Time flies; is it really a month since I returned from a fantastic small group trip to North Sulawesi and Raja Ampat? Our group began their adventure with a group transfer from the airport to the friendly family owned Tasik Ria Resort and Spa, situated north of Manado located in Tanawangko Bay on the north west coast of North Sulawesi. The resort boasts a fantastic pool and spa as well as the beach front, a jetty bar and a pool bar. The food is served buffet style with a great variety with many delicious Indonesian dishes, however for those guests that did not want to take the heat there were plenty of other options. The en-suite rooms are all very comfortable with full air conditioning with coffee/tea making facilities.
The next five days saw us diving a mixture of wall drop-offs and reef slopes around Bunaken, Manado Tua and Siladen Islands, three of the five islands in Bunaken National Marine Park. The tides made the drifts vary from non-existent to very gentle to exhilarating. Safety stops were a joy and everyone spent time marvelling at the colourful reef tops. Bannerfish, Napoleon Wrasse, Green Turtles, Dart and Sailfin Gobies, Pyramid Butterflyfish, Cleaner Shrimps, a nice variety of Nudibranchs and Flatworms to name a few. Gorgonian Sea Fans, Barrel and other big sponges decorated the walls competing with a huge range of colorful reef fish. Small Whitetip Reef Sharks were spotted sleeping in crevices. Nudibranchs, Pygmy Seahorse and various crabs and shrimps could be found. We also dived the North West coast near the resort where the diving was more relaxed but full of interesting critters. We dived the Molas shipwreck and spent one day diving the world famous Lembeh Straits. Night dives on the house reef were available and there was plenty to see. Flamboyant cuttlefish, Painted, Warty and Hairy Frogfish, Mandarin Fish, Octopi, various scorpionfish, Robust and Ghost Pipefish. All this in water of 27 to 30oC. The list just kept getting bigger and bigger; I was kept busy identifying the many various fish and creatures in the evenings! No wonder the sites of Bunaken Marine Park are ranked among the top in the world for marine diversity.
Gill McDonald, the resident photo pro, gave us a fantastic illustrated lecture and quite a few of the group took the opportunity to do the 1 hour, 3 hour, or full day session on underwater photography with her. One the last 2 days she came on the boat with us and those that wished to joined her for photo practical sessions.
When people weren’t diving they could be found relaxing around the pool or enjoying a spa treatment or just chilling in the bar. A couple of our group were non-divers and they had a great time either joining us on the boat and snorkeling, kayaking, going on their own bespoke tour to see the tarsiers and black macaques, or exploring the local villages and area.
Then it was time to get the diving kit washed and dried and a group transfer back to the airport to fly to the next destination, West Papua in the far east of Indonesia, centered on the island of New Guinea and the reefs of Raja Ampat.
A plane and a speedboat trip saw us arrive at The Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, Yenpapir Beach, Mansuar Island. The resort is fronted by a white sand beach with the Papuan rainforest as a backdrop. We stayed in the en-suite individual air-conditioned bungalows located on the beach front, an ideal place to relax on the veranda and look out to sea. (not that we had much time for relaxing, with many of the group opting for 4 dives a day!). Once again the food was served buffet style with more of an emphasis on Indonesian food, vegetables, fish and prawns.
As our website at Dive Safari Asia states there are few locations on Earth which parallel Raja Ampat for sheer diversity of marine life. This is reef diving perfection combined with awe inspiring congregations of fish life and truly stunning topside vistas. We were not disappointed (even though on this occasion the mantas failed to show). It more than made up for it with schools of Jacks, Sweetlips, Barracuda and Batfish, as well as grey and white-tipped and black-tipped reef sharks, fantastic reefs, sea snakes, crabs, shrimps, and cleaning stations located on the tips of reefs filled with a large variety of fish. We also managed to spot smaller stuff such as pygmy seahorses and skeleton shrimp. Once again the reef tops were stunning; passing schools of bumphead parrot fish appearing, the odd reef shark buzzing in, and Tasselled Woebegone Sharks resting under ledges and in table corals. Then there were some fantastic jetty dives with giant clams and a variety of nudibranchs and other critters. Once again night dives on the house reef were available with nearly everyone doing at least one night dive.
All too soon we had completed our 18 dives and it was time to get the dive kit washed and dried for the return journey. The following day saw us all getting up early in the morning; not to catch the plane, but to go to the nearby island to see if we could spot the Red Birds of Paradise. We were lucky – we saw 2 males performing their dance in the tree canopy, and when they were not there, a Cus Cus – a type of marsupial – was spotted perched on a branch, looking at us looking at him or her! We travelled back to the lodge for breakfast and spent a lazy final day “off-gassing” by snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, walking or just chilling by the beach.
The following morning we left Mansuar Island by speedboat and flew from Sorong Airport back to Manado. Our trip wasn’t over yet! A picturesque transfer through the local villages and town of Tomohon took us to the Highland Resort located in the highlands of North Sulawesi. The resort once again consisting of a small number of individual en-suite bungalows, this time with the highland jungle as a backdrop.
It was a lovely afternoon when we arrived, so after a quick visit to the resort to drop off our bags, a group of us departed for a visit to Lake Lokon, a Sulphuric lake at the foot of Lokon-Empung volcano. We were just in time to see the variety of green and yellow hues of the lake and the steaming fumaroles before the sun went down and the whole lake changed, looking very ethereal bathed in a glow which we later found out was from the geo-thermal plants located in the forest behind the lake! A great end to the day as we munched on hot bananas covered in chocolate sauce and drank coffee. Then it was back to the resort for a Chinese Banquet style meal before bed.
The next morning saw a group of us up very bright and early to visit the Mahawu Volcano and take a walk around the rim. Once again the weather was kind and we were able to see the active Empung Volcano and Mount Kalbat as well as the forest and lands stretching down to Manado City from the volcano rim. All too soon time was up and it was back to the resort for breakfast and a quick shower before travelling back to Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado and the start of our journey home… and a well-deserved rest.
Underwater photos by Maggie Russell
Topside photos by Jeremy Smith: www.jeremysmithphotography.co.uk
Maggie is a Tour Leader for UK-based tour operator Dive Safari Asia. to find out more, visit www.divesafariasia.com.