Standing on a beautiful deserted tropical island that probably doesn’t even have a name and staring at the crystal clear aquamarine and turquoise waters, I realised I had finally arrived at one of the most isolated outposts of Indonesia. I was in Raja Ampat, which translates as the ‘Four Kings.’ Although you may never have heard of is place before; there is every chance that you have seen photos of the stunning coral reefs and the thousands of fish that create an enchanting underwater kaleidoscope of colour. The reason for this is that Raja Ampat offers quite simply the best diving in the whole of Indonesia.
Raja Ampat is a group of four large islands (Waigeo, Waisai, Salawati and Misool) and almost 1,500 smaller ones that is located on the far Western tip of the island of Papua. This area of the world is extremely isolated. Just to put it in perspective, it’s a seven-hour flight there from Jakarta and a five-hour flight from Bali. Coupled with this a return ticket from Jakarta to the nearest airport, Sorong, costs almost the same price as a flight to Europe.
The result is that this area of the world is still pretty empty. It is at once the playground of the rich and the adventurous backpacker. There is no middle ground, no reasonably priced resorts, just cheap bedsits and luxurious villas. You can spend your night sleeping in a tent under the stars or in a beautiful boat that cost US$7,000 a night; the choice is both yours and your bank managers. Regardless of which one it happens to be, the things you experience will be the same.
Travelling through Raja Ampat is a lesson in the unspoilt beauty of nature. For hours and days on end we past beautiful emerald green islands surrounded by warm turquoise waters. There were miles of unspoilt golden sandy beaches, islands with picturesque tourist resorts where bungalows with palm leaf roofs abutted the waters edge. The only thing that outdid the beauty of these resorts were their eye watering prices, with some charging upwards of US$3,000 per person (I later learnt the resorts have to rent the land at US$3,000 a month, so one person covers the rent, two the running of the resort and three guests in a month is profit).
Yet as beautiful as the resorts were, we stopped at ramshackle villages, which were situated in locations just as idyllic. The main difference was that corrugated metal roofs had replaced thatch, while the waters surrounding the pier were covered in plastic and sweet wrappers and fishing lines. As of yet no one has made the effort to reconcile these two very different sides to the islands.
For my money though, the only way to travel in Raja Ampat is on a boat. It is perhaps the best way of exploring the region for the obvious reason that the area is just so large and this way you get to see so much. Instead of being limited to a few hours sailing from a resort, you can explore hundreds of miles of reefs, beaches and natural lagoons. Over seven days we never dived the same place twice and in that short space of time I got to see more amazing underwater creatures than I have in a lifetime of swimming in the ocean. I swam with two metre long reef sharks (admittedly not intentionally) and enormous manta rays. I saw hundreds of nemos’ and flat fish and big fish and small fish and even got stung by far too many jellyfish, but it was an amazing experience.
My favourite memory from my whole trip to Raja Ampat though wasn’t experienced under the waves. However instead of just telling you about it I’ll let you look at the photo:
It took 20 minutes to climb to the top of the hill and another ten minutes to overcome my fear of heights and make the final ascent. When I finally got there I was greeted by this panoramic view, it is a sight that will stay with me for a lifetime.
5 Things Not to Miss
Climb Wayak – You’ll get to see the amazing view
Go diving it is the best dive spot in all of Indonesia after all
Swim with Whale Shark – the best time to do this is October through to April
Swim with Manta Rays – this can be done all year round
Watching Birds of Paradise – bring a big lens and plenty of mosquito repellent
Something to think about:
Unless you are staying at one of the $3,000 a week per person resorts, you can forget about communicating with the outside world. The only way you can use your smartphone is if you record a message on it, seal it in a glass bottle and threw it into the ocean.