As we know from previous trips in Raja Ampat, even a check dive is a great dive and our first dive of this Indo Siren liveaboard safari was no exception. Heading first north to the Dampier Strait near to the island of Waigeo, all the divers were treated to a close encounter with a wobbegong shark who nearly swam into us. This creature already looks special when it’s just lying around, but even more so when swimming. A demon stinger, more wobbegong sharks, turtles, different types of pygmy seahorses and many more interesting sea creatures were spotted throughout, so even on our first diving day, the guests were already able to see the biodiveristy Raja Ampat is so famous for.
The next morning a small group of bird enthusiasts opted to get a very eary start (4.40 wake up call!) to go trekking on Waigeo to see the famous red bird of paradise. Despite the early start, every one of the intrepid guests and crew enjoyed watching this beautiful bird performing his mating dance on the trees… but we’re not sure if the female was as impressed! Meanwhile for the “diving group” drinking coffee in the stern dining area at 06:30 was on the agenda when a pod of whales showed up on the horizon. Together with the beautiful weather and the stunning landscape it was easy to say: we really are in paradise…. And we hadn’t even been diving yet! Needless to say both groups had huge smiles on their faces as we tucked in to a delicious breakfast. Dives 2,3 and 4 took place on some of my favorite dive sites in Raja Ampat; Batu Lima, Blue Magic & Cape Kri. We were treated to an oceanic manta, black tip reef shark, turtle, pontohi pygmy seahorse, frogfish, pygmy squid and epualette shark – just to recall a few of the highlights from the dives. Before the night dive at Aerborek Pier, some guests and some crew members went for a stroll through the small, lovely and peaceful tourist village, then it was time to find the toadfish.
In the morning of day 4 we were heading to Raja Ampat’s #1 busiest dive site: Manta Sandy, off the west coast of Mansuar. Since we saw more mantas on the surface than underwater during our first dive there, some of the guests went snorkeling directly after surfacing. Clearly that was the highlight of the ‘dive’ since that is all most people were talking about at breakfast. I thought it can’t get better, but I was wrong. Our second dive at the same site was a totally different story: many many mantas were swooping around the cleaning stations treating us to a majastetic show. Nobody really knew where to look because there were so many mantas coming from all directions. For most this was the best manta dive they’d ever had – including some of the guides.
During the night we were moving to Kawe, close to the equator. The dives on the offshore boulder landscape in the morning were a interesting change from the bommie covered sloping reefs dominating the previous days. Watching the majestic tropical scenery of the numerous bays cruising into Aljui to the afternoon dive sites was a wonderful way to pass time during the surface interval. Dolphins were passing by while we anchored in a calm bay and in the background there was a song called “Welcome to my Paradise” coming out of the sound system – these words could not have rung any truer! Because there was a late start planned for the following day, the guests stayed up longer than usual, sharing their diving experiences so far over some cold Bintangs. Thanks to some Chilean blood and a well-stocked iPod, it turned into a salsa dance party, winding down with some blues.
After a long cruise down to Misool our introduction to the area involved a tour through the dramatic karst mountain scenery around Balbulol, ending with long splash about in a lagoon. Some guests took advantage of the kayaks we had towed over to inspect the orchids and pitcher plants growing on the jagged rock faces more closely. As with every trip we take to this idyllic natural wonder, one of the guests asked if we could just leave them there for a few days. But no! We dive! Snappers, trevallies, batfishes, sweetlips, barracuda, fusiliers, many more fishes and special creatures awaited us on our first dive that day. The further south we went, the windier and wavier turned the sea. For our final diving days in Misool we had some strong currents bringing lots of fish to the dive sites. Another manta encounter to round things off and many, many schooling fish. Naturaly we did not only see bigger stuff at the divesite, but also plenty of macro as well.
Some of the highlights during our time in Misool: Black reef manta (looks like a super sportscar – just awesome), schooling barracudas, fearless juvenile white tip reef sharks, snappers, hawksbill turtle, barramundi cods, beautilful nudies, pygmy seahorses, giant Napoleon wrasses, teeny tiny skeleton shrimps and a variety of pipefishes. A trip to the beach between rain showers provided a confirmation of the topside bounty of the area as well.
We had many very good dives, but the last one topped them all. After all we had seen and done, how could that possibly be?!? Picture a reef so thickly covered with anchovies swimming but a few meters out from the reef you lost all points of reference, your dive buddy disappeared behind a shimmering blue-green curtain of flowing movement. Cruising leisurely back and forth 4 mobula rays (devil rays) and hungry bonito tearing unexpectedly through the curtain. We were at the safety stop looking around to find out were the rays gone and in the next second two rays were speeding up from the deep torpedoing through our group in pursuit of their prey. It was nearly too fast for our eyes to follow and so close they practically bumped into the group of divers. After the first attack they disappeared in the deep again, but everybody knew that they would mount another assault on the schooling fish. A truly unforgettable spectacle and an amazing way to end this liveaboard diving trip.
That evening Peter’s 50th birthday party finally wound down as we approached Sorong harbour. However, we have a rule: what happens on the boat stays on the boat. Especially when it comes to pole-dancing accidents- our lips are sealed. Thanks to everyone for a fantastic cruise full of great energy and enthusiasm, comraderie and comedy.