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Jim & Cary Yanny’s Guide to Diving in Indonesia

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Raja Ampat

Part 4: Raja Ampat

Define luxury. Most people would probably say that the word “comfortable” should be included in any sensible definition, but also that it must include being surrounded by plush, expensive items and that the more unaffordable those items are, the more luxurious the experience.

I beg to differ. I know where luxury resides and I can tell you that it’s not where you think is it. Don’t search for it in New York, London, Paris or Milan. No, where I’ve found it, there’s a complete lack of emblems, brands or fancy cars…..or cars of any sort, for that matter. There is a bit of native “bling” in this place, mind you, but even that is not of the type we’ve come to expect, being made mostly of colourful exotic bird feathers.

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In this modern age, seven billion noisy souls’ lives are increasingly busy; work is dictated by ever-shortening deadlines, and connectivity is everything. Within this context, the value of material items has reduced a lot and new definitions are starting to replace them. Resources like “space”, “time”, and “peace” are becoming less abundant and therefore much more valuable. In our crowded world, they are the new luxury items of the 21st century.

coralThe lush Indonesian province of West Papua (or “Irian Jaya”, to use its traditional name) has been almost completely uncharted territory to anyone who isn’t a local or a working in mining, lumber or fishing. That fact remains unchanged for the vast majority of people on the planet; however, recently there has been a growing awareness of West Papua, and of the Raja Ampat area in particular, amongst a tiny group of people consisting mainly of marine biologists and dive tourists.

The first indications that Raja Ampat might be an exceptional place for divers came to us about twenty years ago, from a most unexpected source: a young motorbike workshop owner called Max Ammer. The Dutchman had been clued-up that he might be able to find bike and jeeps in mint condition, remnants of the waste of WW2, on these remote islands to refurbish in order to make his fortune. In 1990 Max headed to Papua looking for the bikes, but what he discovered there surprised him. It was indeed riches, but not exactly of the kind he been seeking – the riches Max found were of a natural kind and were like nothing he’d ever imagined: forest canopies bursting with parakeets and other exotic birds, in secret bays with crystal-clear pools.

Then Max started to snorkel off Kri Island’s white-sand beach. What he discovered there blew his mind and changed his life forever. He fell in love with the place and the people (literally, as he married an Indonesian lady) and quickly “recalibrated” his mind from that of a mechanic to one of a conservationist and eco-resort owner. To this day, Max remains on Kri Island, where he runs two resorts under the “Papua Diving” brand. During our twelve years of living in Indonesia we were lucky enough to spend a good deal of time at Max’s Kri Eco Resort & Sorido Bay Resort and we are privileged to be able to count Max amongst our friends.

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Raja Ampat was first put on scientists’ radar by the 1998 visit of a renowned Australian fish scientist, Dr Gerry Allen. After that short visit, Dr Allen lobbied Conservation International to conduct a fish survey, which he did with other scientists in 2001. Their findings was an astounding 970 species. On a later survey with his colleague Dr. Mark Erdmann, Dr. Allan counted 374 distinct species on just one 90-minute dive.

I wasn’t even aware that this picture will turn out so crowded when i took it. I was concentrating on the Moray eel, and the blue crack on the back ground. Viewing it later really hit me with the huge amount of fish!

This means that Raja Ampat, quite simply, is home to the richest reefs on Planet Earth. Just off the “Bird’s Head” of West Papua province of Indonesia, it lies in the heart of the Coral Triangle, an area of the western Pacific Ocean that includes the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and Solomon Islands and recognised as the epi-centre of marine biodiversity on the planet. The name “Raja Ampat” means The Four Kings in Indonesian, referring to the largest four islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo. A smaller island of Kofiau and another 1500 islands make up the group, spread over a huge area of 40,000 square kilometres. The population of all these islands of Raja Ampat is tiny – just 50,000.

Raja Ampat

Eco Kri resort of Papua Diving on Mansoear Island. Photo by Frits Meyst/Adventure4ever.com

Raja AmpatAllow me to offer you another definition of luxury: it’s “an exclusivity that makes one feel special and privileged”. If you ask me, being woken up by an “alarm clock” of fish splashing beneath one’s Papuan stilted hut is an especially luxurious way to start one’s day. Relaxing on the end of a jetty overlooking a calm sea and distant islands, waving to the passing fisherman in his canoe but seeing nobody other than him – that’s exclusive and special. Diving on a coral reef and looking up to a forest of trees just above it – that’s unique and special. Having the world’s richest reef as your nearest dive site – that’s very special.

Resorts in Raja Ampat don’t offer fine dining, they offer fine diving. They don’t offer infinity pools, but there’s an infinite sea. They don’t offer star-studded after-dinner shows, but look up into the black night sky, unpolluted by any city lights and you’ll witness a show of stars that beats anything man can hope to provide. Here is a more natural definition of luxury – it’s provided by Mother Nature herself…..and she’s laid it on in oodles. It’s a luxury defined by a knowledge that so few people ever get to experience this amazing frontier, one of the last pristine wildernesses to be found anywhere on earth. Here the only commuting crowds rushing by have gills, most of the schooling happens to be done underwater and the only call you’ll receive is from a Bird of Paradise flying high overhead.

By immersing oneself in Raja Ampat’s simple yet luxurious nature, something interesting soon becomes clear: that with so many creatures all around us, we’re not missing our creature comforts.

For more information, visit www.diversetravel.co.uk/destinations/Indonesia.

A few moons ago, Jim was General Manager of Emperor Divers Red Sea, where Cary was Senior Instructor. Later they moved to Indonesia to establish and run award-winning dive centre and resort, Eco Divers, before returning to the UK to launch Diverse Travel. Cary also runs a photographic business and is the Photo Pro, often leading photographic trips to exotic destinations, most recently to South Africa and Mozambique. Jim and Cary’s driving passion is to deliver the best personalised travel service available. That same philosophy shines through Diverse Travel and sees clients return again and again to book their next holiday.

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

The world’s 12 best places to snorkel with whales

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Whales have captivated our imagination for centuries and snorkeling with whales is one of life’s best experiences. Whether you want to meet them in the tropics or under the Arctic sun, there is a whale adventure for you. Here is our guide to the world’s best places to snorkel with whales.

HUMPBACK WHALES

Humpback whales are found at destinations worldwide, making them easy to spend time with. These huge whales are known for their spectacular breaches and complex song and are just as rewarding whether you watch them from a boat or get in the water.

  1. Tonga

If you want to snorkel in clear blue waters with humpback mothers and their calves, visit Tonga. It is one of the most popular places to swim with humpbacks, where you can choose from day safaris or longer trips. Just make sure you book early so you don’t miss out.

When to go: July to September.

  1. Moorea, French Polynesia

French Polynesia is the perfect place to combine a luxurious getaway with a humpback whale swim safari and world-class snorkeling. There are endless snorkeling spots, beautiful beachside resorts and numerous whales. If you want to try scuba diving for the first time, the diving in Moorea is ideal for beginners. The reefs are pristine, the waters are sheltered, and you can swim with Moorea’s famously friendly stingrays whilst you’re there.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Silver Bank, Dominican Republic

The Silver Bank marine reserve provides a safe winter haven for the North Atlantic humpback whale population whilst they gather to mate, calve and raise their young. There are various liveaboard operators that offer multi-day safaris dedicated solely to learning about and swimming with these charming whales. This is a great option if you want to immerse yourself fully in the world of whales.

When to go: January to April.

4. Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

UNESCO-listed Ningaloo Reef hosts tens of thousands of humpback whales each year and is also a migratory route for dolphins, dugongs and manta rays. Lacking the crowds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, it is the most peaceful place to swim with humpback whales in Australia.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia

Hervey Bay – the world’s first World Whale Heritage Site – has been called the whale watching capital of the world, thanks to its abundant humpbacks. This conservation-focused destination is just a 3.5-hour drive north of Brisbane and offers day trips to swim with the whales.

Time your trip right and you can also enjoy the annual Hervey Bay Whale Festival and Paddle Out for Whales.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Reunion Island

Réunion lies 550 km east of Madagascar and is a lesser-known humpback whale hotspot. With only a handful of people allowed in the water at any one time, it is a great destination for more intimate whale encounters.

When to go: August to September.

  1. Iceland

Iceland’s rich waters are a prime feeding ground for humpbacks and offer a unique whale swim experience. Wearing a cozy dry suit, you can spend hours admiring these whales in Iceland’s incredible gin-clear waters.

When to go: June to August.

 DWARF MINKE WHALES

These pint-sized whales grow up to 8 meters long and were only discovered in the 1980s. They might be relatively new to the whale watching scene, but they are wonderful to swim with.

  1. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Known for being exceptionally friendly, dwarf minke whales create truly memorable encounters as they swim around you, under you and sometimes even between your fins.

Hop on a minke whale safari at Cairns and enjoy. Go snorkeling or try Great Barrier Reef diving whilst you’re there to experience the incredible wonders of this enormous reef system.

When to go: June to July.

SPERM WHALES

Weighing up to 50 tons and reaching 15 – 20 meters long, sperm whales are one of the most sought-after and impressive whale species to swim with.

  1. Dominica

The sheer drop-offs and deep sheltered bays around Dominica are perfect for sperm whales, and the females and calves stay there all year. After just a short boat ride from the coast, you will be swimming with these amazing animals in calm azure waters.

When to go: Year-round, though November to March is peak season.

BLUE WHALES

Weighing up to a staggering 200 tonnes, blue whales are enormous, and there are two great places you can swim with them.

  1. Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the only places where you can swim with blue whales, watch them from a boat, or go whale spotting in small airplanes – which is arguably the best way to get an idea of their sheer size.

When to go: March to April.

  1. San Diego, California

Baja California hosts the largest population of blue whales in the world every summer and there are a small number of operators that offer blue whale swimming safaris from San Diego. With small group sizes and week-long programs, they are perfect for maximizing your time with these huge whales.

When to go: June to October.

BELUGA WHALES

Beluga whales are easy to recognize thanks to their bright white coloring and rounded heads. These highly social animals are one of the most vocal whales and gather in large groups in Canada.

  1. Churchill, Canada

Tens of thousands of beluga whales gather each year in Hudson Bay and the small town of Churchill offers unique trips to swim with them. You can enjoy close-up encounters with hundreds of belugas in the water, plus spot polar bears, moose, Arctic foxes and more whilst you’re there.

When to go: June to September.

If you can’t get enough of whales, read the SSI guide to diving with whales to discover even more destinations where you can meet these giants of the ocean.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for Scuba Schools International (SSI), wrote this article.

 

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Gear Reviews

Tried & Tested: Typhoon International’s Totland Dog Vest

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Typhoon say about their pet flotation aid: “Our Totland Dog Vest is bound to be a hit with canine crew members whose safety is just as important as that of the rest of the family.  The Totland Dog Vest offers the all-important buoyancy in an easy-to-spot bright orange tough coated nylon. 

It is easy to buckle up and has a handy haul out handle and lead loop attachment point, making it easy to help your dog on and off the boat.”

Test Conditions

  • Location: Trefor, UK
  • Temperature: 20 degrees C
  • No of Swims: 4
  • Equipment Used: Gucci the Golden Retriever
  • Test Equipment: Typhoon Totland Dog Vest
  • RRP: £20.95

Review

The Totland Dog Vest is available in four sizes, and having consulted the size chart we went for the XL to fit our big Golden Retriever, Gucci. He is a good swimmer, so for a day at the beach does not need an aid to help him stay afloat whilst chasing his favourite ball, but if we were taking him on a boat we would certainly be using one.

The vest was easy to fit and the neck fitting was padded and looked really comfortable. Gucci certainly put up no complaints at wearing it and was happy to charge up and down the beach with it on. It did not impede his movement (both running and swimming) at all. The handle is really useful for close control, as well as being essential if we were to have to assist him back onto a boat or river bank. There is an attachment for a lead too, so for those who are training their dogs to swim or worry about their recall, a long lead can be attached to let them swim and have fun and still be able to get them back!

The bright orange colour is great to being able to keep track of your dog if they swim further away from you than you would like too. The float kept Gucci nice and high in the water and he was keen to try it out over and over again! It is a tough vest with secure clips giving you confidence that your best buddy would be safe if caught out in a current. We will certainly be using this to give our nervous puppy some confidence as he ventures into the water in the future.

Visit www.typhoon-int.co.uk to see the full range and to find details of your nearest stockist.

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Competitions

Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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