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Raja Ampat Trip Report, February 2014

Raja Ampat Trip Report, February 2014
On the 19 Feb 2014 we checked in for our domestic flight to Sorong – the gateway to Indonesia’s famed Raja Ampat Islands. Joining us on this trip were guests from the UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada, all intent on discovering the wonders that lay in wait in Raja Ampat! Upon arrival in Sorong we were whisked to our waiting liveaboard, the SY Indo Siren. Our 10 night voyage on the Siren would take us down to Raja’s Southern reefs around the island of Misool and to the famed Northern dive sites of Gam and the Dampier Strait. It was with baited breath that we set sail for Misool, full of expectation as to what we might see over the coming days! Little did we know what Raja had in store for us!

South Raja Ampat
Our first day of diving was around the Daram Islands to the south-east of Misool and here dive sites such as Candy Store, Living Colours and Andiamo wowed us with their spectacular soft corals and perfusion of fish life. At times it was truly like diving in fish soup! Andiamo also provided the first sighting of one of Raja’s famous Walking Sharks!

Our diving continued on day two at some of the most famous dive sites in Southern Raja – Yellit Kecil, Magic Mountain and Boo Windows. Yellit Kecil gave us our first pelagic action with Grey Reef Sharks mixing with schools of Barracuda, and large Napoleon Wrasse. The site was also a magnet for Barramundi Cod with lots gathering around corals and whilst normally a shy fish they were more than happy to have their photo taken. Our next dive was at Magic Mountain and it was Manta time! Whist plenty of other fish were vying for our attention – schooling Yellow Snapper, Jacks and Barracuda, Napoleon Wrasse, hunting Giant Trevally and even free swimming baby Whitetip Sharks – no one could steal the show from the Giant Manta that performed right in front of our eyes! It was safe to say that Magic Mountain had lived up to its reputation as a ‘must do’ site in Southern Raja! Our third day dive and our night dive were at Boo Windows, famous for its underwater rock formations that give the appearance of windows. During the day dive the site threw up schooling Snapper, Bumphead Parrotfish, Grey Reefs Sharks, more baby Whitetip Sharks and schools of hunting Batfish, whilst at night it was the famous Walking Sharks that were making the headlines!

On day 3 and 4 of our trip we continued to explore Misool’s extensive number of offshore islands, diving Nudi Rock, Tank Rock, Barracuda Rock, Wedding Cake and Dunia Kecil. Here we found incredible gorgonian fans often harbouring multiple Pygmy Seahorse (Bargibanti, Denise and Pontohi), soft corals with Candy Crabs, whip corals with Xeno Crabs, a host of Nudis and plenty of schooling fish such as Snapper, Sweetlips, Batfish, Giant Trevally, Barracuda, Lionfish and large Napoleon Wrasse. We also got our first Tasselled Wobbegong – a truly iconic Raja Ampat shark!

Day 5 of our trip was to be a very special one. Following a tip-off we headed off Siren’s normal itinerary to a dive site know as Two Trees. We were hoping to find a bait ball! As we entered the water for our first dive we looked below and there it was, a massive bait ball, our dive was going to be one of the best of our lives! The bait ball was huge, clinging close to the wall its shape was continually changing in response to the divers and a barrage of hungry predators. The stars of the show were the ever present Mobula Rays. We counted at least 40 Mobulas at any one time but it is likely their school was many times this size. The Mobulas were swimming in and out of the bait ball often encountering divers cocooned within the ball of bait fish. But while the Mobulas we’re stealing the show they we’re certainly not the only predators coming in for some easy lunch. Schools of Tuna, Mackerel and Trevally were staying close to the surface attacking the bait ball from above whilst a curious school of Batfish we’re also coming in for the occasional snack. After two bait ball dives in what can only be described as a dive heaven there was still plenty of bait ball left and lots of smiling divers!

After the thrill of the bait ball it was time for a relaxing lagoon tour (although some divers managed to fit in another dive at ‘Love Potion’ famous for its array of Nudis!). Weaving in between spectacular limestone rock formations our dingy driver pushed deeper and deeper into the inner sanctuaries of Misool’s lagoon with the song of tropical birds ever present. Finally we reached an idyllic spot completely secluded and with water one could stand up in – that afternoon as we relaxed in the lagoon we toasted our bait ball success with a classic Indonesian Bintang Beer!

North Raja Ampat
The lagoon tour signalled the end of our South Raja diving and so it was time to move to North Raja, famed for its high voltage dives! First stop was Gam mangroves, a unique Raja environment where corals reefs meet mangrove forest. Our first dive was confined to the reef areas of Citrus Ridge where we found a large Wobbegong Shark, a very photogenic Cuttlefish, schooling Batfish, Signal Gobies and several Bumphead Parrotfish. For our second dive we moved to Mangrove Ridge where we found such treasures as a juvenile batfish – all black with yellow trim, flatworms, Sweetlips, Blue-Spotted Stingrays and then as we moved up to the edges of the mangroves we were able to capture unique photos of this unique underwater environment. Our third dive of the day was at a dive site called ‘Way Pretty Shallow’, here we found Blacktip Sharks cruising the reefs along with Wahoo, another beautiful Wobbegong Shark and on the smaller side a few nice Nudis. For our night dive we headed to Gam Mangroves to see what would be out at night. A few of the group found Mandarin fish whilst others found a hunting Banded Sea Snake, Jawfish and a host of shrimps and Nudis.

For our next day’s diving we headed to one of Raja most famous sites – Manta Sandy! Immediately upon dropping down to the cleaning station we were greeted by an all-black Manta. Graciously cruising around the coral bommies the black Manta was soon joined by an even larger manta that dwarfed it! As our group approached the surface many found the Mantas show continuing with these gentle giants performing barrel rolls again and again right in front of them. One Manta dive is never enough and so dive two gave us a second chance to watch these amazing ocean giants doing their thing!

For our third day dive and our night dive we headed to famous Arborek Island, home to a jetty that acts as a magnet for a multitude of fish life. The jetty is a real photographer’s favourite and on our day dive there it was easy to see why. Under the jetty we found Jacks gathering in large schools along with Blue & Yellow Fusiliers. Around the jetty legs Batfish were swirling and a solitary Giant Barracuda, teeth gleaming, was lying in wait on the sandy bottom along with numerous Scorpion fish. This underwater congregation was married with beautiful streams of light filtering through the jetty slats produce some of our favourite photos from the trip! Those in our group who managed to peal themselves away from the jetty also found a Wobbegong Shark! Following our day dive we went back to Arborek at night and this time it was Walking Sharks and the fascinating Toad fish that stole the show!

For our final two days of diving we headed to Raja Ampat’s Dampier Strait, probably the most famous dive area in Raja Ampat and with a reputation for high voltage dives. First up was ‘Blue Magic’, which certainly produced some magic with a ‘Fast & Furious’ dive with Grey Reef Sharks, Giant Trevally, Schooling Barracuda and Jacks, and a giant Green Turtle! With a surface interval to gain our breath it was soon time for another Raja favourite ‘Sardine Reef’. Here the schooling fish were out again with Barracuda, Bumphead Parrotfish and Batfish along with Whitetip Sharks and a Wobbegong Shark. For those who like their fish a little smaller there was also a rare Pontohi Pygmy Seahorse! Our last dive of the day was at Mioskon, a site renowned for having more Wobbegong Sharks that any other site in Raja. And true to its reputation it gave some impressive sightings including a Wobbegong free swimming (a rare site) and a Wobbegong resting beautifully in a cabbage coral. Mioskon also produce a Frogfish sighting which does not happen to often in Raja Ampat! With one of the group celebrating their birthday a great diving day was rounded off with some of the crew dressing up as ladies and a bit of pole dancing! Of course there were also some nice cakes!

And so it was time for our last day of diving. Our first dive would be ‘Cape Kri’ followed by a dive at ‘Otdima Reef’ – two of Raja’s best loved dive sites – we would go out with a bang! Cape Kri put on a spectacular show with Grey Reef Sharks, Blacktip Reef Sharks, feeding Spanish Mackerel – mouths a gasp, schooling Barracuda, Bumphead Parrotfish, a Wobbegong in a barrel sponge and a Green Turtle – what more could you ask for on a dive! Otdima Reef would give us the chance to get one of Raja’s most famous photos – that of a group of Sweetlips all bunched together. Our guides knew the exact bommie where the Sweetlips hung out but we were warned that a strong current that morning may prevent us from reaching the bommie. With a little effort though and expect guidance we were able to reach the bommie and as luck would have it the current slackened off giving us enough time to get the shots we wanted – the perfect end to a sensational dive trip in Indonesia’s Four Kings! Diving finished the Bintangs were opened and it was time to celebrate another of our group having their birthday on Indo Siren!

Raja Ampat Mobulas Video

Filmed by Ray Ruffell on Equator Diving’s 2014 Raja Ampat group trip.