After three years of searching for my next adventure and a destination that would live up to my trip to the Cook Islands, one afternoon it leapt out of my computer screen. ‘Raja Ampat, The last paradise’. Now that sounded like the place for me.
I’ve always been a lover of remote, off the beaten track places and whilst being drawn to the underwater world I never went as far as learning to dive. Until now. If there was anywhere in the world deserving of this, it had to be Raja Ampat; one of the most biodiverse places still in existence.
A few weeks and PADI courses later, my brother and I were at London Heathrow packed and ready to go. The delay of our first flight caused us to get stuck in Dubai for 24 hours, all resolved by the wonderful team at Diverse Travel; we cannot thank them enough so we decided to make the most of our time with a tour of the city, the Burj Khalifa, dune bashing through the desert, camel riding and a traditional dinner and show; it’s amazing what you can cram into a day!
Two more days, a couple of flights and boat transfers later we arrived at our dive resort Papua Explorers on Gam Island. WOW! There are few moments in my 29 years of life that will stand out quite like my first few steps onto that jetty. What a paradise. Friendly staff greeted us with traditional song and guitar and as we made our way up the wooden walkway the sounds of birds of paradise filled the tropical air. Either side of the jetty was the bluest, most beautiful water I’d ever seen, teeming with countless coloured fish and coral imaginable. Large parrot fish darted between the rocks and clownfish hovered in their vibrant anemones. We were given a much-needed welcome drink and shown to our fantastic water bungalow. The room was light and airy and spotlessly clean, full of traditional wooden touches and outside a wonderful balcony with large hammock and our very own steps down to the sea. Few things beat a morning snorkel straight from your own balcony out over the stunning house reef.
After an afternoon dive centre briefing and some time to explore, we made our way to dinner. The restaurant, also on stilts over the water, was in the most wonderful location with views of the setting sun. The traditional Indonesian cuisine was delicious.
The following morning, we were up early and ready for our first dive with our lovely dive guide Mario, who really was fantastic. We all had so much fun together and felt in very safe hands as we gathered our kit and excitedly boarded the boat. When we watch the videos back home and hear the stories of the reefs in Raja, you can hardly believe them to be real. When I say that the pristine beauty will literally take your breath away, there are hardly words to describe by just how much. The reefs are bursting with life and, unlike so many parts of the world, the marine life is more abundant now than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Sharks are back in large numbers; manta rays glide overhead and the colours and variety of corals and fish are just mind blowing. Tiny pygmy seahorses make their homes in giant swaying fan corals, in pinks, reds and oranges.
On Otdima reef, one of my favourites, huge shoals of blue and yellow fusilier surround you whilst schools of large barracuda watch from a distance with their beady eyes. There are so many varieties of fish on this reef. On one dive we were joined by a group of mobula rays, appearing like ghosts from the blue, curious and elegant; they seemed as interested in us as we were in them. Turtles like to make friends too, with one swimming right up to my mask on a dive at Mike’s Point. It was such a magical moment that I froze and couldn’t even take out my camera … I think sometimes, moments like these are almost too special to capture anyway.
I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a lot in my life, but I can honestly say a place has never quite stolen my heart in the way Raja Ampat did. I was so very sad to leave. From the stunning marine life, the beautiful palm covered islands and white sandy beaches to the local people, who are the nicest I have ever met, I completely fell in love with the place. It truly does deserve its ‘Last paradise’ status and I admire all the people working so hard to protect it and keep it that way.
I can only hope to join them in my next quest … to become a dive-master in Raja Ampat!
Kayleigh Salter, December 2019
When to go?
The very best time to dive Raja Ampat is October to April. This is when the liveaboards come in to explore the different areas of this spectacular destination. This is when there is much less wind and rain and incredible visibility. This is also the best time to see mantas in the area! If you choose a resort stay, you can dive all year round. Daily dive sites will be chosen with the weather in mind. You can truly dive here for weeks on end and never dive the same site.
What else is there to do?
A visit to Raja Ampat is not complete without spending time exploring the beautiful local islands. Hike through the mangroves, swim in the waterfalls and enjoy spending time with the friendly locals. If you are a keen birdwatcher, this is definitely the place for you! There are more than 800 species of birds here. Find your spot, lean back and watch the birds come and go.
What are the practicalities?
There are no direct international flights to Sorong. All travellers fly via Jakarta or Manado with a choice of airlines, including Singapore Airlines and Emirates. Domestic flights are available to Sorong and we highly recommend adding an overnight stay in your transit city to avoid any delays or missed connections. Once you are in Sorong, the rest is easy. Resorts and liveaboards will arrange for your boat transfer from Sorong to resort.
What are the costs?
Kayleigh stayed at the Papua Explorer Resort. A stay here would cost from £3195pp and includes :-
7 nights full board in a twin/double Superior Water Bungalow.
6 days diving – 3 boat dives per day and unlimited house reef dives, with air or nitrox, tanks & weights.
International & domestic flights.
Overnight hotels in Jakarta or Manado.
Other hotels are available; for more information please click here Papua Explorers Resort
Find out more
Want to learn more about Kayleigh’s visit to Raja Ampat? Give us a call on 01473 852002.