Photographing Raja Ampat

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Photographing Raja Ampat…

groupThis is a very special trip for me as well as our guests in so many ways! It’s been a year since I have been on the Indo Siren and I get to spend my time with Alex Mustard and his fabulous guests diving some of the best sites in the world! Or am I biased?! I don’t think I have ever met anyone who would disagree! Raja Ampat is special and offers so many opportunities for our Photography workshop. As we were doing back to back trips with eleven of our guests we changed things up a little and on this first trip we literally travelled from the very south of Misool all the way up to the Equator where we embarked on a traditional ceremony for all those “Slimy Polywogs” that had not yet crossed the equator by boat …. More on that later!

over-underOur guests arrived throughout the day with our last arriving onboard around 5pm then it was anchors up and we headed south to the very beautiful area of Daram for our first few dives. We were blown away by the very colourful soft corals and beautiful topography of Andiamo and we had barley any current which was perfect for our photography group to hang out and shoot shoot shoot! It was hard to get them out of the water! From there it was over to the island of Yillet Kecil for first our night dive. Day three, and we headed to Magic Mountain where some saw mantas and others were visited by a dolphin which is a very rare occurrence! A little peak at a walking (epaulette) shark and some rather cute baby white tips, then it was time for the beauty of Boo Windows and rather a lot of modeling for me … certainly got my work out and hope to improve on my technique. This was followed by Tank Rock where some had their first look at the Misool pygmy seahorse and Alex had a Hawksbill turtle try to eat his camera! The night dive was at Whale Rock.

Aerial-shot-1Day four and with the moon cycle currents were still misbehaving so a quick change of location and it was Whale Rock dive 1 and Boo West dive 2, but many of our photography group preferred the option of skipping dive two and heading over to some small islands around Kalig to experiment with “splits” with some great results! It was then time to head north with a brief stop in Balbulo to visit the Alien Headquarters in the dinghies and for Julian to bring out his new toy! His Quad Copter! Which takes amazing ariel shots!

black-manta---DinceDay five and we were in search of Manta Rays at Manta sandy…. They made us wait a while but turned up in the end and provided some good entertainment as well as a fantastic shot of a very large Black manta with our tiny dive guide Dince! Well done Val!!! We also had our first sighting of a Wobbegong, but it was of course not our last. Keeping the theme going we hit Blue Magic – my personal favourite dive site in the north – where we had oceanic mantas, wobbegong sharks, schooling jacks and even a pontohi pygmy seahorse! What more can you ask for? This was followed by first critter dive of the trip at Saonek Jetty – bobtail squid, Pegasus sea moth and a snake eel – sweet!

arborek-4Day six we started with some amazing hard coral at Otdima with a large school of sweetlips bundled together posing before doing the next three dives on the famous Arborek Jetty, covered in soft corals and with plenty of fish life it’s a super subject for u/w photographers and we included some time for splits. Suzy also got a great shot of a tiny tiny hairy shrimp. Between dives we popped over to the village to take a stroll around the island and play a little volleyball whilst in the evening some of our guests decided to skip the night dive and try out some “star trails” and special “bintang” shots…. Amazing! On our journey north, Aljui was our next port of call and our first dive was on Channel Island taking fantastic shots of Snell’s Window with the soft corals in the shallows with trees and limestone rock overhanging. It was so good we did it twice! This was followed by Aljui Pearl Farm Jetty with thousands of fusilier hanging out under the floating pontoon, again Val nails it with an amazing photo of a ball of fish! Most of the group had decided to go macro photographing Hairy Shrimp, stone fish, beautiful nudis and jaw fish so she nearly had the site to herself.

birthday alex mustardDay 8 and time to visit the Equator and what a day that was! We dived Black Rock in the morning, followed mantas at Eagle Rock…. Then it was time to celebrate us all officially crossing the equator and graduating from “Polywogs” to “Shellbacks”. We were really in for some fantastic entertainment…. Alex, Andy, Phil and Julian dressed up in the dive guides bikinis and bin liner wigs and entered us in a beauty competition to win the affections of King Neptune (Jarret). Davy Jones (Derek) oversaw the proceedings and there was even an appearance of the orange Dutchman! Let’s just say you really have to see the video to truly understand how hilarious the events that followed were. All our guests and myself passed our initiation of eating very very spicy food (even for Indonesian Standards), the (pretend) shaving of random parts of our bodies by Davy Jones and a soaking by Amphitrite herself (the chosen one!). We then all jumped in to dive across the equator as our beauties celebrated. Smiles all around and a very late night dive back to Aljui – this time a muck dive on the Fuel Jetty, where I had a crocodile fish follow me around the whole dive!

mangroves-1Our penultimate dive day and the morning was spent in the mangroves of Yangeffo at the very beautiful Citrus Ridge – the orange and yellow soft corals were in full bloom. Most of our divers spent the rest of the morning shooting spectacular splits in the mangroves and Alex celebrated his birthday kayak surfing behind one of our dinghys. After taking some amazing ariel photographs in Balbulo and arborek, Julian took out his quad copter to take some shots of the mangroves but sadly it took a dive and crash landed in the middle of the bay! RIP Quad Copter! It was then time to head back south to revisit Otdima and then do our last night dive on Yembeser jetty, where a toad fish and epaulette shark were spotted. After dinner in true Indo Siren fashion the crew put on a bit of a song and dance – with a bit of a twist!

wobbegongFinal dive day and it was time for some more Manta magic at Blue Magic! And it was spectacular as usual! No one wanted to leave! We even had mantas jumping on the surface before the dive! I love this dive site! A little more relaxed but equally beautiful was our last dive of the trip on Mioskon. Wobbegong sharks, schools of glass fish and fusilier as well and the very cute pontohi pigmy seahorse! A great way to finish a trip! It was Mike’s birthday and Suzy has arranged a shower curtain which friends and family had written messages on and we hung it on the dive deck to surprise him in the morning. For five of our guests it was time to say bon voyage, for the remaining eleven, sampai jumpa lagi (see you soon), in fact in less than 24 hours as they were to join us for the next trip! Thanks so much to you all for making this trip so fun and definitely entertaining! Fun was certainly had by all during the trip and we also ended up with some amazing photos!! We can’t wait for the next trip with you! Leeza & Indo Siren Crew

Photos by Andy Deitsch, Alex Mustard, Valerie Reid & Mike Walker-Toye

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