Raja Ampat is pretty far off the radar for your typical traveller, however it’s the gold standard for scuba divers. Located in an island chain off the coast of Indonesia’s West Papua province (next door to Papua New Guinea), it’s pretty far from Indonesia’s traditional tourist haunts. For months scuba diving with my parents from a live aboard dive boat in Raja Ampat has been only concrete travel “plan.”
A live aboard is pretty much the only way to dive the region. Because you stay overnight on the boat, you’re able to get to dive sights that are otherwise too far from land (or at least habitable land) to get to on a day trip. After hearing about our friends Ryan and Sara’s experience on the Mermaid II last year, we convinced my parents that the boat’s 9-day trip was the perfect dive vacation. It did not disappoint.
We caught a midnight flight from Jakarta to Sorong and then chilled/napped for a day before our morning pickup. Upon boarding the Mermaid II, Michael and I learned that we’d been upgraded from an economy cabin to a standard cabin! A great start to the trip.
Over the course of the week, I managed to fit in up to 4 dives a day for a total of 25 dives. Our average day had a full schedule:
As you can see, basically all that we did for the week was diving, eating, and sleeping. It was an amazing existence while it lasted. The diving was fantastic. The hard and soft corals were in pristine condition and included the largest fans that I’ve seen. There were large schools of batfish, sweetlips, and mackerel everywhere we turned.
I couldn’t begin to give a play-by-play of each dive, so we’ll stick with some of my favorite pictures. Neither of us dive with underwater cameras, but luckily pretty much everyone else onboard did.
Even better was that the Mermaid II has a full-time professional photographer (Alex Lindbloom) on the boat and we ended up with a bunch of Alex’s pictures from the week. His photography was absolutely amazing — if you’re interested in underwater photography check out his website at http://www.alexlindbloom.com. Alex’s pictures all have his watermark at the bottom. The other underwater photos come from my parents (although unfortunately we didn’t end up with all of theirs before we parted ways).
One of the most interesting spots that we dove was along a mangrove forest. Typically mangrove forests have zero visibility, but this is one of the rare ones that is clear (although probably would have been clearer for us had we been one of the first groups from the boat to go through it).
Perhaps the highlight of the trip was the manta rays. I’d been starting to wonder if we were cursed to never see a manta ray. When we visited Hawaii straight out of college we went on an evening manta trip were a manta sighting was “guaranteed” or you’d get to come back another night to try again. We struck out twice and have subsequently never seen a manta on any dives where it was rumored there was a possibility of a sighting. It didn’t help that our first two dives in Raja Ampat where we were told that we might see mantas also struck out. But our luck turned and we ended up with three dives where we spotted mantas, including the giant (think 18-foot wingspans) oceanic mantas!
Our final dive was definitely the best. We were joined by a couple large oceanic mantas and I’d happened to hook into the reef (the current was strong) fairly close to where the mantas would make a sweeping turn as they cycled through the cleaning station. I held onto my dad while he took some great video of the mantas (which I sadly can’t get to load with our spotty internet).
In between dives, we had the opportunity to do a couple of boat/land trips. The islands that we were diving around were stunning — lush forests surrounding sheer rock faces, all on top of crystal clear teal waters.
Needless to say, it was hard to say goodbye to Raja Ampat. We experienced some of our best diving and all from the luxury of a live aboard boat. The water was warm enough to dive without a wetsuit (although most did). The food was great. Our fellow passengers were experienced divers with lots of interesting stories. We had a fantastic and patient dive master (Fin with a guest appearance by Montse) for our group of four who showed us lots of cool stuff and generally let us explore the reefs at our will. Just a great operation overall and has me dreaming of returning to dive the Komodo area in the future. The week was definitely a splurge for us, but it was well worth it.
[This blog post describes our trip on the Mermaid II in Raja Ampat, Indonesia on January 18-26, 2017.]