Raja Ampat Rocks! by Susie Erbe
Raja Ampat Rocks! by Susie Erbe
Diving Raja Ampat with old friends aboard the Indo Siren – what could be a better combination? After 2 years’ anticipation the trip day was finally here for me and the group of Brits who make up part of the British Society of Underwatwer Photographers (BSoUP). We boarded the yacht in Sorong and with harbour clearance approved, the engines kicked into life and off we cruised towards the Misool region of the Four Kings – our first dive stop on this 10-night liveaboard safari…
It was a long overnight crossing but after our annoying flight delays the tiredness had kicked in and most slept easily through the hum of the engine to awaken surrounded by the Daram Islands – a series of tiny limestone outcroppings covered in lush green vegetation. Our first dive was truly a wonder to behold. Candy Store’s steep reef walls are covered with sea fans, huge bushes of soft corals, whips, sponges and of course plenty of critters. The first intrigues were the minute severnsi, followed by a couple of denise and a Misool pygmy seahorse. For many it was a case of point the camera in the right direction and look later back onboard – these critters are truly microscopic and near on impossible to see! Other sightings included octopus, orangutan crab, chelidonura, banded pipefish and a lovely school of blue lined snapper carousing cover the reef. Ahh to be back in the tepid 29c water and enjoying 25m visibility!
Big breakfast scoffed and cleared we were ready to dive again at Andiamo, plus Keith remembered to insert a fully charged battery this time! The cloud cover did not dampen the brightness and life of the dive. At this site the reefs are covered with huge seafans and corals, large yellowfin barracuda congregated and a small school of snapper posed nicely. With so much to see and photograph each group spent the majority of their dives around the pinnacle, however Ken led Fi and me over to the main island wall where yet more fans and stunning barrel sponges were to be found. The shallow water was a wondrous place to end our 75 minute dive, just in time for some tasty Indonesian salad with peanut sauce, chicken, fish and of course – steamed rice! The day ended with another awesome dive at Living Colours, which more than lived up to its name. The sun was shining brightly and the colourful corals and fans sparkled. More pygmy seahorses and all manner of shrimps and crabs were spotted, along with a few varieties of nudibranch – rounding off our day of macro. Time to change lenses for the wide angle day at Misool.
The Fiabacet chain of islands surrounded us as we awoke to a brilliant sunrise. Ready for some action we back-rolled in to a mild current at Magic Mountain to be greeted by white tip reef sharks and barracuda. The first wobbegong sharks were sighted by all – except Mike D – and there was plenty of cleaning station fun for our videographers Jo and Paul. A quick plan change had us dropping into Boo Windows for our second dive of the day. The light was just right and all the photographers politely gave each other space to capture a diver (hmm hmm me) in silhouette before exploring the rest of the reef. A blacktip shark, a few bumpheads and nudibranchs were also seen. For our third dive we chose Yellit Kecil, another glorious reef with wall and too many sea fans to count, as well as a shallow plateau with a relentless amount of soft corals, bommies and colourful reef fish. Having missed the first day of diving, Pash, was super excited to see and photograph the pygmy seahorses that Inyo found and Joss got some stunning shots of the skeleton shrimp. Massages and cookies followed with a few takers for the night dive at Yellit Besar where Rob was able to tick candy crab off his must see list.
Dive day three followed much the same pattern with 3 day dives at Boo West, Whale Rock and Nudi Rock (named for the shape of the islands) and a night dive. With a plethora of sea fans and soft corals most opted for wide angle on the first dive whilst the lure of yet more pygmy seahorses had many switching it up later in the day. The strobes were flashing away happily during our super long dives with no one making an ascent before 65 minutes! Critter highlights included the pom pom (or boxer crab) – a first for me – hairy shrimp, reef top pipefish, nembrotha and notodoris nudis and a family of 5 Misool pymgy seahorses. Angel and butterfly fish species made for colourful foreground subjects whilst out off the reef a delightful school of short tooth emperor fish cruised by, along with many barracuda and a handful of black tip reef sharks.
Our fifth day aboard the Indo Siren was spent around Wayilbatan with Barracuda, Wedding Cake and Dunya Kecil being our chosen dive sites. Subjects were plentiful for the macro lovers with numerous nudi species found and some obliging anemone fish but the winged pipefish proved exceptionally difficult to photograph due to its impressive camouflage. We were also able to celebrate Martyn’s 1000th dive – a great achievement. Opting to stay in the south for Keith’s birthday, day six got underway with a dive at Four Kings where the jacks hunted on fusiliers in the current and the first leaf fish of the trip were spied by Isabella and Steve before the current got the better of them. The much longed for Gorgonian Passage followed with all having their wide angle lenses in an endeavour to capture the majesty of this impressive channel. Huge seafans, numerous pygmy seahorses and a stunning wall covered in orange soft corals to end on. We owed it to ourselves to dive here again. Instead of a night dive we hopped in the dinghies with beers and cocktails and headed for a sheltered cove with a white sand beach. Party shenangihans ensued with some “interesting” outfits donned – but what happens on the Siren stays on the Siren so no more details allowed 😉
Still in the Misool area our final dives at Anti-chovey, Two Tree Island and Baby Rock provided a mix of wide angle and macro options. Despite the many previous sightings some members of the group, hmm hmm Chris, were in need of the perfect seahorse shot so guides Inyo, Errol, Ken and Thomas were once again put to the test – and proved their worth in abundance. Another pom pom crab and several notodoris and nembrotha nudis were on the list for the macro sightings whilst on the reef there was plenty of trevally hunting action, stunning batfish, bumphead parrotfish and a large school of yellowfin barracuda. Our diving in the south over we settled in for the long journey north over a flat calm sea. A few beers and g&t’s in the lounge and on the sundeck eased us into the crossing nicely with some choosing to top up their tans whilst others were busy editing the day’s photos ready for our trip competition.
Good things come to those who wait – and we waited so patiently behind the mini wall of rocks at Manta Sandy that we were rewarded as the big black manta ray swooped in to be cleaned, staying at the pinnacle until our dive time was up. Rolling in again after breakfast the big bird was back within 25 minutes for more cleaning and an impressive display for our waiting photographers. Pontoi pygmy seahorses, waspfish, Pegasus seamoths and snake eels were also the delight of those who’d opted for macro lenses. Two dives at Arborek Jetty followed. The pier is home to long fin batfish, schools of silversides, lion fish and fusiliers – none of whom seem to mind divers getting up close for some face shots. Adorning the pier are soft corals, sponges and hydroids – at night it was easy to spot candy crabs, decorator crabs, shrimps and nudis but our wonderful guides also found a toadfish and three epaulette sharks cruising about amongst the corals.
The last full day of diving loomed ahead like the grey clouds in the sky- how had it come around so quickly? Today’s offering were Lalosi, Citrus Ridge and the mangroves – a fairly wide angle day with schools of fusiliers and chevron barracuda, as well as wobbegong sharks, squid, seahorses and an orangutan crab. Much time was spent in the mangroves with the archer fish and capturing awesome split shots and whilst the divers were busy the crew got to work practicing their fire safety drills. The sunset dive along the Mangrove Ridge turned up a slipper lobster, mandarin fish and another toadfish before all were back aboard and ready for Andri’s bbq steak, chicken, tuna and king prawns. Yummy! This was our final evening with Sue and Martyn aboard so our trip photo competition, sponsored by Equator Diving, was held. With such a high quality it was hard for us judges to decide upon the winner but in the end it was Sue Guess who scooped the prize for her wide angle reef scene.
The two final dives of our time in Raja Ampat were at Mioskon, now to be known as Wimbledon Common for all the Wombles found there! A gentle drift through schools of snapper and mesmerizing glass fish pinnacles preceded a fast paced, speed your heart up ride at Cape Kri, the current bringing an abundance of fish action as we hurtled through schooling barracuda, batfish, triggerfish, fusiliers and midnight snapper. A large turtle posed with its remoras and white tip and black tip reef sharks were also seen carousing over the shallow plateau. After lunch we began our cruise back to Sorong enjoying the last moments aboard the Indo Siren. We already know we’ll be back! Sampai Jumpa Lagi – or see you next time.
Special thanks to our awesome crew: Jerry, Hasbia, Ruslan, Ketut, Rahmat, Fendi, Bambang, Andri, Fendi, Joe, Ane, Inyo, Erol, Ken and Thomas