Raja Ampat, or Four Kings, refers to the four main islands in this group: Batanta, Misool, Salawati, and Waigeo. The island group is off the Bird’s Head Peninsula of New Guinea. The coastal town of Sorong is the gateway to the Four Kings. Except for one small resort, diving in these islands is possible only from liveaboards. They generally leave from Sorong and head north toward Waigeo or south toward Misool. Either way the diving is exceptional. The islands are sparsely populated. Destructive fishing methods aren’t a major problem here so most reefs are thriving.
“Sardine Reef has really giant clams at 10m (33ft) but it’s all about non-stop fishes here. There’s a resident school of bumphead parrotfish in the shallows, colorful soft corals and plenty of critters.”
The best feature of these islands is their diversity. Over 3000 species of fishes and over 300 species of corals have been identified here. Seas from the Philippines, Maluku Islands, and Australia meet here to support an incredibly prolific and diverse assortment of marine life. In addition to the non-stop fishes, there are oddities like Wobbegongs, giant clams, and a variety of critters. Strong currents are good for drift diving and isolated lagoons are great for muck diving. Walls, coral slopes, and patch reefs are terrific for all-around diving. Island topography, too, is varied. There are coral cays and granite islands with steep walls. Some areas have hundreds of rock islands similar to those in Palau. Others are surrounded by mangrove forests. This area is not to be missed.
The best time to dive the Raja Ampat is March to May and August to November, although the season is from March until December. Rainfall is well distributed throughout the year. December to February is generally overcast and July to August is windy. Water temperatures run from 26º-32ºC (82-94ºF) and are most often 28º-29ºC (86-88ºF).
Scuba Diving in & Around Raja Ampat
Kri Island has several sites and Cape Kri is one of the fishiest. The fish numbers and variety are truly amazing. The site is current dependent. Generally it’s a steep slope with beautiful coral growth, lots of reef and schooling fishes, including the giant Queensland Grouper. Sardine Reef has really giant clams at 10m (33ft) but it’s all about non-stop fishes here. There’s a resident school of bumphead parrotfish in the shallows, colorful soft corals and plenty of critters. Kaboei Bay Rock Islands is a labyrinth of rock islands. Visibility isn’t great but this is a great place for macro and finding odd nudibranches, mollusks and the pictured dragonet. Bat caves and skeletons are found on some of the islands. The Passage is a drift dive through a narrow channel near Waigeo. Look for archerfish among the mangroves, orange cup corals, seahorses, and percula clownfish. Several sites near Fam Island have stunning coral growth. Sponges and soft corals add color and fishes keep it going. Sites include walls, sloping reefs, and muddy bays. Misool is awash in fish life and huge sea fans. Caverns and boulders mark several sites. The schooling fishes seem endless and pygmy seahorses live in less than 10m (33ft). Some sites are current dependent.
“Birds-of-Paradise, tree kangaroos and other marsupials, cassowaries (large flightless birds), cockatoos, magnificent butterflies and bird-eating spiders inhabit the island.”
West Papua or Irian Jaya
West Papua or Papua Barat, formerly Irian Jaya, is the western half of New Guinea Island. Its inhabitants are Melanesian Papuans. This is one of Indonesia’s most remote and least visited regions. It is sparsely populated due to its rugged terrain, which contributed to the 250 distinct languages spoken here. West Papua is one of the last frontiers of tourism. Although New Guinea was first settled about 60,000 years ago, West Papua came under Dutch control and remained there until 1962 when the territory was ceded to Indonesia. Christian missionaries arrived with the Dutch and are still a big presence in West Papua. An active Free Papua Movement continues to push for independence from Indonesia. Gone are the days of fierce warriors and cannibals. Today coastal inhabitants fish, highland residents farm, and many others work in the mining or forestry industries. Sago and sweet potatoes replace rice as the staple food of West Papua. The area is rich in natural resources. The huge Freeport copper and gold mine at 3700m (12000ft) is a joint venture that contributes to the Indonesian economy.
Separated from Asia by deep waters, the island of New Guinea was linked to Australia. The flora and fauna of West Papua are distinctly Australasian. Birds-of-Paradise, tree kangaroos and other marsupials, cassowaries (large flightless birds), cockatoos, magnificent butterflies and bird-eating spiders inhabit the island. Orchids, tree ferns, rhododendrons and pitcher plants inhabit the forests. Glacier-covered Puncak Jaya, elevation 5039m (16400ft), is the highest peak between the Himalayas and the Andes. West Papua has only recently been opened to tourism and the industry here is in its infancy. The Baliem Valley in the highlands is home to the Dani tribe, first discovered by Westerners in 1938. Pigs and women are indicators of wealth here. Many men continue to wear the traditional penis gourd. The Bird’s Head Peninsula is the gateway to the Raja Ampat Islands, home to some of the best scuba diving in the world.
Manokwari – West Papua
Best Wreck Diving in Indonesia
Manokwari is a small coastal town on the northeast tip of New Guinea’s Bird’s Head Peninsula. The town runs along the shore of Dore Bay, a natural harbor surrounded by islands, 3000m (10000ft) mountains and impenetrable jungle. This is not on the standard liveaboard route and requires a special itinerary. This beautiful deep-water bay provided safe anchorage to the Japanese in World War II. The surrounding hills are riddled with tunnels, a trademark of Japanese occupation. The Allies held nearby Biak Island. The Japanese were able to duplicate their radio signals, causing Allied planes to fly toward Manokwari, where they were shot down. A number of Japanese ships were also sunk in the harbor. Over 20 wrecks have been located but only six can be dived on. Some are too deep; others took direct hits and are too badly damaged from secondary explosions. The best feature about diving in Manokwari is the pristine condition of the wrecks. There are diving helmets, mines, tanks, dishes and bicycle parts to be found. The ships attract marine life. The water temperature is warm, about 28ºC (86ºF).
Pasir Putih Wreck is a navy coastal patrol boat, 30-35m (100-115ft) long, sits upright in 13-22m (45-75ft). There are depth charges on the stern and a nearby reef slope. Pillbox Wreck is a commercial cargo vessel carrying ammunition sits at 9-16m (30-55ft). The ship is 60-65m (200-215ft) long and holds grenade cases. Cross Wreck is a coastal patrol boat with lots of fishes. It’s easy to view the galley, engine room and radio room. Mupi Wreck is 40m (130ft) long and upright at 9m (30ft). Red and white soft corals festoon the structure. You can see a copper pot on the stove, bottles and ammunition. The surge can be strong and reduce visibility. Shinwa Maru is a large cargo vessel with five holds. The superstructure is intact but the ship lies on its port side. You can see diving helmets, dishes, cables, small tanks and mines.