m sure he’s going to be pretty surprised and happy at what he sees with the corals there too.
[0:07:20.2] CM: Wow. Yeah, so in Raja, in fact that whole part of Northern Indonesia, there’s still plenty to be discovered in the water, right?
[0:07:29.8] TR: The divers love it and the fish guys are apparently having a field day but it still hasn’t really been given a good hard look by the scientific community as far as just the diversity and all the invertebrates that you find there. Of course there is a lot of endemic species, there’s is like a type of a walking shark, it’s kind of a spotted little shark that is mostly nocturnal and there’s one specifically for Ternate, there’s another one for Raja Ampat, there’s another one in Fakfak, there’s another one over in Cenderawasih, they all look a little bit the same but they’re all different species and there’s at least a dozen fish that are just endemic to Raja Ampat alone and I’m sure they’re going to find a lot of diversity within the corals and they’re going to find a lot of odd ball invertebrates. Maybe something that scientist don’t think should be there will be there.
[0:08:26.3] CM: Absolutely, yeah.
[0:08:27.7] TR: As the scientists show up and the studies go on and also as more divers come and take photos and kind of become citizen scientist, the surprises just keep on continuing.
[0:08:40.9] CM: Awesome. Do you have particular favorite dive sites in Raja? It’s such a big area the Raja Ampat is the four kingdoms, it’s such a big area so they are literally hundreds of dive sites which you detail in your book. But are there particular ones that you kind of have to go back to every time, otherwise it doesn’t feel like you’ve really dived Raja?
[0:09:01.5] TR: Yeah, well around the Dampier Straits, there’s a place called Mayhem which is…
[0:09:10.6] CM: I wonder what happens there?
[0:09:12.2] TR: When the current is running well, it truly fits that description and Citrus Ridge is really beautiful, there’s also a place called Blue Magic that is just chock full of fish and all kinds of action and I like to go to Cape Kri too, it’s a long finger that kind of comes out and then some water spills into a bay. So there’s always kind of a current coming up a slope and then running over a ridge and it just seems like about every 20 fin kicks, you’re running into a different school of something.
There’s some yellow tail Barracuda that will show up and then the minute you pass them, all of a sudden here comes a whole school of bat fish and that one stay and swim off then, bingo, you got a big tornado of jacks and it just keeps on going like this for an hour through the whole dive. You just never get bored and you run out of batteries for your camera because you’ve been shooting so much. It’s a true photographer’s dream.
So I really like that. When the manta show up at Manta Sandy, that’s pretty special. It’s a shallow enough dive that you can sit there for an hour and wait for the mantas to come and swoop in and they have black mantas down the regular color mantas, the grey with the white belly. I really think it’s really nice there because the nice white sand reflects off the mantas and there’s some beautiful cleaning stations that the mantas come into. So that one’s always on my checklist as well.
[0:10:47.8] CM: Cool. Sorry to interrupt. At Manta Sandy I heard that — I haven’t been back there for five years. I heard now that there’s actually a ring of coral around that’s been artificially put there by dive guides so it’s actually around the manta bommies to stop divers getting too close to the cleaning stations? Have you seen that?
[0:11:08.9] TR: The funny is, you tell a new diver don’t get close to the cleaning station and they have no idea where you’re talking about.
[0:11:16.6] CM: Yeah, fair enough.
[0:11:19.0] TR: So they look over and they see a really pretty coral head with a thousand glass fish on it and then you want to swim over there. Well that just happens to be the cleaning station and so to make it easy, what they’ve done is they’ve kind of put a line of just a few little coral rocks kind of in a line so people — they bring people over and you just kneel behind that and wait.
And that makes it a lot easier to organize people and tell them to — a lot of times people don’t understand that your typical reef manta gets a little bit spooked if you’re up in the water column with them, and a lot of people want to rise up and look at the mantas, instead of kneeling down into the channel and just letting them — if you kneel down and just breathe easily, the mantas will come to you but a lot of people don’t understand that either.
So by putting this little area close to the cleaning station but not so close to that the manta feels encroached upon and putting it down where everybody can kneel down and stay at a low profile so the mantas don’t get scared, I think they’ve done that to help the manta viewing.
[0:12:25.6] CM: So yes, I interrupted your list of favorite dive sites, what there other ones beyond Manta Sandy?
[0:12:32.6] TR: There’s one I like even though there’s been a couple of crocodile show up there. Blue Water Mangroves is really beautiful because it’s a mangrove area that slopes down into kind of a deep channel and in some parts of the channel, there’s really beautiful sea fans and some fusilier schools and quite a bit going on that almost looks like a coral reef and than other areas, it’s better for macro stuff.
You see a lot of small things and once you actually don’t have to go more than about three feet deep for an entire day if you can spend two hours just going in and out of the mangrove roots. It’s really a beautiful maze and you can see the archer fish, the ones that spit water and actually knock insects off the leaves and eat them.
[0:13:26.4] CM: Fantastic.
[0:13:27.6] TR: You can see little juvenile bat fish in there and there’s like red and yellow really beautiful soft corals that grow right almost at the surface on the roots of the mangroves. So you can get these really beautiful half/half shots with soft corals down below and a big maze of roots and maybe a nice picture of a diver underneath there looking at something and up below you see all the mangrove trees and the blue sky and everything. So it’s really kind of a photographer’s candy store so I usually like to make a couple dives there if I can too.
[0:14:00.1] CM: Is that in the Misool region like a little bit further out from Central Misool, I seem to remember it’s…
[0:14:06.0] TR: It’s considered south Raja Ampat area.
[0:14:11.5] CM: Okay, and have you ever seen a crocodile there?
[0:14:14.2] TR: Thankfully no.
[0:14:17.6] CM: One guide did actually get attacked a few years ago.
[0:14:18.6] TR: There was one time when the boat lost us or we lost the boat too, and we were in there a bit longer than we wanted to be and so I’m really glad that only the boat showed up finally for us instead of something else.
[0:14:38.6] CM: You’ve talked then about that particular site being a photographer’s candy store. In general Raja, it’s just — it offers endless opportunities with photos. Again, are there any particular sites besides the one you mentioned that you think are great for photographers? I was thinking maybe for people that don’t perhaps like currents so much, somewhere that it’s a bit more shallow and soft and fluffy, which is kind of my preferred kind of diving? Power snorkelling basically.
[0:15:08.1] TR: Well there is the popular one that the Arborek Jetty. It’s usually got big schools of bait fish all around it and it too has all the jetty piers are covered in soft coral and kids from the village come out and stare at you so you can get pictures of the kids they do the same old half/half shot where the kids are looking at you and you can see the beautiful marine life down below.
Or get some really nice photos of all the big swirling schools that the little silverside bate fish all around the jetty piers. There’s virtually no current around there. Also, that’s kind of for wide angle, but the pier also has the slope near the pier and the pier itself is good macro life so you can shoot really nice little invertebrates, ghost pipe fish or something like that.
[0:16:03.7] CM: Sorry, how do you spell the name of the pier?
[0:16:07.5] TR: Arborek.
[0:16:10.4] CM: Okay, cool, I’ve never even heard of that, there you go.
[0:16:15.9] TR: Really nice spot, it’s just a small island in a small village and somebody discovered the pier one night, probably looking for a night dive I would guess and so now it’s done day and night. I actually like it at dusk, I’ve got a couple of very nice shots as the sun kind of comes through the jetty pillars and half/half shots with the kids silhouetted in the background. So you can dive at just about any time, I think, and have fun.
[0:16:49.4] CM: Yeah, that sounds great. I assume that would be a nice spot for snorkelers as well around the pier.
[0:16:55.1] TR: Yeah it is, there’s some corals and some hard corals around the pier and plus all the fish and everything so yeah, it’s good for everybody and it’s good for snorkelling and diving.
[0:17:06.0] CM: Yeah, that’s interesting sub title of your book is that it’s a dive guide and a snorkelling guide as well and obviously diving and snorkelling are two sort of quite different activities even though they’re both in the water looking at nice things. Is there a lot of sights in Raja Ampat that would be deemed like great for snorkelling. But I Googled it and people do seem to run like dedicated Raja snorkelling tours.
So some people have figured this out, but how well would you combine that with the liveaboard, typically on a seven day liveaboard, how many sites do you think would actually be good for snorkelling as well as diving?
[0:17:39.3] TR: Yeah, that’s a good question, we had a lady with us whose husband dived, but she preferred snorkelling and they believe out of probably a 10 day trip, there were only about four or five sites that we went to which was around central and southern Raja Ampat that we told her probably wasn’t the wisest thing to snorkel that we could throw her in and see what happened, you know?
But mostly around — there are some sites that are kind of isolated that are just like rocks with there’s one up in north Raja Ampat called One Tree Island and basically it’s just like a rock coming up to the surface with a tree sticking on it. As you can imagine, the currents just kind of swirl around it, so it’s more of a divers type of dive. If you were snorkelling, there’s not a whole lot of room to hide and there’s really not a whole lot to see. Once you try to snorkel up to and see something the current will probably catch you and just you’d be signalling the boat to come get you.
So she missed a few of those kind of dives but those are usually reserved for the first dive in the morning or something like that and the rest of them are normally fairly easy for everybody to see. You can stay close — a lot of them are done close to islands and you can stay close to the shore and snorkel around or you can follow the divers around the surface if you want to and so I’d say, I think just going through our book probably 60% of the sites that we wrote about would be good for snorkelling too. There’s some in there that probably, like Cape Kri, would be very good for free divers who could go down and appreciate all the big fish schools and that sort of thing.
[0:19:32.2] CM: Yeah, so that brings you to another point. Is Cape Kri, is that where Max Ammer’s resorts are located on Kri island?
[0:19:40.9] TR: Yes, he’s in that area yeah.
[0:19:42.1] CM: Okay.
[0:19:45.9] TR: There’s some really beautiful rustic resorts. Max has been the pioneer in that area. We noticed on our last trip through that there were some fairly basic ones and then there are also some, a few very nice exclusive ones popping up. I know more of the Misool Echo Resort type of resort.
[0:20:06.2] CM: Oh so these are new resorts you mean that are opening up?
[0:20:10.3] TR: Yes, it starting to catch the attention of people who want to apparently invest in a dive resort.
[0:20:19.9] CM: Oh ‘cause yes, Max Ammer opened Sorido Bay, I don’t know how to pronounce it, and Kri Echo Resort which are basically both on Kri Island, right?
[0:20:29.7] TR: Right, yes.
[0:20:30.8] CM: Then obviously Misool Eco Resort is in the middle of Misool.
[0:20:35.7] TR: That’s another thing about this Raja Ampat area is all those people have really strived to protect the environment and bring conservation to the fore. Also, get the local people involved to try to give local folks a reason to want to have an environmentally positive resort in their village and their area. Like the Misool guys that have a lot of the staff is from the village on the island or a couple of nearby villages.
I believe that the Misool guys lease reefs from villages all in the area so the villages are making some money from the tourism that comes to that area and by doing that, then they also turn the people in the village into rangers and there’s people from each village and each area that go patrol the reefs and make sure that there is no illegal fishing going on and that nobody’s damaging coral or anything like that. So everybody’s involved. Misool is one of these real environmental and ecological success stories that people love to hear about.
I visited that resort when they first started building that they had one little hut up and living out of the tent and they were extremely happy to come the Damai and set an air conditioning and have a real chef cook breakfast because they saw that few and far between. But they tried to do everything as environmentally responsibly as they could and were very innovative in what they did and using drift wood to build their rooms. I think that’s another key aspect of Raja Ampat why it’s so popular, is just the philosophy behind it.
[0:22:33.1] CM: Yes, that’s right, that’s the fascinating thing about the Misool guys and also Max Ammer is the sheer longevity of your length of time they’ve been there, it’s not like they built a resort and then sold out 10 years later because they got fed up with it. It is actually their life, they live and breathe, living there and being part of the local community and protecting what’s there.
It seems to me that if you really want to protect that thing, you basically have to show up yourself and you have to make — you can’t just sort of delegate it to other people and leave, it’s like you have to be there and lead by example and the fact that these guys have done that is quite spectacular.
[0:23:12.5] TR: Yeah, it really is, I mean it hasn’t been easy, I know that too because I think Max actually went through a few bouts of malaria and was fairly sick and trying to establish a business in the region and when you talk to a few of these pioneers that do this sort of thing, like another one that comes to mind is Andrea Mitchell [actually Andrea Marshall] over in Mozambique and her manta ray research. She’s gone through all kinds of disease things over there too.
But these people are like you say, the Misool people and Max and all those guys that are really dedicated to the region. It’s not one of the things where they’re in it for the money or just want to build a resort so they’d have a bar to drink at. I mean these guys really are pioneers and innovators and very environmentally responsible. So it’s really nice to see that in the region.
[0:24:08.9] CM: Yeah, for sure. You just mentioned the Damai liveaboard, I know one of our favorite boats, in fact where we first met, Damai.
[0:24:16.0] TR: That’s true.
[0:24:18.2] CM: Beside Damai, which has two boats operating in Raja doesn’t it? Do you have any other — you mentioned earlier there’s around 40 boats that are now allowed to operate in Raja, which they all have to go through the Raja Ampat National Park process don’t they? So they’re all strictly licensed and monitored.
[0:24:40.6] TR: Everyone has to and every diver has to buy an annual license to operate and dive in the region to contribute to the protection and paying the rangers and all that sort of thing.
[0:24:54.2] CM: Yup. So besides Damai, which we’re both fans of, is there any other particular boats out there that you like and go back to?
[0:25:02.3] TR: Well I must say my experience is kind of limited. I usually go on Damai or Damai II or we use Tambora quite a bit too. Uwe has kind of a pioneering spirit.
[0:25:18.5] CM: That’s the owner of the boat right?
[0:25:20.8] TR: Yes. Uwe Gunther and he lives on the boat, which is nice so he loves diving and he is officially like the currenty-fishy kind of dives so he’s right at home in Raja Ampat. He’s the one that helped us out with the northeast Indonesia part of our book is we went all around Halmahera and Morotai on one trip and then we did another one up around Waigeo in the north part of Raja Ampat, looking for some new spots up there and when he gets the map out, starts pointing to a couple of places it looks like he still got a few more that he likes to go find too which is exciting, I’d like to be on those trips.
On top of that, he likes to go when what they call the off season. He’s found some areas in Raja Ampat that are still quite diveable even though there’s kind of a southern swell in part of the season that kind of closes off the south part but he seems to be able to manage to get around the central and northern parts at that time of year so there’s less boats in the area.
A lot of times the boats will operate out of Raja Ampat for six months and then maybe go over to Komodo for six months or something like that. A few of them have decided to base themselves in the area permanently. Another one that people talk about is the pioneering boat Pindito, I’ve never been on it but I know a lot of people speak quite highly of that. So those are the three I’m most familiar with.
[0:27:01.3] CM: Right, okay. Yeah, it’s interesting. So there’s the 40 different boats and they all seem to be of a pretty high quality. It’s interesting how the old Ocean Rover is now moved in and become the Raja Ampat Aggressor, it’s a nice addition to the Aggressor fleet.
[0:27:17.0] TR: Yeah I saw it on its maiden voyage last year actually.
[0:27:21.7] CM: Awesome. Yeah, I was on that boat just after it changed ownership and moved from Thailand permanently to Indonesia.
[0:27:28.6] TR: Oh great.
[0:27:30.6] CM: Yeah, yeah. So it’s a really interesting boat because it doesn’t have the romance of the wooden schooners that obviously that Damai and Pindito and Tambora are like. It’s a rock solid boat, you’re not going to move anywhere on it. Very good setup for diving, so that was quite interesting. Arenui as well is the one I hear lots about that I’ve never been on. Lots of people say that rivals Damai for luxury. What we’re worried about on Damai is the cold beer, so that’s the main thing.
[0:28:04] TR: Of course there’s another one Chris that I really enjoy is the Seahorse, the Cici Armayn has been the cruise director on that ship for years. It’s kind of the one that pioneered like Triton Bay and Fakfak area and it’s really a kind of a fun little ship to be on. The crew is really friendly and they know all of the secret sites down there in Triton. So when we were doing the book, I was able to use that but they also go up and do a lot of the Raja Ampat dive sites and I’ve had the pleasure of being on that ship and the owner of the boat.
There’s two or three owners, they all pride themselves in their culinary talents. So a lot of the times they’ll move in to the kitchen in the evening and throw their chef out and you’ll have a real surprise, it’s three Spaniards and they all really love to cook. So you’ll have some excellent dishes and the diving is good too.
[0:29:05.6] CM: Excellent! Yeah, the culinary tour of Raja Ampat. Yeah, Seahorse is actually the first boat I ever went to Raja Ampat on back in 2007. I’m glad to hear that you say it’s still rocking. Cici was on the boat then, it’s pretty cool that she stayed on ever since. It’s obviously come and go.
[0:29:23.3] TR: Yeah, it really is, she’s got a marine engineer degree and all that, she knows her stuff and then she’s just such a pleasure, it’s really nice to have a local lady running things on the boat there.
[0:29:36.1] CM: Yeah, for sure. Okay Tim. I think we could wrap this up. What would you have as any particular advice for someone going to Raja for the first time? Would you, for example, would you say people should have done like maybe 40, 50 dives before they contemplate going there and that sort of thing?
[0:29:55.5] TR: Yeah, I’d say have a few dives under your belt, it’s not in the wild, out in the middle of nowhere diving but it’s not really a swimming pool diving either. So I’d be comfortable in the water and have a few dive trips under your belt. It’s also, you have to give yourself a couple of days to get there and a couple of days to get back, it’s still — the beauty of it is it is pretty remote. So give yourself plenty of travel time and just know, like my friend Simon Pridmore says, you will be coming back if you dive Raja Ampat.
So don’t try to do everything at once, pick an area, see it and then next year come back for the second and the third visit, they really are all different. Cenderawasih Bay is completely different kind of diving from say the Misool area. Fakfak is lots of fish and beautiful corals and a little more current-y, you get up around Halmahera, maybe it’s a little more for the macro lover and that kind of things.
Each area has tons of stuff to offer and I just say, when you make your first trip, be prepared, have plenty of dives, be fit. It’s out in the middle of nowhere so don’t expect too much in the way of creature comforts but the ships themselves are usually pretty well appointed, you don’t have to worry about that. And then plan on coming back.
[0:31:38.3] CM: Awesome. Well thank you very much Tim and I look forward to talking to you again about other places to dive in Indonesia because there are just so many.
[0:31:47.2] TR: Oh yeah, sure. I’d love to come back and discuss any of the other. Indonesia is a candy store for divers.
[0:31:53.7] CM: Awesome, thanks very much Tim.
[0:31:55.8] TR: Thank you Chris.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:31:59.0] CM: Thanks for listening to the Dive Happy Podcast. For show notes about this episode, including maps of where we’re talking about, travel tips, links to the liveaboards, resorts, books, et cetera that we mentioned and other good stuff, please visit Divehappy.com/podcast.
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