Underwater Photographer's Guide to Raja Ampat

5 Things You Need to Know Before Diving Raja Ampat, Indonesia
By Brent Durand

 

Underwater Photographer's Guide to Raja Ampat


5 Things You Need to Know Before Diving Raja Ampat

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

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The 4 Kings. Even the name Raja Ampat conjures up images of incredible underwater scenes worthy of even the most well-traveled divers. Raja Ampat ranks high on many divers' travel lists and for good reason - it is home to some of the most biodiverse reefs in the world and some very fishy diving.

I had the opportunity to make about 20 dives in Raja Ampat this September while staying at Papua Paradise and at Sorido Bay Resorts as part of Bluewater Travel's Best of Southeast Asia tour. The article below takes my limited experience into account, but mostly relies on advice from divers who have spent much time in this far corner of Indonesia.

 

Where is Raja Ampat and How do we Get There?

Raja Ampat is a group of islands situated in Indonesia's West Papua Province, just off the Bird's Head Peninsula of New Guinea. The region is known as Papua among locals, who are more closely related to people from Maluku than those from Java or other areas of western Indonesia.

In addition to the diving, Raja Ampat offers spectacular scenery and incredible kayaking and birdwatching. Papua is rich with endemic bird species, incuding the beautiful Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise.

Flights to Raja Ampat arrive in Sorong, the capital of the province, often via a layover in Makassar.

 

map: Wikipedia.org

 

The Raja Ampat Essentials

 

1 - Dive by Resort or Liveaboard

Raja Ampat is a destination dived by both resorts and liveaboards and each has its pros and cons.

 

On Liveaboards

For most people, travel to Raja Ampat is limited to a week or two. The obvious benefit to a liveaboard is that you can experience the diving in both of Raja's main dive hotspots - the Batanta/Gam/Waigeo (northern) area and the Misool (southern) area. 

 

On Resorts

Several of the established resorts have been diving Raja since before the first liveaboard. They have many years of experience and most dive guides have grown up on the water near their resort, resulting in expert knowledge of conditions necessary to provide the best diving. For example, a resort guide can suggest diving a site as a second dive instead of a first in order to wait for the best current (which brings schools of fish). On a liveaboard you may be on a tight schedule and have to dive the site immediately instead of waiting for the best conditions.

 

A wobblegong swims onto a table coral, surprising fish & photographer, noticing the photographer and then darting away.

All photos: Canon 5D Mark III, Tokina 10-17mm lens and Aquatica A5D MK III housing.

 

 

2 - The Center of Biodiversity

Raja Ampat has been the center of many fish studies and has a very good reputation for marine life biodiversity, both in the reefs and in the marine life swimming above. If scientific studies aren't proof enough, the abundant and diverse fish life will easily prove itself worthy of the title.

This rich area of the ocean has also been protected since divers first began visiting Raja Ampat. Raja dive pioneer Max Ammer has seen to that and continues the hard work to this day, along with some of the other resorts and liveaboards.

These healthy reefs create the perfect environment for both wide-angle and macro underwater photo and video.

 

The biodiversity in Raja Ampat is second to none.

 

 

3 - Manta Primetime

If you're visiting Raja Ampat to see Manta Rays, then you'll be scheduling a trip (be sure to call Bluewater Travel) with dives at Manta Sandy for the late fall and winter months. With that said, there are mantas found year-round in Raja Ampat, so while the colorful reefs and multitudes of fish are mesmerizing, it pays to keep an eye on the open water. You might also see sharks (including whale sharks) or a number of other peligic fish.

 

The reefs are mesmerizing, but keep an eye out for the big fish swimming by.

 

 

4 - Be Prepared to Dive A Remote Destination

While diving Raja Ampat is a relatively simple matter (the resorts take care of you the second you pass through airport security), it is still a very remote destination. There is no (working) hyperbaric chamber in Sorong, so dive insurance is a must.

Diving can be catered to divers of all skill levels, but you'll have the most enjoyable trip if you brush up on your skills and fitness in the weeks before the trip. Which button inflates vs. deflates your BCD? Can you kick a couple lengths of the pool?

The same idea applies to your underwater camera gear. Have you checked to make sure everything holds a charge?  Is watertight?  It will be very hard (most likely impossible) to replace u/w camera gear after landing in Sorong, so make sure to work out any kinks and bring backups of critical items.

 

My dive buddy takes a closer look at a broadclub cuttlefish.

 

 

5 - Take Time to Learn About the Culture

A dive trip anywhere in the world is an opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture. Raja Ampat presents some unique opportunities to learn about local culture, even if just chatting with your dive guides during surface intervals. Try some new food and pick up a few words. Apa kabar. Terima kasih. Satu, dua, tiga. Who knows... if you say some of these words you may pick up a few smiles as well.

 

Glass sweepers and blue water.

 

Soft corals grow off a wall in Raja Ampat.

 

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and professional image-maker from California. Brent is editor of UWPG. Follow UWPG on Facebook for daily photos, tips & everything underwater photography. View more of Brent's work or follow him through www.BrentDimagery.com.

 

 

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Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


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Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


 

 
 
SHARE THIS STORY

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.